Relapse of an Old Ailment in America

Editorial Board member Reginald Q. Knight, MD, on being a surgeon of color and current demands for justice.

First, I would like to thank the Editorial Staff of SpineUniverse for the opportunity to add my comments to this very complicated national conversation. As we struggle with a biological pandemic, tragic events have unmasked another profound illness within our nation. Events have suggested Covid-19 and efforts to "flatten-the-curve" as mitigating factors in our expression of intolerance.

Extreme intolerance and the rationalization of those extremes is a form of racism. Regardless of who you are, we have all participated in the racism equation. It is important to note that the formula does not balance out.

Small denominators are considered insignificant and overlooked until collective anger, and cumulative frustrations bring thousands to the streets in protest. Underrepresented populations, by their nature, will always produce small denominators. Each of us can recount an exception to this often unconscious bias.

Life's lessons, like history, are experiences we should learn from. Unfortunately, we seem resistant to the lessons that history offers, preferring intolerance, and division to unity and collaboration. Resistance to history's experiences, the cycle of tragic events goes on.

Peaceful demonstrations spawned by atrocities are, as we see today, co-opted by fringe elements giving the naysayers reason to dismiss the legitimate protests. Look to the policemen of color killed in the service of their communities. They are also victims. Unbridled violence knows no color, but thankfully, neither does unbridled love.

We are human and, therefore, inherently biased. We find examples of 'them' or 'us' wherever we search. In some circles, I am too black, while in others, I am not black enough. As evidence of my professional success, I have learned to navigate the sophisticated, intertwined circles within the multifaceted system we call society. Others, black, white, yellow, or brown, have not been as fortunate in navigating a career path through this systemic racism.

But leave the hospital, remove the white coat, and suddenly you are no longer the esteemed doctor but just a "small denominator," you are 'them,' you are suspicious, brushed aside, overlooked, and judged as "less than."

Personal interactions of this nature are not a rule, but it is a regular occurrence. This type of systematic racism is banal and undramatic on its face but accumulates over time and across geographies and bodies until its weight becomes unbearable.

Intolerance is a counter-balance building block of life. From this writer's perspective, the only real solution has to include a deep introspection: looking in the mirror and examining who you are, what biases you share, and how tolerant you are of others’ preferences.

Discourse does not mean we all agree. Through dialogue, we create a space to put forth ideas and hold the dissonance and consonance that arises there to the task.


Updated on: 06/05/20