PEOPLE’s Voices from the Fight Against Racism will amplify Black perspectives on the push for equality and justice

By Joelle Goldstein
August 03, 2020 10:00 AM
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Dr. Matthew Igbinigie
Dr. Matthew Igbinigie

Dr. Matthew Igbinigie is a Dallas-based orthopedic surgeon completing his residency at a medical practice. A first-generation graduate of Texas A&M University and the University of Texas Medical Branch, Igbinigie, 28, has been using his platform on Instagram to increase awareness about physicians. One of his posts, showing Igbinigie wearing his work scrubs and hoodie in a side-by-side photo, has gone viral for its powerful message about race. Here is his story, as told to PEOPLE. 

I always think about who I share my space with. It's scary to me because I'm fearful of the system. I'm fearful that if I speak too honestly or dress a certain way, the system won't allow me to pass. So, in turn, I play the game and they win, which is unfortunate.

I've had so many experiences of being profiled for what you wear, what you look like, that I try not to remember them because I don't want to. I've been so desensitized, to the point where if I need to correct people, I do. Otherwise, I just assume that's what they think and I'm going to have to do my thing to prove them wrong.

At Texas A&M, I initially wasn't able to get into their biomedical engineering program, so I worked hard to get good grades in the first semester to make it in the next one. I ended up having a 3.8 or a 3.9 GPA. I went to the advisor's office, sat down, and before I even told her anything about my road, where I come from, what I've accomplished while at A&M, or where I want to go, she started off with a message that not many people make it, it's very competitive, and there are only six spots this year.

I was just a naïve freshman. I didn't know how things worked, but I remember leaving that meeting discouraged and upset because I realized that I knew I was qualified on paper and didn't know why the advisor was so against it. She didn't look down at my papers, she didn't review my transcript. All she had in front of her was me.

Dr. Matthew Igbinigie
@IvyWeddings

As I progressed to medical school, there were a number of times where I wore professional clothing or scrubs on an airplane, and the level of respect that I received was much different than when I wore just gray shorts. I've also experienced plenty of times where, in the hospital in my attire, I'm assumed to be medical transport even though my badge says medical doctor.

In this day and society, there's a larger contrast between how I'm treated if I'm wearing certain attire. Now, I don't fly on a plane without professional clothing or proper attire because the level of treatment, the way that people look at me, the pronouns that people use, it's just different.

It shows that many people are not treated in a humane fashion, and the solution is not for us to wear scrubs or suits all the time, because our counterparts don't have to do that.

The humanity of Black people in America has not been addressed or recognized as equal. Therefore, the treatment of our lives is different. And therefore, the consequences of our lives being lost is not the same magnitude as someone else, which is wrong.

Breonna Taylor was just like me. She worked in healthcare, and even though we seem to be making some strides, that could've been me. No matter what my profession is, the fact is I look this way, so I am at risk.

With my Instagram photo, the hope was to challenge the viewer to ask themselves, "Why is the life of this one more important than the other?" You can respect someone in medicine, by all means. But you have to understand that does not make me more human, or more worthy of life, or have more value than someone else.

Dr. Matthew Igbinigie
Dr. Matthew Igbinigie

After I posted the photo, I went to my first protest, which was a White Coats for Black Lives protest. I had some of my co-workers reach out to me and ask, "Hey, what protests are you going to?"

To me, it was kind of like, "Well, I guess they just found out I'm a Black man in America." Because this stuff has been going on for months. The conversation only starts because they see that I've made a contribution to the movement. I'm not saying they were treating me nasty, they just weren't the most sensitive about it.

I always wondered how my co-workers view me outside of being a doctor, and if they saw me on the road in my hoodie, what would they say? Now it's at the point where I walk around and people recognize me at the hospital for my post.

It's cool, but it's also kind of scary because I have more of a light on me — a light that says this is a part of me and who I am. I like to play basketball. This is just what I wear. It's comfortable. I'm curious which way their mind has gone now, but it's out of my hands and that's scary.

Dr. Matthew Igbinigie
Dr. Matthew Igbinigie

I understand that I'm in a position of leadership. These scrubs remind me that not everybody — even though they embody the capability — do not have the opportunity to be where I am right now. Many of the people who look like me do not even pursue the career that I'm in because they've never seen someone like me in this position.

I understand that I'm a rare occurrence, so I realize that I have more responsibility to conduct myself properly. Just because the system is made to be used against me, I don't want to embody that towards everybody, because not everybody thinks that way.

I always try my best to look at those who are misinformed with compassion, because some people just don't have the right exposure, the right influences around them to have a healthy world view or view of other humans.

At the same time, if you have an opportunity to speak, stand up for what is right. It is my duty to help these misinformed people, even if they inflect some harm to me.

Even though it's frustrating as heck and it happens all the time, my goal is to encourage them to move towards the love of their fellow neighbor — whoever that is and whatever they look like — and toward being more loving, because that love will multiply.

  • As told to Joelle Goldstein

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

• ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.

• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help Black youth succeed in college and beyond.