Tamika Cross, a physician, was midway through a flight from Detroit to Minneapolis when a passenger emergency sent her into “doctor mode.”
Sometime after takeoff, a man two rows in front of her suddenly became unresponsive, she said, and flight attendants called for help.
Cross, an obstetrician and gynecologist, said she immediately flagged down one of the crew members, offering to treat the man.
She got a response she wasn’t prepared for.
“Oh no, sweetie, put (your) hand down,” Cross recalled the flight attendant saying. “We are looking for actual physicians or nurses or some type of medical personnel, we don’t have time to talk to you.”
The reason behind the flight attendant’s apparent skepticism? Cross says it was because she is black.
Cross described the experience on the flight in an Oct. 9 Facebook post that had been shared more than 34,000 times as of Thursday night. In it, she said she was “sick of being disrespected” as a woman of color in her profession and accused Delta, the flight operator, of “blatant discrimination.”
Delta said it has reached out to Cross about what happened. In multiple comments from the official Delta Facebook account, the company said the incident “does not reflect the Delta culture. We condemn discrimination toward our customers.”
Cross’ story calls up other incidents in which black professionals claim to have been racially profiled. Over the summer, Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., made waves with a speech from the Senate floor in which he recounted being questioned by police because of his race. And in a now-famous confrontation, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested by a white police officer at his house in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
What happened to Cross had nothing to do with law enforcement, of course. In her case, she said she felt profiled not because of what she looked like but because of what she didn’t look like.
It started, Cross said, when a woman ahead of her screamed for someone to come help her husband.
“I naturally jumped into doctor mode as no one else was getting up,” Cross said in her Facebook post. As she was unbuckling her seat belt, she said, a flight attendant told people on the plane to stay calm, that the passenger was just having a “night terror.”
But moments later the man became unresponsive again. This time, Cross said, the flight crew asked whether there was a physician on board. She said she raised her hand to volunteer, but a flight attendant shut her down.
“I tried to inform her that I was a physician but I was continually cut off by condescending remarks,” Cross said.
The crew then said for any physicians on board to press their call buttons, according to Cross. She elaborated:
“I stare at her as I go to press my button. She said ‘oh wow you’re an actual physician?’ I reply yes. She said ‘let me see your credentials. What type of Doctor are you? Where do you work? Why were you in Detroit?’ (Please remember this man is still in need of help and she is blocking my row from even standing up while Bombarding me with questions).
“I respond ‘OBGYN, work in Houston, in Detroit for a wedding, but believe it or not they DO HAVE doctors in Detroit. Now excuse me so I can help the man in need.'”
At that point, Cross said, a white male came up and told the crew he was a physician as well. The flight attendant sent her back to her seat, saying the man had his “credentials,” only to return to her later for advice on how to treat the passenger’s low blood pressure, according to Cross. The passenger eventually regained consciousness and was answering questions, she said.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Cross works as a resident physician-obstetrician and gynecologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. The medical school’s website lists her as a fourth-year resident M.D.
Cross said she felt she was dismissed because she didn’t fit the “description of a doctor.” The flight attendant apologized and offered her Delta SkyMiles, she said.
“I kindly refused,” Cross said. “This is going higher than her. I don’t want skymiles in exchange for blatant discrimination.”
Cross’s post drew more than 12,000 comments on Facebook and erupted on Twitter on Thursday. Many users wrote responses using the hashtags #TamikaCross, #WeDoExist and #WhatADoctorLooksLike to draw attention to people of color in the medical profession.