Brown baby manikin

SpeakingInColorA few weeks ago I wanted to re-learn a skill that I had been taught. I needed to update my certification for training in Adult and Child CPR, AED, and First AID. I attended the class and noticed that I was the only African American there.

I had no problem with this. I was there for a lifesaving course that would serve me if I ever needed to help someone. When one works in the helping field as I do, you never know when you will be called upon to save a life in a physical way as opposed to a social, mental, or emotional way.

When it became time to practice Child CPR skills, we were all asked to get up and grab a manikin from the table and take our seats again. I observed how each adult came to the table and took a white baby manikin but no one took the brown baby manikin. In the whole pile of 16 manikin babies there was only one brown baby. The instructors did not know who would be attending the class, so nothing was paired up to a specific person beforehand.

As the pile of baby manikins slowly started to disappear there were two left on the table, a white and a brown baby manikin. I also noticed that the white baby’s leg was accidentally wrapped around the leg of the brown baby manikin. The last individual before me picked up the white baby manikin and shook the brown baby off her white baby manikin. The brown baby manikin dropped back onto the table with a slight thump.

I wanted to turn around as I approached the table looking at the singular baby manikin and ask, “Why is it that no one wanted the brown doll?” This visual sparked an emotional charge in me. I had no problem with working with the beautiful baby manikin, as I gently lifted her in my arms I slowly walked her to my seat.

As the instructor spoke I held the ear of the manikin next to my lips pretending to talk to her in a whispered tongue saying, “I will save you; you will never have to worry about needing a paramedic because as a community we will hold you up holistically within our arms.” Though I felt a sudden division from the rest of the individuals in the room, I completed the course and received my certification. But the thought of the baby manikin to this day hasn’t set right within my spirit.

We came to the class as individuals wanting to learn the same skill set of preparedness in saving an individual’s life. I couldn’t help thinking that not one Caucasian from the 16 in the room would consider saving my life based on my skin color. We as humans are separate in color, religion, cultures, etc. but we are the same as human beings. Regardless of how man and institution has tried to separate a people based on negative stereotypes, we are still human beings at the end of the day.

The forgiveness of one’s behaviors over the years has taught me to meet each and every person where they are, and to acknowledge that perhaps it was uncomfortable for the group to use the First Aid supplies and CPR masks to pretend that they were saving a brown baby.

It is not always what we say to one another, but how we treat one another that lingers far longer than our words — even through a chance encounter with a brown baby manikin that lay alone atop a table.

E. Ellis lives in Minneapolis and is a freelance writer.