The life and death of conflicting invisibilities

I listened to a sad but fascinating story on the CBC Radio program White Coat, Black Art this morning (a rebroadcast of a show from one year ago today). The host, Dr. Brian Goldman, interviewed Dr. Maria Anderson DeCoteau about her father’s experience of care after having a heart attack.

The story included a confluence of invisibility factors; racism, professional vs. lay knowledge, insider/outsider treatment, advocacy, ‘proper channels’, and ‘voice’ in the face of ‘power.’

Presenting with a heart attack, her father was deemed to be the stereotype of a ‘drunken Aboriginal’ person – by assumption not by evidence. This lead to a series of ‘othering’ that created and continues to create differential spaces of invisibility where some people get care and other people get ‘proper care.’ In the end, thankfully, Dr. DeCoteau’s father received the right kind of care to sustain his health, but not until she was able to step in and help guide the situation.

What this suggests is that a construct of invisibility isn’t just useful for thinking about things, but that it can and must also be operationalized as a remedial tool. When one looks for ‘invisibility’ gaps, one can often find ways in which to intervene in broken systems and disordered thinking – taking us from unconscious incompetence through to conscious incompetence, conscious competence and finally to the ultimate goal of ordinary ‘unconscious competence’ – doing it because it’s just what we do in order to treat everyone equally and well.