Sunday, August 09, 2009

Where are all these racists I hear about?

By Richard Malotky

Meritocracy: The Progeny of Democracy

Meritocracy. It was good enough for Plato and Confucius and Voltaire. The idea that we are rewarded for our ideas and our work and for what we bring to the table just seems right, if compared to the idea that we would somehow base our rewards on race, social class, heredity, or "might is right." Lots of Americans have fought and died in the past to make this idea of a meritocracy work out. Another of the long list of things I don't understand is why we can't seem to keep our eye on this prize.

I am 53 years old, and I think I have had a reasonable representation of an "American life." I really don't have any excuse for being naive. Then why don't I know any racists? If I read the paper or watch the TV, it seems that America must be full of racists. Somebody somewhere is being accused of being a racist every day, and our courts enforce reverse racism in an apparent attempt to force two wrongs to make a right.

I can read a history book. I know that in our nation's history there have been horrific examples of racism and mans inhumanity to man. I also know that there is no way to right the wrongs of slavery 200 years ago. Our ancestors paid a heavy price to try, though, with 600,000 (360,000 from the North) soldiers dead in the war to cut that cancerous tumor out of our culture. I also know bad, nasty things still happen in this country. But is it really that bad overall?

I have known lots of black people. During my three-year residency, more than half of my patients were black. It might be the fuzzy memory, but I can't recall a single one of these people who wouldn't have given me the shirt off their back. Wonderful people, all. None of them ever seemed to be mad at me for being white. Nor did my black friends complain about being a target. So why do I read about angry people all the time?

The media are a convenient foil. They are a bit prone, after all, to exaggeration. When I read that "stocks PLUNGE 10 percent," it gives me pause. For my money, a plunge has got to be over 70 percent. And there are a certain people who really want to relive the past, for probably more than one reason. In college, I got to live in India for six months, and there I was in the minority. The people there are fabulous, a sea of helpful smiles and wonderful culture. So where are the racists?

I don't doubt that there are some. I just doubt that the number is much over 1 or 2 percent. Why should we let that 1 or 2 percent get in the way of our meritocracy? I bet the number is even smaller in the youngest generation. Education and attrition should get rid of the rest. Zero tolerance is good.

Although I didn't vote for him, I was excited when our nation elected a black president. Why? Partly because we have something in common - both left-handed shooting guards. But mostly because I felt like, finally, all these people screaming racism all the time would sit down and shut up. That vote was a pretty big repudiation of their idea that America is an evil culture full of bigots.

I have a unique perspective on the nuts and bolts, too. I have assisted on thousands of major surgeries over the years, lots of times with a black pair of hands on the other side of the patient. And you know? All those patients look exactly alike once the scalpel gets through the dermis. Exactly.

I guess that I just think Martin Luther King would be a little disappointed in us, 41 years after his death and 46 years after the dream speech, to see us give all this press to the 2 percent instead of celebrating the 98 percent who have their heart in the right place, who are already living his dream. That was such a great speech. My firm belief is that the silent majority is already living his dream. They just don't want to draw attention to themselves.

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