“Mom says you are a really good veterinarian because you are black and had to work extra hard.” the little girl said with a smile.  My eyes narrowed as my lips pursed into a smirk. I looked across the exam table into her mother’s eyes and watched the color drain from her face.  How do you respond to a statement like that?  You keep doing what you do and make sure you do it well.

I often encounter many who choose to see the color of my skin as a handicap to be over-come instead of acknowledging my accomplishments as a product of my drive and intellect.  I describe it as being defined by the “exceptional black man syndrome”: because or in spite of my achievements, I can’t possibly be like the rest of “them” so I must be exceptional. When thought of that way, factors of my upbringing are ignored:  being the son of educators who instilled in me and my five siblings the idea any goal in life could be accomplished as long as we  work hard; value intelligence and education above popularity and athletic prowess;  knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt I was raised by parents who did the best they knew how; being nurtured to believe in myself while having the courage, and sometimes the lack of common sense, to dream as big if not larger as the situation requires.   And let’s not discount being blessed. I am not better than anyone, just an individual. No better nor worse than the rest of “them” whomever “them” may be.

“Are you sure you are qualified to treat my pet?” the lady asked.  After vomiting for three days, she decided to bring her seven year old Labrador Retriever in for medical attention. My eyes narrowed as my lips pursed into a smirk.  I looked across the exam table into her eyes.  How do you respond to a statement like that? You keep doing what you do and make sure you do it well.

We are repeatedly told we live in a post-racial America.  I think we just live in America.   Stories of how people of color, women, and children are devalued, mistreated, and disrespected seem to be main stays of the daily news. The slogan “Black Lives Matter” echo in the streets, appears on the cover of news magazines, saturate social media platforms, and is displayed on the t-shirts and accessories of the politically active and the fashionable. Although the concept should be universally accepted without question, one can’t help but wonder about those to whom black lives, and further- more, all lives seem not to matter. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights, but obviously not guaranteed for all.

When challenged with such statements and situations, my thoughts go back to the instructions of my parents.  Take the high road. Always. There are times my inclinations are not to rise about the level of discourse, but to sink to its level if not lower. Not an acceptable action. One must consciously and constantly take the morally superior path, less we are no better than those who torment us, be it intentionally or through insensitivity and ignorance. Justice not vengeance is the watch word and the goal.

Dr. Pierre Bland is the owner of Dr. Bland’s Vet House Calls.  He can be reached at 954-673-8579 or at doctorblandvet.com