Note from BBT: Often times when I come across headlines online that show black men or black women as individuals or as a group accomplishing something for the first time, I have to go further than just the headline to ascertain where the individuals or groups are from. Of course, I think all of these types of stories are important in terms of news in the African diaspora, but as a blogger that speaks specifically about Afro-Brazilians, I pay special attention to stories involving Brazilians of African descent.
It’s happened numerous times in the past decade where I’ll come across an inspiring story and find that the person or people involved are actually from the United States or somewhere in Europe. Again, absolutely nothing wrong with that as these stories should clearly be celebrated. For example, I’ve seen stories of an all-black crew in command of an airplane flight or a graduating class of black doctors.
As these stories often happen in places where English is the dominant language, my view is that the story will already have the possibility of being highly shared and distributed in worldwide news outlets. In terms of stories that I cover here at BBT, the challenges to the story catching on are two-fold.
First, it will be highly unlikely that the story will catch on in the English-speaking world as most outlets publish mostly in Portuguese. Second, stories that involve black Brazilians don’t always make the mainstream news in Brazil. These days, Brazil’s black news media brings stories to the forefront that the mainstream will often ignore. They also pick up stories that have been covered by the mainstream media and share them with their particular audiences who keep up with such news items and see them as important for the black community.
So, in the past few decades, particularly the last decade, reports on black Brazilian news and achievements have increased significantly, not only because the mainstream is covering such stories more than before, but also because, as mentioned previously, black Brazilian media has a much wider reach than it did even at the beginning of the 21st century.
It’s for all of these reasons and more that stories such as the one I present today are news worthy. As I’ve repeatedly pointed out, a few decades ago it would have been highly unlikely that something like this could have even happened. Five black Brazilian female doctors coming together collectively for a certain cause. But why do I say this is something that would have been unlikely just a few decades ago?
There are several reasons.
One, a few decades ago, there simply weren’t that many Afro-Brazilian women doctors. Still today, with all of the advances in educational attainment because of quotas and scholarships, medicine is still an area where the black presence is still very small. Two, a few decades ago, if there was a possibility of seeing five black doctors, they most likely would have been men. Three, if there had been five black female doctors, as Brazil’s ‘racial democracy’ was still stronger than it is today, those five black female doctors would probably not have given a thought to coming together as group because, according to the myth, ‘’all Brazilians are equal’’ and there was and should be no distinction between doctors based on race or color.
It is very much true that neither doctors or patients should make distinctions of each based on race or color, but the fact is that it simply doesn’t work this way. For decades, and still today, Brazilians are often shocked when they treated by a black doctor. There have been cases in which people reject being treated by black doctors and there are also studies that show that black Brazilians feel they are treated differently by white doctors. These are facts that simply cannot be ignored, which is why stories such the one featured today are important.
Of course, doctors should treat patients regardless of any physical characteristics, but it also true that people need to see more black doctors so that they become as normalized in society as non-black doctors.
Representation: A group formed by five black doctors opens a clinic in Rio de Janeiro
By Eduardo Vanini
While the whole world was debating the advances in telemedicine, accelerated by the recommendations of social distancing brought on by the pandemic, five doctors who live in Rio decided to come together around an idea: open their own clinic. Since the first conversations, however, they made it clear that it would not be just another address where the focus would be on the quantity of daily consultations. The will to offer a more in-depth, personalized service was one of the main links between plastic surgeon Abdulay Eziquiel, cardiologist Aline Tito, gynecologist and mastologist Cecília Pereira, dermatologist Julia Rocha, and ophthalmologist Liana Tito.
It was exactly on this premise that the Ifé Medicina Group opened its doors at Rua Marquês de Abrantes 170, in Rio’s Flamengo region, in July this year. “We offer consultations in a timely manner, without rushing, through dialogue and a solid relationship with the patient,” describes Liana. The purpose, by the way, is in the very name of the place. “We wanted something short and that referred to our ancestry,” says Cecília, about a concern connected to the fact that the five partners are black.
Based on this idea, the group started searching for expressions on Google until they came across the word ifé, which means love in Yoruba. “It was passion at first sight. We thought it would be nice to have a name that would provoke some questions and, when its translation was revealed, people would think: ‘Wow, that’s beautiful'”.
The embryo of the project lies in an invitation made by Liana to Aline. The ophthalmologist, 39, is the sister of the cardiologist, 44, and proposed that the two set up a joint practice. The idea sounded attractive because both of them provide services at other places, and a single room would be idle for a good part of the week. “I immediately agreed, and 15 days later she asked me if I would be willing to share the space with other doctors,” says Aline. “We then started looking for professionals who had the same idea of empathy.
Besides their interest in personalized consultation, the five partners are connected by robust resumes. Dermatologist Julia, for example, specialized at the Instituto de Dermatologia Professor Rubem David Azulay, one of the most prestigious in Brazil, besides having done a fellowship at Mount Sinai, in New York. “It was challenging to believe that our purpose was enough for us to undertake and open a business right in the middle of the pandemic. But the fact that we gathered good technical backgrounds made us even more secure,” says the 35-year-old doctor.
Abdulay, who also did a fellowship in the United States, at the University of California, agrees with her friend and compares the group to a braid in which each one complements the work of the other. After all, the specialties are not repeated. “We thought of a configuration where we could offer comprehensive care to patients. If a woman comes to us with chest pain, for example, we are able to evaluate whether it is in the heart or the breast”, explains the plastic surgeon, also 35 years old.
The partners reiterate in their speeches the concern that the clinic be understood as a space open to all kinds of people. “We don’t want to provoke the idea that Ifé is a place for services restricted to the black population,” warns Aline. “We need, in fact, to normalize the presence of black women in medicine.” The union among the five, therefore, sounds like a natural path for the cardiologist. In the same way, gynecologist Cecília, 33, recognizes that the opening of a clinic like theirs is a political positioning. After all, situations of racism are still recurrent in the area of health. “When we arrive at an operating room, the clothes worn by a doctor, a nurse, and a technician are different from each other. Even then, without asking us what our function is, they never hand us the doctor’s clothes.”
If the idea is to build together with the clinic a new narrative, Liana notes that the effects have already begun to appear. According to her, since the opening, the waiting room has housed patients from different professions, religions, and skin tones. “It’s funny that before we start the consultations, people already start talking about life. This indicates that they really realize they are in a different place and feel comfortable to open up to us,” she observes.
During the research to define the project, the doctors realized that there are few ventures with a similar profile in Brazil. Even so, they have been surprised with the immediate success reached by the business (the clinic doesn’t accept health insurance plans and consultations start BRL 200). “In a little over a month, I had to expand my clinic attendance from once to three times a week,” says Abdulay, who also has an office in Rio’s Leblon district. “I think there was a pent-up demand for a space like ours.”
Part of this popularity, they say, stems from good old word of mouth, but also from the group’s strategic presence on social media. In addition to the Instagram page (@grupoifemedicina), all of them have professional profiles filled with informative content about their respective areas. Together, they add up to 42 thousand followers. “The social network moves the world. Most people who come here say: ‘I saw you on Instagram’,” Julia laughs.
The representativeness is tonic in the profile of the enterprise in the social network, with posts that range from health tips to literature by black authors, but also the clinic itself. Besides the five partners, most of the employees are black. I have no doubt that Ifé shows a new role for black women in society, which begins to understand them in their plurality, being able to be doctors, entrepreneurs, and clinic owners. And it’s in childhood that we begin to build these images. When I was little, I really missed examples like this.”