Imagine you are at the top in your field of specialized medicine. You do all the right things in terms of furthering your career, yet your peers and colleagues not only disrespect you on a constant basis — they lampoon you in a vile and hostile manner and then laugh like a cabal of mean-spirited middle school bullies. Then, when you try to attain some sort of justice, they retaliate against not only you, but anyone who sticks up for you.
This is what Dr. Christian Head, M.D. head and neck surgeon at UCLA Medical Center, has had to deal with. Americans have become, to borrow an old and suspect phrase: Afraid to call a spade, a spade. The taunts and humiliation this man has endured at the hands of other doctors and surgeons, is nothing but pure racist harassment, because Dr. Head is Black. So many people blame this type of behavior on the ignorance of the perpetrator, or worse — they blame the victims and say those victims are being overly sensitive.
In a previous post (Goodbye Herman Cain) I addressed the phenomenon of “unconscious racism.” What I am talking about here are actions driven by intent, will and choice. It’s time to stop blaming overt racist thinking and actions on ignorance and hypersensitivity. This type of racism is a choice on the part of the perpetrators, plain and simple. What else would explain such egregious actions? If the humiliation Dr. Head has been forced to endure had been properly addressed by his superiors, giving him the redress he sought, then his case may not have garnered any attention outside the UC educational community. His “superiors,” The UCLA Board of Regents, let this man down. They failed him, miserably. If one needs to sue in order to obtain fair and equal treatment, as Dr. Head recently did, then that indicates a fundamental break down in the system. People, regardless of their educational level, need to be held accountable for racist behavior.
Dr. Head’s plight reminds me of an excellent book written on this topic, by Ellis Cose, In the introduction of the book “The Rage of a Privileged Class: Why Are Middle-Class Blacks Angry? Why Should America Care?,” Mr. Cose illuminates the plight of many successful black people in America then (1993) and apparently today:
Despite its very evident prosperity, much of America’s black middle class is in excruciating pain. That distress — although most of the country does not see it — illuminates a serious American problem: The problem of the broken covenant, of the pact ensuring that if you work hard, get a good education, and play by the rules, you will be allowed to advance and achieve to the limits of your ability. Again and again, as I spoke with people who had every accoutrement of success, I heard the same plaintive declaration–always followed by various versions of an unchanging and urgently put question. “I have done everything I was supposed to do, I have stayed out of trouble with the law, gone to the right schools, and worked myself nearly to death. What more do they want? Why in God’s name won’t they accept me as a full human being?”
It’s racism. Stop trying to soft sell it as something linked to lower intellect alone. (Although it often is). It’s a conscious decision to treat a group of people as less than you are because of the color of their skin or their ethnic background. When America really faces the truth that we are so NOT post-racial, then perhaps there will be fewer incidents such as this one involving Dr. Head. The incident involving Professor Henry Louis Gates, being arrested on his own front porch for breaking and entering his own home, and Trayvon Martin – guilty only of walking while being young, black, and in the very place he had every right to be. This is a problem that crosses socioeconomic lines. We have sitting elected officials sending out racist e-mails mocking the President of these supposedly United States and his family. The perpetrators in each instance mentioned are sorry only for being caught — not for being racist assholes.
In writing this post, I intentionally did not outline the outrageous and hurtful behavior that is the impetus for the petititon and lawsuit seeking the justice Dr. Head deserves. I want you to watch it. You have to see the pain in this man’s eyes for yourself. Then? Sign the petition.
We as a people, can’t afford to allow racism in any of form to continue to exist. To say it will always be with us is just lazy thinking and, to use a term coined by Joyce E. King, Dysconscious Racism:
“the uncritical habit of mind (i.e., perceptions, attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs) that justifies inequity and exploitation by accepting the existing order of things as given.”
For all our sake, if something (or someone) is racist, we need to face it then deal with it by taking actionable steps to eradicate it.