Q&A: Discussing protests, supporting black community as dentists

The past few weeks have been challenging. Many dentists went back to work after a tough two month-break, dealing with PPP loans, concerned team members, and (shortage of) PPE availability. Dentistry began to appear bleak to a lot of us.

Photo of Dr. Deshpande

Dr. Deshpande

Then, came the death of George Floyd that shook us to our core. Those of us living in big cities, saw massive protests against racial injustice on our streets for the first time in years. In Seattle, we have been witnessing protests related to police brutality and the toll it has taken on our Black community daily since May 30.

I immediately recognized, that it was difficult to discuss this issue openly. Should dentists be addressing the protests and their cause? Is it OK to ignore it and be conducting business as usual? How do we talk about something that makes us all very uncomfortable?

When I asked myself these questions, I realized there are no easy answers. Luckily, a dear colleague roped me into a related conversation with few other women dentists and brought in a facilitator. Dr. Yvette Weir, an Afro-Canadian general dentist based in the U.S., joined our meeting to guide a discussion related to #blacklivesmatter.

The conversation stuck with me, because for the first time, I received actionable information on the topic. Following are excerpts from that conversation and a short interview that followed.

Q: What is #blacklivesmatter? Why is it important for health care professionals to support this? How can we educate ourselves about it?

Photo of Dr. Weir

Dr. Weir

Dr. Weir: #Blacklivesmatter is an international, grassroots human rights movement started in 2013 to address issues of violence and widespread racism affecting the black community. As leaders in our offices and neighborhoods, dentists stand in an important position to lend support to this cause. We can educate ourselves about this issue by actively seeking information, listening (our staff and patients can be a great natural source of information) and by becoming a part of social groups promoting awareness and anti-racist activities.

Q: How can dentists talk about this with our team members, patients and community at large?

Dr. Weir: Dentists can be intentional during this time by setting aside an extended huddle or lunch and share for an in-depth discussion. If the office is not diverse, or if the dentist is not comfortable, he/she, could consider bringing in a speaker/facilitator to guide the process. They should understand that not all persons might be comfortable or even find this necessary. This is where leadership of the dentist becomes critical. There are certainly magazines, books and authors that offer strong voices in the struggle, but I would encourage at first getting feelings and reactions from the source – listen to your staff and patients – share black stories. First, seek to empathize and understand the POV of the black community.

Q: How can we support our students and fellow colleagues at the dental school? What can we teach to all of our students, going forward?

Dr. Weir: One of the greatest needs of minority students in dental school is a sense of community. They hope for others to see, acknowledge and support their unique challenges. At times it has been said that the push to recruit the best and brightest is there but the support afterwards is not. All dental schools would benefit from having a diversity director or someone who acts in that capacity to assist in the transition of incoming students and even beyond the D1 year.

Q: By saying nothing and not addressing this topic in a conscious way, what does it say about dentists? 

Dr. Weir: By remaining silent, we are speaking volumes. We are kidding ourselves if we think this is just an issue related to (fill in the blank) persons who are far removed from our own world and lives. Racism perpetuated to any one group by a ‘dominant’ race is an affront to all races. History has shown that at various points in time other groups not deemed ‘elite’ also suffered – Irish, Jews, Italians, Eastern Europeans, Asians and Native Americans are examples of this. We should all aim to make this world a better place now and for future generations, by teaching, practicing and abolishing racism wherever it rears its ugly head – like, right now.

Q: Apart from addressing it at work and school, how else can we support the black community?  

Dr. Weir: 1. Adopting/sponsoring a student, class or even a school from a disadvantaged neighborhood.

  1. Make hiring for diversity a practice decision.
  2. Creating a scholarship at a local high school.
  3. Volunteering in the community as a practice.

Dr. Sampada Deshpande is a general dentist practicing in Seattle. A foreign trained dentist from India, she completed her DDS equivalency from the University of Washington in 2018. Sampada is a founding member of the New Dentist Business Study Club and a contributing member of her local Spear Study Club. Originally from Dubai, she looks forward to her weekly Bollywood dance class, hiking the beautiful PNW with her husband, and reading books on Finance & Management. You can reach her directly @dr.deshpande on Instagram.

