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Race, Poverty, Privilege

The kind of place the reader outfitted herself as a poor child (Bernard Weil/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

A reader who is a senior physician writes in response to the “Hour Of Wolves And Shattered Shields” post. I have blurred some of this to protect her privacy):

Like the person who wrote to you, I too am having problems with the idea of white privilege. The house I grew up in was all that my parents could afford. It had no heating system and because the house was more than 120 years old, in poor repair, my mother refused to burn anything in the one fireplace. My room was so cold in the winter time that ice would form, several inches thick. My great grandmothers made quilts. Yet I slept with socks, long johns, a long night gown and a wool hat and buried myself beneath the quilts. My clothes for school came from the Salvation Army or Heart and Hand. More than once I was humiliated by classmates who recognized an older sister’s dress. I took a job with my local newspaper writing copy and taking photos of events in my county. I was 11. When I discovered I could also pitch stories to several other newspapers in neighboring counties, it was a red letter day. 10 cents per copy inch and 3 dollars per published photo. Processing my own B&W photos was cheaper than having it done professionally, so I kept more of my profit.

Fast forward to my undergraduate admission to [Ivy League college]. The child of high school dropouts, I got a complete financial package. One of my roommates was a young black woman from Manhattan. Her father was vice president of a prestigious organization and her mother was a full professor at Barnard. They lived in an expensive apartment near Central Park.
She and I are still friendly. Privilege was not what I felt when I met [name].
During my four years at [Ivy League college] (late 70’s-early 80’s) crime on campus was rampant. Twice I was attacked, beaten horribly because I did not have any money to give my attackers. Both times I required surgery. My attackers were black males. Privilege is not what I felt after those attacks.
A friend of mine was raped for hours at knife point — her attacker was black. A student in my [dorm] was nearly stabbed to death — by a young black male. Friends of one of my roommates were raped by two black males. A guy that I often spoke with at the gym was attacked by several black guys armed with bats. Even after they took his money and watch, they still attacked him.
I don’t hate blacks as a race. My black friends and colleagues know that. Having spent nearly my entire career taking care of blacks, Hispanics and society’s most vulnerable and being married to a Hispanic — I fail to see how I could be a racist. I have fostered the careers of several young black physicians — one of whom now teaches at [Ivy League school], another is a department chief in [major American city], a third has one of the biggest medical practices in [state]. Currently I am helping another, training him to be my successor.
None of this is what Martin Luther King promulgated. However, like the person you wrote about in your piece, I dare not speak my mind. In fact, I had to sign up for yet another diversity webinar that the Dean wants all program directors to watch. He also wanted us to wear our white coats, taking a knee for the cameras. Fortunately, I was working in trauma taking care of the myriad young black men who shoot each other every day in [this major American city].

On that last point, the reader makes me think about the most famous performer to come from Baton Rouge, my city: the rapper Boosie Badazz. Here he is from a video earlier in his career, shot in his north Baton Rouge neighborhood:

Can’t imagine why those gentlemen remain economically marginalized. Must be racism.

For its size, Baton Rouge is one of the most murder-ridden cities in the country. Last year, 75 percent of the victims were black males. If you know Baton Rouge, then you can read this map of 2019 homicides, and realize that they overwhelmingly took place in predominantly black neighborhoods.

But the real problem is police violence? Right.

UPDATE: Comment from Wyoming Doc:

I can absolutely see much of my own life in your correspondent above.

I too have been in academic medicine for decades. I have done everything I know to do to foster careers of physicians that are not only African-American, but also Hispanic, American Indian (real ones – not Elizabeth Warren types), and Asians. I did this because they are the ones who can go back to their communities with credibility – and be physicians.

I have had the privilege of mentoring dozens and dozens of these individuals that are now in practice all over this country. I am in touch with them constantly – I love to hear their stories. I feel that I am truly blessed to have had such influence on their lives. I know from my old students and residents that there is a struggle now for the soul of the African American community. Many of my old students understand the struggle – but also find the whole current approach just incomprehensible. They, like me, working in inner city hospitals, in the heart of the crisis, can easily see that there is so much more going wrong with our minority communities than “white privilege” or police problems. We physicians have known this for years – but no one listened. Your video above is absolutely representative of one of the big problems in young black men – the adulation of drug abuse, misogyny, thuggish behavior, and antisocial attitudes that our entire society now worships in their music and culture. Instead of the young men learning how to support families and be fathers, they emulate this behavior. It is truly a vicious cycle. And here is the core of the issue – I was in our inner city culture as a physician for 30 years, I have not a clue how to fix this problem.

Your readers may assume that I have white privilege. I came from a very very humble background in a very rural part of this country. Dirt poor. But my parents loved me – and gave me all the skills I needed to succeed in this life. Hard hard work was my life as a kid and young man. It has served me well as an adult.

And my wife? She is a Chinese immigrant. She grew up in an area of China that is still steeped in their traditional ways. She is a graduate of their version of MIT. She is 1000 times smarter than I am. The second that children came into our lives – she quit her job and her career. There was no question in her mind that would be done – there was no talking her out of it either. There has been very little TV watching or other screen time in our house. When it is on – it is PBS documentaries – Nature and Nova and American Experience. Certainly no video games. She has been teaching the kids Mandarin and English spelling, diction and vocabulary and writing since age 2. She began teaching math and science at age 4. They are outside running and playing 4-5 hours daily. They are doing Tai Chi and martial arts taught by her at home daily. We have gardens and plants – and it is now their job to manage them. The children beam when we eat their food. The Chinese way is intense mental stimulation and physical stimulation all at the same time every day of a child’s life.

This is going on all over this country in Asian households. Their children are considered their most important treasure – absolutely nothing else matters. Is it any wonder that their ACT and SAT scores in general are much higher than any other ethnic groups? I personally have been amazed at my wife’s tenacity. Her “teaching” simply is levels beyond anything I have experienced as a Caucasian growing up in this country.

And now – last night on her WeChat came a petition from her Chinese university’s alumni association. This issue has not received much media coverage in the last few weeks – but there is now a major push in universities all over America to quit using ACT and SAT scores as admission criteria. You see – many of our best universities admissions are loaded to the gills with Asian and Indian kids – the other races simply cannot compete on the basis of these scores. Therefore, we dump the scores. This development has been viewed as a hard slap in the face to the Asian community. Indeed, the title of the petition was “Do Asian Lives Matter?”

Rod – I am truly in a quandary. It is obvious to me that our society has a big problem with the development of young minority kids. If I was growing up with a father (probably not my mother’s husband) like the guy in your video – I can only imagine what would have become of my life. This has nothing to do with white privilege. This has nothing to do with police brutality. After being in the big middle of it for 30 years – I have ZERO solutions on how we break this vicious cycle. I know for sure it is going to take a lot more than defunding police and “throwing money” at the problem.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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