Op-ed: US Capitol riots, MLK Jr. Day remind us there are still two Americas

Race

By JASON CAMPBELL CHICAGO TRIBUNE |JAN 15, 2021

Unlike many other Black residents of Washington, D.C., I had the luxury of visiting the U.S. Capitol building as a child. I walked within the red ropes side by side with my mostly white middle-school classmates — wearing a long-sleeve button-down shirt and slacks — knowing that because I am Black I could find myself in trouble for something as simple as speaking too loudly.

As an adult, I watched Jan. 6 as that same Capitol — the seat of our democracy — was stormed by an angry, predominantly white pro-Trump mob determined to stop a joint session of Congress set to certify the presidential election results. They destroyed property, assaulted journalists and condemned anyone on their destructive path. Images and videos showed many police officers at best unprepared and at worst unwilling to stop the attack.

Why does society tolerate different expectations for Black men? How can anyone deny that there are two Americas? And yet, many do.

I read a quote from a fellow Black male physician on Twitter, “We’re not asking you to shoot them like you shoot us, we’re asking you to NOT shoot us like you don’t shoot them …”

Eight months ago, George Floyd was murdered under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer. Black Lives Matter supporters and others filled the streets in protest over the summer. Yet, since the murder of George Floyd, police in American cities continue to murder unarmed and nonviolent Black men. In contrast, how can one explain the docile handling of those insurrectionists at the Capitol except as the latest and starkest evidence of America’s oldest and most vile double standard. As Americans, we can no longer ignore the threat of white nationalism and white supremacy.

To understand this monumental occasion, we must retrace our steps in history. The federal government relied heavily on enslaved labor to ensure the nation’s new capital city could receive Congress when it moved to the District of Columbiafrom Philadelphia in 1800. Enslaved Black laborers — rented from their owners — were involved in almost every stage of the building’s construction. Now, as we’ve seen through the footage from Jan. 6, the Capitol employs Black men who wear police uniforms and maintenance uniforms. From building the Capitol to cleaning the debris left behind to protecting those inside, Black men continue to put the very nation that too often forgets about them on their shoulders.

As another Martin Luther King Jr. Day approaches Monday, his words reverberate as loudly now as they ever have — “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Eugene Goodman — a Capitol Police officer — faced challenge and controversy directly when he put himself in harm’s way and utilized a measured response toward the mostly white assailants. His nonviolent actions likely prevented the mob from entering the Senate chambers. His actions likely saved lives. This is what we, as Black men, also deserve in our interactions with police officers.

The more important question, though, is how do we move forward now as a nation? We must focus not only on the people storming the Capitol but on the policies that have made two Americas possible. We must work to undo the laws and practices that enshrine inequality in this country.

For decades, our nation has confined its focus on Black history to the shortest month, February, as Black History Month. This past year has forced us to confront and acknowledge our nation’s Black history month after month — a discussion we all must keep up to move forward.

From Beacon to Shadow: The African-American Community is Waiting…

adversity, medicine, politics, Race, Uncategorized

“‘More blood! Stat!’” I read. The first line in “Gifted Hands.” As a 15-year-old African-American student aspiring to one-day practice medicine I could barely put down the book my mother gave me. The story of Ben Carson MD—many believed to be the guiding light if you were poor or African-American or academically challenged—was the beacon illuminating a journey from adversity to achievement. The first words in “Gifted Hands” by Ben Carson, MD sets the scene within an operating room in 1987 at the Johns Hopkins Institution in which a medical milestone occurred. Two 7-month-old conjoined twins requiring copious amounts of blood, twenty-two hours of procedure time, a seventy-member team led by him and gifted hands resulted in a successful separation of two Siamese twins—Patrick and Benjamin.

 For Dr. Carson—one of the most academically impactful members of the African-American community—the fall from grace has been anything but subtle. When questioned on May 21st, 2019 by Congresswoman Porter he was asked to define a basic housing term—an REO (Real Estate Owned)—a term used to describe a class of property owned by a lender after an unsuccessful sale at a foreclosure auction. Seemingly unknowing of the term he responded with “Oreo?” at first to which he needed clarification—a surprising response in his position as Secretary of the United States Department of Urban Housing and Development (HUD). Dr. Carson once pillared his accomplishments on the power of knowledge. Now—dismissivae of a fundamental term a person in his position should use commonly this is in stark contrast to the image the black community grew up honoring. One contemporary of the once-esteemed surgeon noted he knew firsthand what Dr. Carson went through and it was nothing short of incredible. But watching his devolution has been a pitiful sight to see.

