It was upon opening an email request to recount my experience as a Black dietitian for a media interview on June 4, 2020, that I realized I was grieving. Staring at 14 questions and a “tight deadline,” I knew I did not have the bandwidth to relive those experiences. I was tapped out.
This moment also highlighted the chasm between how the events of the last few weeks had impacted me versus those who don’t look like me, who haven’t lived my experience as a Black woman. Doing media interviews is part of my job. I’ve done more than I can count. But this one was different.
I was torn about writing this piece. Unlike my usual features, I couldn’t simply pore through recent studies on the effect of some food or nutrients on a condition and write up the results. This one would be personal and I was conflicted for several reasons:
- One: I am private. I don’t like talking about myself.
- Two: It requires heavy emotional labor. Recalling personal traumas — no matter how small — is unpleasant. This, combined with the ongoing civil unrest in this country during a pandemic, all while meeting work deadlines and getting enough sleep? It’s a tall order.
- Three: A fear of being tokenized and judged.
Ultimately, I decided to write this blog post because maybe it can help. And I appreciate the opportunity to share my perspective and ideas to move forward. This is the part of my lived experience that I’m willing to share. There will be similarities between what I write and others’ experiences, but we all have different stories to tell.
Becoming a dietitian
I started college as a chemical engineering major at Georgia Tech. After my first summer internship and earning a full scholarship to stay the course, I realized engineering was not for me. My advisor, who knew I was way more passionate about food, science and working with people than I could ever be about thermodynamics, introduced me to the idea of becoming a registered dietitian nutritionist.
So, I called a consulting Black RDN who told me to come see what she did. I did. I was sold. She and I are still in touch today and I pay it forward by mentoring, hosting interns, answering questions, writing letters of reference for scholarships, dietetic internships and graduate programs and simply being a listening ear for students today.
Life today as a Black dietitian
I am often the only Black person or person of color on a team, on a trip or in a room. This doesn’t make me uncomfortable; I’m used to it. But that doesn’t make it OK.
And I can’t ignore the questions that sometimes surface.
Although I know I am well-qualified to be there, I often wonder if I’m the box someone needed to check to say they have a “diverse” group.
On a press trip last spring, I finally got to meet one of my online RDN friends in real life and reconnect with one another. This was the first time I’d been on a trip with two other Black RDNs. And it was the direct result of someone on the PR team making the decision to invite all three of us — not just one. This event stands out because it’s an outlier. But what if it were the norm?
Because, you see, these meetings are where growth happens, where partnerships are born and when our colleagues get to know us. Leaving people of color out not only misses a chance for connections but continues to build a profession that doesn’t include diverse voices or reflect the communities we serve.
These seemingly small, fleeting questions and countless microaggressions can make it challenging for some to continue. Knowing you might not be accepted because you look different or having to work twice as hard to get to the same position can be taxing.
But we do it anyway.
I do because I am passionate about food and nutrition and helping others. It fills me up to see a woman smile after discovering that she doesn’t have to give up her favorite foods to be “healthy.” I’m clear that it’s part of my purpose.
I stay because I regularly get calls from women looking specifically to work with a Black woman. In dealing with something as personal as food, being able to relate to one another is critical.
To be clear, I have had amazing opportunities and love what I do. I was fortunate to have an incredible undergraduate program. I’ve worked as an outpatient dietitian in diabetes and cardiovascular nutrition, as a corporate dietitian for a national restaurant chain and as the sole RDN in worksite wellness at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And I currently run my food and nutrition communications business that I love waking up to every day.
And the last few weeks have been both eye-opening and confusing. The new attention to systemic racism and expressed intent to even the playing field thanks to the #AmplifyMelanatedVoices challenge started by RDN Jessica Wilson, has come with a swell of activity. This is great on the one hand but still leaves me to question why it took a social media challenge to make it a priority.
Know that Black dietitians in the online space might be inundated right now. From explosive social media growth to a deluge of offers to collaborate, be on podcasts and requests to use our work — these past few weeks have been nothing short of overwhelming. And while I can appreciate the rush to action, sustainable change takes time. It is not a sprint.
Commit to action for the long term — not just through the current news cycle.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had friends reach out asking what they can do. I don’t have the answers. There are lots of resources already available.
And remember, we don’t need to be saved. Instead, we welcome authentic support and allies.
But ever the pragmatist, I’ll end with some ideas on moving forward beyond a statement or lovely graphic that checks a box.
Commit to taking a second look.
- Seek to understand systemic racism and recognize how it shows up.
- Check your privilege. Acknowledge and become more aware of implicit or overt bias to open up new possibilities.
- Explore where and how you can help even the playing field. It’s easy to make decisions from our own bubbles that may not reflect the realities of the world.
Be an active ally.
- Evaluate your circles. If you are in a position of influence — recruiting; organizing events, webinars and panels; or hiring influencers for a campaign — take a moment to review your roster and organizational charts. Are you including diverse voices?
- Offer corrections. If you see that a person of color is being overlooked or offered a lower fee for services, speak up. It’s not comfortable, but it’s the kind of work that must be done to achieve equality.
I won’t pretend that this list is comprehensive. It is far from it. I am not an expert in this, but I hope it helps.
Though you won’t ever be able to truly understand what it’s like to walk in my shoes, you can stand up when you see injustices and find ways to support and amplify the work that people of color are already doing.
Remember, ignoring an issue doesn’t mean it’s not real. It’s just dealt with in a different way.
The team behind Food & Nutrition Magazine® aims to amplify the voices of people of color and other underrepresented individuals in nutrition and dietetics and highlight the experiences of RDNs, dietetic interns and nutrition and dietetics students. Our goal is not only to stand in solidarity, but also help inform our readers and increase awareness about the importance of diversity in the field of nutrition and dietetics. We know it’s not enough, but we hope it’s a step in the right direction that will support meaningful conversations and a positive change in the profession.