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Portrait of a surgeon at operating room.

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I am a Scorpio – the pettiest of the petty, zodiac sign. If there’s a way to go low and not feel bad about it, we’ve figured it out, thought long and hard on it and then found a Capricorn to talk us out of it. However, there are some stoops that even this princess of petty will not drop to.

On Jan. 13, Dr. Nicole Williams, ob-gyn and member of Delta Sigma Theta sorority took to Instagram to post a now deleted photo of herself throwing up the Delta hand symbol and posing with 22 uterine fibroids that she had just surgically removed from a patient’s body. Each blood-tinged fibroid was laid out on a medical tray. 

On its face, nothing seems wrong with this. The photo op could have been used as a teachable moment around reproductive health for women, specifically Black women who are disproportionately affected by uterine fibroids. According to Black Women’s Health Imperative, 80 percent of Black women will develop and suffer from fibroids over the course of their lifetime. That rate is 10 percent higher than our white counterparts. 

Unsurprisingly, fibroids are the number one reason for hysterectomy in the United States, BWHI also noted. —And size matters. The measure and growth of fibroids are greater in Black women than other race or ethnicity and are “more likely to undergo surgical intervention,” a National Institute of Health study revealed. 

Dr. Williams could have educated Black women on the damage fibroids could cause to our reproductive system, how they might adversely affect our ability to get pregnant and have healthy and safe pregnancies or how invasive hysterectomy procedures could further harm our bodies. Any of these positive actions would have been received as an acceptable post.

But alas—the acceptable seemed to escape Dr. Williams and instead, gave way to her excitement of the day which happened to be Delta Sigma Theta’s Founder’s Day and the reason why this particular post originated: Dr Williams made an uncanny correlation between the 22 fibroids removed from her patient—which happened to be the number of women who founded the first Delta chapter in 1913—and the fact her patient was a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority.

The caption beneath Williams’ photo read: 

“This is TRUE. On the 109th anniversary of the founding of our beloved sisterhood, I removed 22 fibroids from an AKA! For those who do not know, there were 22 founders of Delta Sigma Theta who broke off from AKA to forge their own destiny with a new organization, new ideals, and a new way of thinking. DELTA women.”

It is not clear why Williams thought it newsworthy and “coincidental” enough to post on social media. A flex perhaps? 

The level of petty here is profoundly disturbing and inexcusable and second-hand embarrassing given Black women’s history of gynecological malpractice at the hands of J. Marion Sims, a quack physician who performed vaginal, surgical procedures on enslaved women without the use of anesthesia; given the disquieting state of Black women’s health and maternal mortality; given she is a Black woman who authored a text promoting vaginal health. Dr. Williams should know better. 

Research shows “in North Carolina in the 1960s, Black women made up 65 percent of all sterilizations of women, although they were only 25 percent of the population” (Berkley University, 2020), so I don’t think it’s much of a reach to state this is more than just a faux pas. The mea culpa Williams offered up does nothing to address her understanding of the multilayered misstep. Her apology, seen below, speaks to her hoping to do better in the future and “living up to the high ideals” she’s damaged:

In Kanye’s voice: “HOW SWAY??” 

Both Williams post and apology outraged a range of women on social media. I, and I imagine countless other Black women, AKAs, Deltas, and non-sorority sisters alike, will keep a watchful eye to see exactly how Dr. Williams plans to live up to those high ideals because surely, this cannot be reduced to an “oops, sorry line sisters” moment.

There is so much more that she can do than just “keep working harder in the future” and I would like to think the first of those things would be to know when to keep the petty “in-house,” and off the interwebs or—stop being messy altogether. 

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