This playbook has not changed and still illuminates the story of a poor black kid from Detroit overcoming multiple barriers—poverty, academic strife, and a system constructed against him—to become director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and perform the successful separation of 7-month-old Siamese Twins when others said it could not be done. Few African-Americans, in any field, have come from very little to achieve such success. In the last chapter—entitled “THINK BIG”—Dr. Carson writes how each letter illustrates an important piece to success. The ‘K’ stands for ‘Knowledge’ which he defines as “‘… the key to all your dreams, hopes and aspirations. If you are knowledgeable, particularly more knowledgeable than anybody else in a field, you become invaluable and write your own ticket.’” Where have these words now gone? Once so important he wrote them in a book to inspire generations to come.

A man who once changed lives with words and saved lives with actions has now perished to an online trend seemingly devoid of the basic knowledge required in his current position. The surgeon who changed history in 1987 in that operating room in Baltimore, Maryland will forever be remembered by the African-American community, but the man we see today appears to be a shadow of his former self—at best.

This is a perpetual discussion intertwining history, race, culture, politics and medicine. Some of my colleagues may not agree but I desire a return from the former Ben Carson MD.

I declare to you Dr. Carson it is never too late to give a young woman of color, who once wrote to you because her mother like yours was a maid, hope and promise that she too can make something out of very little. I declare to you Dr. Carson that there is a young black male facing academic hardship who needs you now. I declare to you Dr. Carson that the African-American community is waiting…

 

I’m a Black Student-Athlete Turned Physician: What Colin Kaepernick and Nike Really Mean

Race, Uncategorized

Please see below for my Op Ed published on 9/14/18 in THE OREGONIAN.

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I sat in a football stadium for the Ohio State Buckeyes vs the Nebraska Cornhuskers game on Nov. 5, 2016, three days before the presidential election. About 108,000 screaming fans surrounded me, but I only remember three.

To my right were two white gentlemen wearing “Make America Great Again” baseball caps. This was the first sporting event I attended since Colin Kaepernick, former San Francisco 49ers player began kneeling during the anthem in protest against police brutality against African-Americans.

I stood up. I removed my hat. These actions were done not because I didn’t vehemently stand against police brutality, but because I felt standing for the anthem was the ‘right thing to do’ for me.

Yet all the while, I could imagine all eyes on me.

As I stood, there came laughter from behind, a few seats to my left. An older white gentleman, likely in his 50s, yelled over at one of his buddies, “Hey, hey, look at me. I’m going to kneel,” mocking me and all of what Kaepernick represented. I suddenly felt alone and exposed, maybe even a little afraid. Being there, supporting a team and university that had given me so much, no longer felt like home. The sporting event took a new form as my attention turned from the football game to the underlying game.

The same man who mocked Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling cheered for each move the young black male athletes made. The same men, celebrating their support of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump, clapped enthusiastically as the young black male athletes scored point after point for their beloved team.

Supporting and voting for President-elect Donald Trump is not supposed to be incompatible with supporting black athletes, but with recent events, one naturally must question the growing disconnection. The truth is, many of us black males cannot feel calm as we have to constantly look outside of ourselves in order to visualize how our present and future actions might be perceived by others. It’s part of growing up as a black male in America.

Growing up as a black male athlete in America adds more complexity — and becoming a black male physician even more.

As a black male I am unnerved by the stories I read about current or former athletes sustaining injuries leading to a fall from grace. That leads to a harsh realization that they are no longer “needed,” with little to account for all of their hours of dedication. Basketball courts, tracks, football fields and athletic arenas are bursting with black men excelling every day, rain or shine.

The time has come for us to redefine our own values and to focus our potential in different ways. With the right direction and guidance, that same excellence and discipline can easily transition into the libraries, research laboratories and clinical rooms where we are currently sparse.

The beauty lies not in the fact that we have to choose one over the other, but in what I believe and personally know to be true: Black men can excel in both realms. It is time that we stop letting others limit us as we move forward.

That’s what Nike and Colin Kaepernick mean.