Updated: Feb 27
One of my neighbors was an African American Doctor. We invited him for dinner occasionally and once I asked him a lot of questions about his life experiences.
Black doctors are not very common in my neck of the woods and I took the liberty of asking him how he became one.
He said he had grown up in the projects in California with his brother. He did not know his father growing up (met him once recently, and found that dad was disinterested in him). He ascribed his early education to his mother. She was very very strict.
High school was near their home and his mother would keep an eye out from her window when they got back home after school. Any hanky panky resulted in beatings. She was insistent that he studied because he scored well. She kept up the vigil all through his junior, middle and high school years.
He lived, dressed and ate barebones style with education being the overriding factor. There were government sponsored programs for minority students who excelled, and he benefitted personally from them. In fact Berkeley had an eye out for him through his senior year, since he did well in high school. He was offered admission with a scholarship.
He attended medical school at Madison Wisconsin, with a full scholarship and became a doctor.
I asked my good neighbor about racial issues he faced in school, as a medical student and as a doctor. He said that in school he did not think that he was “a black kid”, or realize that his family was poor or that he lived in the projects because most of the students were like him.
He benefitted from several social, educational and government programs. He was sure he faced some issues, but he did not remember them and there was nothing that left a mark.
He said in Wisconsin and in the Washington DC area, white people are extremely nice to him and he could not recall a single untoward incident.
I then asked him about his experience with police, and he smiled. Yes, he had had confrontations with the law, simply because of the color of his skin.
He was dating a black student in Wisconsin. He just finished his medical coursework and was driving back from Milwaukee to their Madison dorms along highway I-94 from a celebratory dinner. A police car stopped him allegedly because of an issue with his license plates. The officer walked up to his window and issued orders loudly. Except for the headlights, the surrounding area was pitch dark. My neighbor raised both hands, and put them out of the window. He said he was a doctor. But the policeman grew angrier and louder. The lady in the passenger seat wept and shivered. My friend was absolutely terrified. Other police cars arrived. They were asked to step out, the car was searched and they were searched. At the end of the drama, my neighbor and his girlfriend were simply allowed to go.
He also stated that in the Washington DC area, he is stopped by the police when driving at least nine times a month even today for absolutely no reason at all.
It is uncanny that the good doctor remained jovial through this conversation. We moved on to other topics.