Temple University Press’ book lovers select the books they read or want to receive this year

This week in North Philly Notes, Temple University Press’ book lovers pick the titles they read or want to receive this year.

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

Early DecisionOf all the books I read this past year, Early Decision: Based on a True Frenzy, by Lucy Crawford, was the one that stuck with me. The novel, written by a college admissions coach, describes such a coach working with five high-school seniors on their applications to top-tier schools. Their parents are overly involved, elitist, and pushy, and the kids struggle with achieving perfection in all areas IDed as key for admission to the college of their (or mom and dad’s) dreams. They’re caught up in balancing the need to stand out with not stepping too far outside the lines of expectation. As the mother of a high-school senior, this was a well-written cautionary tale. The book was poignant and, for me, depressing. It was the roadmap of a route I never intended to, and didn’t, travel.

Kate Nichols, Art Manager
AlltheLight

I just finished reading Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a really intriguing, moving story, about the converging lives of a blind French girl and German boy during World War II. It is written beautifully, with such compelling detail, I was mesmerized.

 

 

Joan Vidal, Senior Production Editor

Mr. BoardwalkI hope to receive Mr. Boardwalk, by Louis Greenstein, the author’s debut novel about a boy’s infatuation with the wonders of summers on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the 1960s and 1970s and his subsequent nostalgia for Atlantic City in his adult life. Having spent many happy family vacations at the Jersey shore during the same era, I look forward to sharing in that nostalgia.

 

Micah Kleit, Interim Editor-in-Chief 
Eichmann in JerusalemBetween Bettina Stangneth’s new book on Eichmann and the recent revelations of Saskia Sassen’s “missing chapter” of her childhood in Argentina, Hannah Arendt has been in the news a lot this year, which lead me to re-read her book Eichmann in Jerusalem. I am amazed at how much of what she wrote, about the ironies of the trial and her description of totalitarianism (more contradictory than banal, as I read her), still remains essential today. Arendt was concerned, I think, with what it took to be moral and, perhaps more urgently, where morality could be found in world without absolutes, and her quest for both underpinned her reportorial and philosophical work, much of which was distilled through this excellent long essay. George Santayana famously said that “those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.” As Arendt shows (as did Philip Gourevitch and others who write in her shadow), we always forget history and are always repeating it. The challenge we face isn’t so much the fight to preserve memory to prevent more genocides, but to recognize the human impulses behind them, and to identify humanity wherever it persists.

Aaron Javsicas, Senior Editor

ShipofGoldI’m late to the party on this one, but this year I finally got around to reading Gary Kinder’s 1998 book Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea. It’s a gripping popular history about the 1857 sinking of the SS Central America, a steamboat laden with California gold bound for New York, and heroic efforts to recover the wreck more than 100 years later. The loss of the Central America is thought to have been a significant contributing factor in sparking the Panic of 1857. Highly recommended!

 

Karen Baker, Operations Manager
GameofThronesThe book I want to receive/read is The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire) by George R. R. Martin, Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson. Yes, I am ‘one of those Game of Thrones fans, and I would like to read this book to get the history behind the story, worlds and characters in the show.

 

 

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

CosbyI was reading Cosby: His Life and Times by Mark Whitaker, and enjoying recalling “Fat Albert” cartoons, the “Huxtable” family, and reading how America’s favorite dad grew up in Philadelphia, attended Temple University, and tried his hand playing jazz.  I rejoiced in his climb to the top of one of the hardest industries—television. As an African American, I took pride in his accomplishments. I cried as I read about his only son being killed senselessly.  Then, the news stories broke and I put the book down.  I just couldn’t read it while the horrific stories circled; the book briefly mentioning his escapades as “womanizing.”  Resolved that the news was never going to end, I finished the book hurriedly this weekend.  I have never been more happy to put a book back on the shelf.

Gary Kramer, Publicity Manager
TakeThisManPerhaps the best non-fiction book I read this year was Brando Skyhorse’s exceptional memoir,  Take this Man. Skyhorse, who wrote one of my favorite novels, The Madonnas of Echo Park, chronicles his childhood, living with his mother and grandmother in Echo Park, LA. He describes the series of men his mother married and dated during his youth, and his interactions with them. Skyhorse’s adolescence was complicated  by his mother lying to him about being Native American, when he was in fact, Mexican. When he learns the truth, Skyhorse searches for his biological father and constructs his own identity. Take this Man speaks volumes about family and fatherhood, identity and passing as well as how one copes with dysfunction. These are themes that fascinate me, and Skyhorse’s story is as astonishing as his writing.