Dr. Weir is a general dentist and Howard Alum (class of ’92). She has owned two practices and has always been patient centered and public health focused. She enjoys practicing in a holistic manner and working with fearful patients and children. She is a fitness and health enthusiast, and also loves to paint, coach and give motivational presentations. You can reach her on Instagram @Coaching4docs for questions.

17 comments

  • Dentists should focus on “all green dollars matter“. Unless dentists are employed by a corporate conglomerate, private practice dental entities are not doing well.

  • Pingback: Afro-Conscious Media » Discussing protests, supporting black community as dentists – New Dentist Blog

  • This is an important topic for everyone in the world it doesn’t matter which branch you are working. Hopefully this woke up the world for once.

  • When BLM refuses to acknowledge the contention that ALL lives mater, take offense to the concept being verbalized, and proceed to denigrate, silence, and even destroy anyone who dares utter an encompassing opinion, I cannot, and will not support such a bigoted movement. Despicable acts of violence and oppression are committed against all religions, races, and cultures if you widen your view to a globally inclusive perspective. History is replete with tribalism practices by all creeds, colors, and races to the disadvantage of their perceived opponents. To selectively choose an entire race to castigate for the misdeeds of some is precisely the raciest animus the movement purports to correct. Until we ALL quite seeing color this “us against them” mentality will continue to fester. BLM, by it’s very name and narrow focus, perpetuates the division and seeks to charge, prosecute, and seek penitence from all who can be identified simply by the color of their skin and their genetic inheritance. This is the very definition of prejudice, why would I support such a malevolent philosophy?

    • For those who keep saying all lives matter, if that was so, we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. We are fed up with watching our people killed. These are your patients, your colleagues, your neighbors. We endure a cycle of trauma every single time we learn of another murder in the hands of police and vigilantes with no accountability. (Add on to that struggles with profiling and discrimination most of us have experienced in life). So, just because you don’t not know what exactly black people are feeling right now, it doesn’t give you a pass to mock our cries for help . I can only hope that anyone serving in the dental field has empathy and willingness to learn how to be part of the solution and not propagate the problem.-African American Dental Student

      • “We are fed up with watching our people killed” This is the very type of expression that I take offense to. Our people propagates division. Can you not be fed up with anyone being senselessly killed? Our people, my people, you people is simply divisive. Can I only have compassion for someone because they have a specific skin pigmentation? Is that your contention?

    • This will not be popular on this platform but here I go. I’m a 59yo black male CEO of a consulting firm I started from scratch who lived/worked/raised in the southern states as a teen and young adult. I graduated with an Economics Degree from a San Francisco private college. I don’t really understand what people are classifying as racism today. In the 70s, I saw older black who could not find a job. In fact, my father was drug dealer and mom was a heroin addict. Whites, in the South, were not hiring too many blacks. Fortunately, I was raised by grandparents who provided structure and stability and prepared me to live in a drug infested South Florida culture. Most of my clients are non-black. So if racism was so prevalent, I would not have the ability to earn a living. But I’ve always be an optimist about life. Young black males need role models…this current situation is not about racism. And blm is organized under a 501c3 named ActBlue or BlueAct. What’s that all about?

      • It seems that ActBlue serves as the fundraising platform. They help grassroots 501c3s (with similar values) by facilitating the fundraising exchange – sort of analogous to PayPal, Venmo, CareCredit… etc.

        • Nice try. The NYT article, “How ActBlue Became a Powerful Force in Fundraising”, cites ActBlue as “the Democratic online fundraising organization”. So this wraps up the big mystery.

          But the bigger question is why are organizations working hard and spending millions to hypnotize blacks into believing they are worth less, not worthless…but worth less. I’m 59yo black male and I’ve seen such a concerted effort by news media, Hollywood, politicians to use propaganda to persuade black America into thinking whites are out to “get us”.

          I grew up in the South when blacks and whites had cordial, respectful relationships. Neither race was trying to be each other’s best pals, but it was satisfactory. Then the movie Roots aired and all hell broke loose (race fights) across America. I was fortunate enough to have family members who did not constantly talk about black against white issues. And opportunities are 1000 times greater in 2020 than in 1980.

