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Saturday, November 30, 2019

A Toll I've Never Paid

Until scanning the bibliography of Damon Tweedy's Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor's Reflections on Race and Medicine (2015), I didn't realize how many non-fiction books about the medical field I'd read over the past ten years. And though there's no chance I'll be writing prescriptions in this lifetime, I'm gratified my reading journey has included books far removed from my own work life. Each one has deepened my experience of living.

What made this particular book worthwhile for me - aside from the sturdy prose - was the even-handed tone. Dr. Tweedy doesn't avoid tackling the racial challenges he has faced but also is unafraid to include sentences like the following:

"Depending on your perspective, affirmative action had done its job giving a working class black kid the chance for an elite education (Tweedy refers here to his full ride to Duke Medical School), or affirmative action had reared its ugly head, taking a slot from someone else more deserving while possibly setting me up for failure." And … 

"Like many stereotypes, this one had some truth behind it." (Here Tweedy speaks of being a 6'6'' black man frequently asked about basketball, which catches him off guard but does not offend him because " … NBA rosters are made up of more than 75% black men ...") And … 

"I could not imagine a white patient ever telling a white doctor that he wanted to switch doctors for no other reason than their shared skin color." This honest, revealing sentence comes after Tweedy recounts a sad anecdote involving a black patient rejecting him as his doctor. "In some ways, this rejection was more painful (vs. similar rejections Tweedy had from white patients who stated they would not accept a black doctor), given what it said about how we felt about ourselves as a race."  

Whenever encountering a person of color - whether an author or other public figure like Tweedy or someone from my personal life - who is unafraid of being vulnerable about their racial identity, my initial thought often turns to white folks. I wonder: How many of us ever squarely face our racial identity and the ways that identity plays out in our day-to-day interactions? I suspect fewer of us ever do - at least contrasted to how often people of color do - mostly because we're so infrequently forced to do so. In this thoughtful book, Dr. Damon Tweedy explores the toll that facing one's racial identity can take. 


  1. I agree that we white people rarely have to face our racial identity. It makes me realize that in this instance it is impossible to "take a walk in another person's shoes." Thanks for the reminder to be sensitive to this fact in our country.

    1. Ines; At the risk of being redundant, want to acknowledge how much I truly appreciate your regular reading of my blog and frequent comments. And in this case, you're welcome for the reminder. The fact that you are open to being reminded says a lot about you as a thinking person.