A GP who has suffered abuse at the hands of social media trolls due to her colour, faith and gender has spoken out about the discrimination she has faced.
Dr Nighat Arif, based at a surgery in Chesham in Buckinghamshire, said she accepts people picking apart her scientific opinion but that commenting on aspects of her identity is unacceptable.
The TV doctor, who has appeared on BBC Breakfast and ITV’s This Morning, said the volume of abuse she received after suggesting that face coverings will be part of life for a number of years was “immense”.
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, Dr Arif said: “I don’t mind people picking on the way I look because unfortunately the way I look is very different to what you see on TV, I get that.
“You know we still want to know that everybody fits into the normal prototype of what is ‘normal’ on TV, and unfortunately what you look like and not what your brain is like, you know the intellect or things, is what we value individuals on.
“I understand that.”
She added: “I gave my opinion based on how we know viruses behave, and face coverings, whether we like it or not, in some degree, will have to be part of our mainstay for a number of years to come.
“I’m really sorry if that isn’t something that people want to hear.”
Dr Arif compared the precaution of wearing face masks to the wearing of seat belts in cars.
“We wear seat belts every day, and I make sure the passengers in my car wear a seat belt, because it’s not because I’m afraid or something, it’s because I know that, if I’m involved in a car accident, I and those people in my car are safe with me.
“And we have to keep thinking of the virus like that. We have to keep those and ourselves safe for many, many years to come.
“But what I don’t agree with is that you can pick apart my scientific opinion, but if you are then picking apart my colour, my faith that I choose to practise, my gender as a woman, then that is not on.
“And loads of people are calling this out, but the volume this time was just immense and I felt that I had to call it out because, as a doctor who works in the NHS, has worked in the pandemic, that gives me some privileges and also gives me some support and some confidence to be able to call out discrimination.”
Dr Arif tweeted the clip of her speaking on BBC Breakfast and wrote: “To discredit someone’s voice or opinion based on colour, faith, gender, sexuality, disability or ANY thing that makes them different should be called out.
“Learn the differences & you will see you have more in common than you think.
“Be brave & be an ally where possible.”
Dr Omon Imohi, who posts health videos on social media, said she has been called a “fake doctor”, an actor in a nurse’s uniform and been told: “You look like a CGI, like a robot.”
The Merseyside-based GP, who founded Black Women in Health, said it is “demoralising” when she is trying to “do something good” to then be hit with insults.
She told the PA news agency: “The past year has really been tough for everyone. I know we all have different levels of resilience, but it’s been a tough year for everyone.
“For us healthcare workers, we’ve been working all through. Some of us have not taken holidays, or taken less than usual.
“We’ve been working all through, and it’s demoralising when you’re trying your best to do something good and people are just out there trying to bring you down, basically, insulting you, and just saying very mean words to you.
“I think people need to think about what they say to people, because some people might be very resilient and very thick skinned. Well many people are not.”
Dr Imohi, who is also a university tutor, said a lot of her colleagues do not talk about medicine on social media.
“I think people need to be a bit kinder, people need to be kind. I think that’s the word – they just need to be kind because, you know, it’s a difficult world already. You can actually make an opinion without being insulting.
“There have been a few people that have made an opinion about what they think and why they’re not having the vaccine but they’ve not been insulting in any way.
“But when someone comes in first of all calling you a fool or calling you stupid or, you know, mentioning your race or your gender or colour, that just raises a guard first of all before you even look at the entire picture.”
Dr Imohi said she tries not to focus on negative comments, adding: “One thing I’ve learned, and I’ve told some of my colleagues that are doing the same thing on social media: focus on the positive comments, focus on the people that want to learn, that have real questions that they want to actually get answers to, not the ones that you know are trolling you.”