Upstate doctor speaks on race in professional America

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(WSPA) – Sometimes news stories on race are dominated by activists. And while they play an important role in the conversation, 7 News wanted to talk with someone who may not have been at the rallies, but who adds an important perspective to where we stand on race in America today.

7 News Anchor Diane Lee sat down with Dr. Scott Porter, a surgeon at an Upstate hospital.

Porter is not just the first in his family to graduate from college — Morehouse College — but he went on to get an M.D. from Yale University and an MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

And yet, he has numerous stories that show how much he is underestimated, even in his own operating room, all because of his skin.

“I was in the O.R., finished a case, and in most operating rooms there’s a team that comes in and they’ll turn the room over, and the team leader cleaning the room comes in and says to me ‘we gotta get this room turned over, there’s another case coming.’ And I look at him with this ‘moi,’ and he says we gotta get this room turned over, we’re late, we gotta go. And so I grab a mop, and so I start cleaning the room. My circulating nurse comes in and she says ‘Dr. Porter, what are you doing?’ And I said, ‘That guy told me we have to clean the room.’ And we looked at that guy and all he did was put his head down, drop his mop and walk out. And it was one of those deals where you could look at this many different ways. You could look at this with anger. You could look at this with ire, or if you look at that particular O.R. at that particular time, 20-30% of the people that clean the rooms were black. Out of all of the surgeons, roughly 200, three were black.”

In fact. Dr. Porter said numbers are worth looking at in every workplace or organization. For instance in his specialty, orthopedic surgeons, Porter said only roughly 600 of 29,000 are black, which is just 2% nationwide.

“It is what it is,” Porter said. “Healthcare is not immune to the ills of society. It is a macrocosm of society.”

Lee: “And that’s certainly an example on the job. When you go to the grocery store, when you live in a community, people may not know your background, shouldn’t matter what your background is. What have you experienced as a black man in America?”

Porter: “I was in a neighborhood before we moved out into the country, and I got awakened on a Sunday morning. Still remember this. Sheriff’s at the door and he says can I show you something. And spray-painted on my street in this nice neighborhood, physicians salary, etc, was a very expletive ‘blank you n-word, go home’ on the street. And so, this isn’t 1964, this isn’t some country road somewhere, this is a professional neighborhood, with professional people in a modern time. At what point do we as a society say there might be, there might be a difference in the experiences in this society based on nothing more than race.”

Lee: “To that end, I think after the death of George Floyd there were a lot of people who were curious and felt the pain whether they were black or white, curious enough to want to bridge the conversation with their minority friends, but didn’t quite know how. Do you have any advice there?”

Porter: “I do. I would first ask those people: Do you have minority friends, or do you know minority people? That is a massive difference. And this isn’t a conversation that I think individuals should have with barely known minorities, because it can go sideways very quickly. One’s curiosity can be perceived in many different ways that aren’t very healthy to the conversation. So I would push back and say that often times diversity is situational diversity. We are diverse from 9-5. I’m OK with being diverse from 9-5. I’m OK with being diverse as long as it’s the individuals that are below me on the hierarchy, not above me. But where I’m not OK being diverse, church. Where I’m not OK being diverse, my country club. Where I’m not OK being diverse, my children’s significant others.”

“There are a lot of areas where we are not OK being diverse, but only the person who holds those feelings and biases knows those areas, and in 2020 they would never admit it out loud. What I would submit is that in this country we haven’t had genuine heartfelt diversity such that a majority person has a comfort level enough with a minority person to ask biting questions that show ignorance and vulnerability. Because once you can show ignorance and vulnerability, and you can do so and the other person allows that grace, now you’ve got the foundation for something that is great. You don’t need a class. You don’t need someone to teach you what to do.”

Dr. Porter also spoke on race relations throughout the country. He believes racism in America may improve if we can, as he says, “talk to the heart” through sharing these kind of intimate stories and embracing concepts like interracial marriage and adoption, which he knows from personal experience.

Porter said what the death of George Floyd has demonstrated to those who are not living the black experience is that racism, in its many different forms, undeniably still persists.

IF DOCTOR PORTER HAD LISTENED TO HIS HIGH SCHOOL GUIDANCE COUNSELOR:

“I did pretty OK in high school, and I graduated out of a class of 450. I don’t remember my exact number, but it was around 10 and I go into the guidance counselor’s office and again no one in my family has ever gone to college, so you would imagine the guidance counselor in this scenario would be amazingly important. So, I go in and she tells me I’m not ready for college and that I should go to the community college, which was near my home.”

THE DANGER OF COMPARTMENTALIZATION:

“One of the problems that we have in this entire debate is the ease with which the human mind can compartmentalize things. It is very easy to look at historic photos of terrible atrocities that were committed against blacks specifically. It is very easy to look at those, to read about those kinds of things, to see the colored-only or the white-only signs and to compartmentalize it and say that was then, this is now. It’s a very easy thing to do. The problem comes in when you do that you fail to acknowledge what’s going on right now.”

THE “BOOGIE MAN” CONCEPT:

“I think what George Floyd has shown us is that the boogie man still exists. We have been saying for decades the boogie man exists.  Look at the hiring rates, the boogie man exists. No, it doesn’t, we can’t find enough fill-in-the-blank to fill our roles. There are different housing prices when an African American couple goes to buy a house, no that’s not true. The boogie man doesn’t, oh all right. Look at the disparate care that patients receive in hospitals, no that’s not true. We’ve looked at the data, the boogie man doesn’t exists.  Look at the way officers treat — no, every time we have stood up and said something, the response has been the boogie man doesn’t exist.  Now we’ve got irrefutable video proof the Boogie man actually exists.”

“TALKING TO THE HEART”

“If I am a white male and I am being told that I am the villain, I am the villain. I am the villain.  At some point I am going to adopt that persona. I think that what we do in speaking to the head we run into significantly more risk than speaking to the heart.  I have this belief, and it’s not a PC belief at all, but it is a belief that I hold: The belief is that if you look at the gains in society and the reasons for that gain, there have been many more gains in race relations in this society that come secondary to interracial adoptions and interracial marriages than any of those forced lectures, classes, debates, etc.  And the reason being, in my very humble opinion, is that when that individual who thought whatever they thought about Hispanics, who thought whatever they thought about Blacks, whatever they thought about members of the LGBTQ community, when that individual holds their Hispanic grandchild, Black grandchild, when that individual holds their adopted grandchild, that grandchild talks to the heart.  And that individual has been changed.  No words. No class, no nothing.  If you want to make this better, my belief is we gotta get to speaking to heart and stop talking to the head.”

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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