Today I meet a potential oncologist. I am already planning what Ill wear for the appointment something professional, not too formal, the kind of outfit I wear for teaching. Im paying attention to this for the same reason I think about what Ill wear when Im going to be flying.
In a potentially fraught situation where strangers will have power over you, and where their opinion of you can affect how well they take care of you, it cant hurt to have them see you as someone worthy of treating well. It might help.
I used to wear t-shirts and torn jeans when I flew; after 9/11, I stopped dressing that casually. I have brown skin, after all dressing in casual clothes felt too risky. Airport personnel were politer to me when I was a little more dressed up, were more likely to go out of their way to get me on a flight, or to change the seat assignment so I could sit with my little girl. The clothes made a difference, and the polite, educated English my class background provided probably didnt hurt either.
I hate that I have to think this way. Everyone should be afforded those same courtesies, regardless of their appearance. Everyone should get equally kind, considerate, thorough and competent medical care. And there are, of course, many medical professionals who do offer that level of care to all their patients, even the dirtiest, smelliest ones. I have known doctors and nurses and techs who couldnt care less what you looked like you could tell from the first words you exchanged with them that they were going to give you the best possible care no matter what.
But people are only human, and most of us are socialized heavily to respond to class markers, on a completely unconscious level. With my life on the line, I find that Ill take any edge I can get. So Ill put on a cute outfit today, the kind my doctor might be wearing herself, under that white coat, and Ill be grateful that I have the financial ability and the class background knowledge to facilitate dressing that way.
Maybe someday, I can do more to change the system. Today, the priority is staying alive, so I can fight that fight another day.