“Many white Americans of good will have never connected bigotry with economic exploitation. They have deplored prejudice but tolerated or ignored economic injustice”. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Why we can’t Wait, 1964
My mother worked two jobs to support the three of us. She did refuse to clean houses. That was not where she saw herself day in and day out. She landed a job in an upscale boutique in a wealthy section of Birmingham.
I learned early in my life about racism and sexism and how it can hold a family back. When I applied for summer jobs, they were always filled. The jobs in fast food restaurants that paid well went to white students and the openings in our community were filled. So, I was a camp counselor for free, taught vacation bible school and did a summer science program.
I have never made a comparable salary to white male or female colleagues. As a minority or Underrepresented in Medicine (URM) physician, you are always negotiating a contract; you find out later that even when you asked for the higher salary, it is negotiated down to a lower salary. You have a suspicion that the salary is low but you really want the position because it is the next logical step in your career. I remembering emailing back and forth with one department chairman furiously trying to get the salary higher only to he was just trying to save money. I found out later, that he had offered a higher salary to the male and he turned it down because it was too low. When I asked for a comparable salary to what I was making, he said he couldn’t meet that. I wanted the position so I took it. Every time, I got a new committee position or asked to head a committee, my husband would ask “Does that mean you get a raise?” My answer “No, just more work and late nights.” I spent hours putting together reports, presentations, new curriculum and taking courses to increase my credentials. I did get finally get merit pay and bonuses after the second year but there were later budget constraints and the end of the grant that paid my salary. Such is the fate of many URM academic physicians.
I left one position and in asking me to say, my boss said, “I realized when you gave notice that I should have been paying you more for all the work you were doing.” I had tried for over a year to negotiate a bonus structure but she was resistant to the idea. She even refused to negotiate a contract. When I left, I was happy that I could leave without any contractual obligations.
My first job out of residency revealed that the hospital administrator knowing lowered the salary and my later partner knowing allowed me to be cheated. I took that knowledge and went on to build a successful practice by taking on contracts as a consultant to increase our practice revenue and my credentials.
Even in medicine, women but especially URM women are paid far less than their white male counterparts. I support the “Time’s up Now Movement.” In every place of employment in the US, we need to have an open review of job descriptions and salary compensation for men and women.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Letter from Birmingham City Jail, 1963
“Each time a [ woman] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [she] sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” ― Robert F. Kennedy
As we commemorate Martin Luther King Day, let’s recommit to fight racism and social injustice.