Skin color does not inhibit skill


Carolyn Bradley

By Copy Editor

Tamika Cross, an obstetrician and gynecologist, offered her medical skills on a Detroit-to-Minneapolis Delta Air Lines flight after a passenger a couple of rows ahead became unresponsive, and a flight attendant asked for help. 

Instead of accepting her help, the flight attendant dismissed her in a condescending manner, saying, “We are looking for actual physicians, nurses or some type of medical personnel; we don’t have time to talk to you,” and even called her “sweetie.” When Cross, whose account was chronicled in an Oct. 9 Facebook post, responded to the attendant’s request for help by pressing her button to notify her, the attendant seemed shocked to discover Cross was an actual physician. Upon learning that, the attendant asked for Cross’s credentials, her specialty and why Cross was in Detroit. 

Cross said, in her Oct. 9 post, that the flight attendant accepted the assistance of a white, male doctor. Cross said the male physician did not provide credentials to the flight attendant, yet the attendant accepted his offer. The attendant returned to Cross for advice on handling the passenger’s blood sugar. 

Delta stated Oct. 14 on its website that it is currently conducting an investigation. The airline said any accusations of discrimination trouble them, and the experience Cross described “is not reflective of Delta’s culture or the lives our employees live out every day.” 

Cross is right when she said this instance was “blatant discrimination.” Because she did not fit the “white male in a white lab coat” stereotype of a physician, the attendant ignored her. What is worse about this situation is that the attendant invalidated the abilities Cross worked for many years to acquire.

Judging professionals according to outdated and unfair stereotypes instead of  their skills is extremely detrimental. It is not only harmful to the professional, but it is also a disservice to those who would otherwise benefit from the professional’s skills. Had Cross not been at hand to answer questions about the ill passenger’s blood sugar, the situation could have been more harmful to the passenger. It should only matter that a service is being performed correctly, especially in a state of emergency.

People of color unfortunately face discrimination in and out of the workplace. Assumptions are often based on skin color and not on ability. Because of this, people of color put great pressure on themselves to avoid being stereotyped. According to an Oct. 14, 2015, Atlantic article, black men feel a need to work longer hours to dispel the idea of black men having a poor work ethic.  The same article cites Latina attorneys who attempt to speak without revealing their accents.

In an era when diversity is paramount to the workplace, there is still evidence that discrimination is prevalent and there is a long way to go in terms of inclusion. By ignoring the skills people of color have because of stereotypes, employers are actually doing the workplace harm because they are not using the wide range of skills and experience that these people may offer. 

People of color should not feel a need to erase their identities to avoid workplace discrimination. Their characters are being judged on their skin color, their hair texture, their speech patterns and their personal lives. This discrimination is overlooking skill and ability—the real measurement employers should use.