          People like me know this movement to mentally manipulate black people goes all the back to 1856. The plan is sinister and sadistic and people need to stop.

          I’m a small fish contrarian in a big sea of opponents with an agenda.

          I’m honestly surprised a platform like the ADA, a private organization, is participating in the blm discussion. I thought the ADA would put its efforts more into making dental professionals more successful and profitable.

    • I am inclined to agree with what Cecil Wood said. Statistics show more whites are killed annually by police than are blacks. If BLM cannot come together with whites in an ALL Lives Matter movement focused on getting the bad apples either re-trained or forced out of the police forces around the country, then I just don’t get it. Of course Black lives matter, but which battle are they motivated to address here and now? To take this tragic death as an impetus to try to fix everything from the founding of America forward is to not have focus on what is fixable. To treat all police forces as if every employee there is a bad apple is prejudiced and wrong. To treat every white as if they abide by white supremecy rules is prejudiced and wrong. BLM rhetoric seems like it wants to fight racism with racism and prejudice. If unfocused, then maybe what we’ll get is police brutality equitably distributed instead of eliminated for all.

      • Amy Liao - Philadelphia, PA

        @Spence Bloom – I agree with you that BLM rhetoric can seem inflammatory by those who do not understand their cause. There is no easy solution to this problem.
        Also, I just did a google search to see the breakdown of people killed by the police in the U.S. by race. It is true that more white people are shot to death by U.S. police in number (about double). However, white people make up 60% of the population and black people 13%. This is a significant disparity based on percentage of the population.
        It’s equally important to look at the reasons why individuals are killed by the police. BLM is responding to the experience that black and brown people are more often assumed to be dangerous/criminals/threats to society, by the police and by the people who call the police on them.

        • @Amy Liao – Your focusing on the percentages killed and reasons ought to be tied in with the percentages of crimes caused… BUT the discussion of the numbers and their percentages is OFF the subject. Your reply about the significant disparity based on percentage of population is a common reply, but lacks focus for reform, as it leaves room for police to respond by killing more whites, or backing off a little on the number of blacks because if it is the disparity that is disturbing, the police can be held accountable to make sure we all get our fair share of people killed. To focus on the black lives lost is simply the wrong way to call for reform in the way policing is done. If BLM cannot support All Lives Matter in regards to police brutality and abuse of power and lethal use of force, then you can say I don’t understand BLM, but I’ll state unequivocally that BLM doesn’t understand what the problem is that needs reform and how to go about getting support for reform.
          Work needs to be done on what people assume regarding who is dangerous/criminals/threats to society. But what do the numbers say about what group is actually way out of proportion to their percentage of society as being dangerous/criminal/threats to society? While nobody appreciates being stereotyped, keep in mind that stereotypes come from somewhere. If it is said that Italians tend to talk with their hands…that doesn’t come from a few people seeing a few Italians speaking…same for the accent that is recognized as Italian when hearing them speak English. Of course, not all Italians do either, but the stereotype didn’t come from nowhere. Same for the Mafia…not all Italians are Mafia. We all know that… but if someone is in the Mafia, we do kind of expect that they’re probably Italian.

  • Amy Liao - Philadelphia, PA

    Drs. Deshpande and Weir: Thanks for this thoughtful post and for the practical suggestions. Obviously, the whole issue is quite complicated, which unfortunately makes it a polarizing one.
    I appreciate your call to empathy. I’m not sure we can make much progress until we can really listen and try to understand those who are suffering. This is (and should be) relevant to us as dentists since we are treating mouths attached to whole humans beings in communities. Of course, this is very costly – in time, money and comfort. It seems like, because of the COVID-19 shutdown, many people actually had the time to watch, process, be upset, reflect and start learning more. I hope that people with power and privilege (including myself) will continue to engage, even after things start to reopen/attempt to return to “normal”.

  • This discussion is important. We don’t have to agree but could try to understand and help alleviate the pain our fellow human beings are experiencing. If we cannot empathize we should at least be able to sympathize.

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