This I Believe Essay On Racism In Prisons
Growing up in the grinding poverty of colonial Africa, America was my shining hope. Martin Luther King's non-violent political struggle made freedom and equality sound like achievable goals. America's ideals filled my head. Someday, I promised myself, I would walk on America's streets.
But, as soon as I set foot in America's hospitals, though, reality — and racism — quickly intruded on the ideals. My color and accent set me apart. But in a hospital I am neither black nor white. I'm a doctor. I believe every patient that I touch deserves the same care and concern from me.
In 1999, I was on call when a 19-year-old patient was brought into the hospital. He was coughing up blood after a car accident. He was a white supremacist, an American Nazi with a swastika tattooed on his chest.
The nurses told me he wouldn't let me touch him. When I came close to him, he spat on me. In that moment, I wanted no part of him either, but no other physician would take him on. I realized I had to minister to him as best as I could.
I talked to him, but he refused to look at me or acknowledge me. He would only speak through the white nurses. Only they could check his body for injury. Only they could touch his tattooed chest.
As it turned out, he was not badly hurt. We parted strangers.
I still wonder: Was there more I could have done to make our encounter different or better? Could I have approached him differently? Could I have tried harder to win his trust?
I can only guess his thoughts about me, or the beliefs he lived by. His racism, I think, had little to do with me, personally. And, I want to think it had little to do with America, with the faith of Martin Luther King and the other great men whose words I heard back in Africa, and who made me believe in this nation's ideals of equality and freedom.
My hands — my black hands — have saved many lives. I believe in my duty to heal. I believe all patients, all human beings, are equal, and that I must try to care for everyone, even those who would rather die than consider me their equal.
Before coming to the U.S. in 1971, Dr. Pius Kamau studied medicine in Spain, England and his native Kenya. A thoracic and general surgeon, Kamau also writes a column for the Denver Post. He is currently organizing a medical group to work in Sudan. Nubar Alexanian hide caption
Before coming to the U.S. in 1971, Dr. Pius Kamau studied medicine in Spain, England and his native Kenya. A thoracic and general surgeon, Kamau also writes a column for the Denver Post. He is currently organizing a medical group to work in Sudan.Nubar Alexanian
In 1947, Jackie Robinson pioneered the integration of American professional atheletics by becoming the first black player in Major League Baseball. Bob Sandberg/Library of Congress hide caption
This essay aired circa 1952.
At the beginning of the World Series of 1947, I experienced a completely new emotion, when the National Anthem was played. This time, I thought, it is being played for me, as much as for anyone else. This is organized major league baseball, and I am standing here with all the others; and everything that takes place includes me.
About a year later, I went to Atlanta, Georgia, to play in an exhibition game. On the field, for the first time in Atlanta, there were Negroes and whites. Other Negroes, besides me. And I thought: What I have always believed has come to be.
And what is it that I have always believed? First, that imperfections are human. But that wherever human beings were given room to breathe and time to think, those imperfections would disappear, no matter how slowly. I do not believe that we have found or even approached perfection. That is not necessarily in the scheme of human events. Handicaps, stumbling blocks, prejudices — all of these are imperfect. Yet, they have to be reckoned with because they are in the scheme of human events.
Whatever obstacles I found made me fight all the harder. But it would have been impossible for me to fight at all, except that I was sustained by the personal and deep-rooted belief that my fight had a chance. It had a chance because it took place in a free society. Not once was I forced to face and fight an immovable object. Not once was the situation so cast-iron rigid that I had no chance at all. Free minds and human hearts were at work all around me; and so there was the probability of improvement. I look at my children now, and know that I must still prepare them to meet obstacles and prejudices.
But I can tell them, too, that they will never face some of these prejudices because other people have gone before them. And to myself I can say that, because progress is unalterable, many of today's dogmas will have vanished by the time they grow into adults. I can say to my children: There is a chance for you. No guarantee, but a chance.
And this chance has come to be, because there is nothing static with free people. There is no Middle Ages logic so strong that it can stop the human tide from flowing forward. I do not believe that every person, in every walk of life, can succeed in spite of any handicap. That would be perfection. But I do believe — and with every fiber in me — that what I was able to attain came to be because we put behind us (no matter how slowly) the dogmas of the past: to discover the truth of today; and perhaps find the greatness of tomorrow.
I believe in the human race. I believe in the warm heart. I believe in man's integrity. I believe in the goodness of a free society. And I believe that the society can remain good only as long as we are willing to fight for it — and to fight against whatever imperfections may exist.
My fight was against the barriers that kept Negroes out of baseball. This was the area where I found imperfection, and where I was best able to fight. And I fought because I knew it was not doomed to be a losing fight. It couldn't be a losing fight-not when it took place in a free society.
And in the largest sense, I believe that what I did was done for me — that it was my faith in God that sustained me in my fight. And that what was done for me must and will be done for others.