Of all the hues of prejudice that the disparities in skin tone might paint upon the psyche, the one that strikes as the most glaring is often the one that gets smudged and then smeared over; a recent glaze upon a remnant stain, as seemingly seamless their strokes may merge.
Mr. B's diabetes flouted conventional therapy with a flourish, or so it seemed until I crosschecked with his pharmacist. He had refilled not one of his medications since the day they were prescribed. In his defense was a reason, way more appalling than the familiar ones, or at least the ones I was accustomed to; often conjured with the intent to appeal.
"We should have let him die," he said. "It would have saved us time and money."
I was in a large supermarket in the late afternoon. At the busy cheese counter, I took a number and stood waiting in the large crowd. When my number was called, I pushed through the customers to the counter and gave my order. After I'd finished, I took a half-step backward and collided with someone.
As I turned around to apologize, I found myself facing a young woman who towered over me. I am white; she was African-American and wore the uniform of a meter maid. I said that I was sorry, that I hadn't seen her.
Any class of first-year medical students contains a mix of genders, races, socioeconomic ranges, ages and cultures. We try to convince students their tutor groups are safe places to ask questions and the only bad question is one that isn’t asked. Sometimes that openness leads to challenges.
I was waiting on a friend who had injured her arm. They entered later and huddled in the seats nearby, murmuring in hushed Korean and peering at the English signs.
Feverish and weak, the mother clutched her stomach while her husband stroked her arm. You could tell the son was anxious by the way he kept tugging at his father’s wrist to check his watch, the way he paced in little circles and rubbed his mother’s hand.
"Hey Doctor Curly!"
"Hey Hungry Hippo!"
"You still haven't gotten a haircut? Have you had one since your Bar Mitzvah?! What nice Jewish girl's gonna go on a date with you with your hair that long?!"
"Been working long hours in the hospital, Linda. Haven't had a chance yet--I will! How are you feeling? Are the steroids still helping your appetite?"
"Ooohh weee, don't you know it! I'm eatin' everything in sight! Now tell me doc, is there cancer in my brain? If there is, I don't wanna know. We're gonna run that half-block marathon next year, aren't we, Doctor Curly?"
In a few years, we were financially back on our feet. But, much to the horror of friends and family, my mother insisted that we remain in the Poughkeepsie schools. About 70 percent of the children in the district were African-American. She rightly saw the rampant de facto segregation and, due to a combination of her political idealism and plain stubbornness, kept us where we were. The fact that this was viewed as a radical act in my parents' social circle speaks volumes about race in America.
My life and experiences have been defined by contrasts. I am a physician and a military officer. Yet, in my presence and out of ear shot, I have been called such names as Nigger, Oreo, Tutsoon and Spear Chucker.
My experience differs.