I loved you moreThe best fiction book I read in 2014 was Tom Spanbauer’s I Loved You More, which explores the intense bond between two writers — the gay Ben Grunewald and the straight Hank Christian—over two decades. Each chapter reads like a magnificent short story, but they are even more powerful as a novel. Spanbauer masterfully controls his characters’ romantic and dramatic experiences, right up to the book’s sucker-punch ending.

 

Happy Holidays and Happy Reading from everyone at Temple University Press.

We promise more great books in 2015.

Moving Past Facebook

In this blog entry, Robert Gehl, author of Reverse Engineering Social Media, writes about the alternatives to Facebook.

At the heart of Facebook is a contradiction: Facebook is for friends (and family). Facebook is for marketers.

“Facebook for friends” is quite familiar to us. We go to Facebook to see what our friends are up to, keep up with family events, find out about the next gathering, support one another, or brag about achievements. We “friend” the friends of our friends. We like what they post, their profile pictures, and what they share. This is a software-mediated form of sociality, and what is quite amazing about it is that Facebook is only 10 years old and yet is ingrained into so many people’s lives. Facebook is for friends.

“Facebook for marketers,” however, is just as important, even if we try to ignore it. Did you “like” your friend’s post about getting a coffee at Starbucks? Well, now a Starbucks ad appears. Did you post something about your favorite movie, Toy Story? Well, now Disney is asking you to like its page. Did you post something about being a little under the weather? CVS Pharmacy appears, ready to sell you the drugs that will get you back to health. As you engage with your friends, as you post what you’re up to, there are incredibly complex algorithms parsing your statements, likes, and activities, all with the goal of bending your attention to brands and commodities. It’s as if someone is listening to everything you say to your friends and family and mining those statements to know your desires, fears, shames, and pleasures – as well as your location, your income, your education, your political stances, and your sexuality. Those aspects of yourself are sold to countless companies around the world. Facebook is for marketers.

Facebook is always caught in this tension, a powerful, dangerous fusion of longstanding traditions of sociality (friendship, family relationship, coworker relationships) and the longstanding practices of studying us as consumers in a market society. You’re caught in the middle. You probably don’t think of Facebook as a place for seeing ads or being watched as you like things, but of course it is, just as it is a place to find out what your old highschool sweetheart is up to these days.

So, let’s say you value (or “like”?) the social aspects of Facebook but deplore the reduction of all relationships to consumer preferences. Let’s say you enjoy keeping in touch with friends, managing your online sociality via software, but you don’t like being monitored as if you were on a McDonald’s focus group. What do you do?

Support the alternatives.

There are hosts of activists and technologists taking the communication practices and architectures of Facebook (as well as other sites) and recreating them in new systems. What Facebook has done that is quite incredible is help solidify and establish a new genre of communication – digital social networking. What it has fused to that genre – the intense monitoring of you as a consumer (and little more) – is, in the view of these activists, deplorable.

Reverse Engineering_smAs I argue in my book, Reverse Engineering Social Media, the activists creating sites such as Diaspora, Lorea, GNU Social, Quitter, Rstat.us, and Crabgrass are all working to “reverse engineer” sites such as Facebook. What I mean by this is that they are taking the positive aspects of Facebook – the powerful new forms of online sociality, the ability to express oneself with text, images, and media and share that expression with friends – while fending off the very real problems of ubiquitous surveillance and the reduction of our lives to consumption patterns. They attempt to keep our personal data under our control and protect our privacy.

These sites aren’t nearly as popular as Facebook, but given the steady drumbeat of Facebook’s privacy invasions – not to mention the fact that Facebook has patented a system to provide user data to governments – it’s time to take the alternatives seriously. For those who doubt that Facebook and the other social media juggernauts will ever be toppled by a privacy-conscious alternative, don’t forget that Facebook is only 10 years old, and that we’ve seen popular Web and Internet sites come and go (MySpace, AOL, and Yahoo! come to mind).

In time, the contradictory “Facebook for Friends and Marketers” may give way to a new site for friends that doesn’t sell your data to Starbucks.

A Q&A with Dan Rottenberg, author of THE OUTSIDER

This week, in North Philly Notes, a Q&A with Dan Rottenberg, author of The Outsider: Albert M. Greenfield and the Fall of the Protestant Establishment.

How and why did you come to study Albert M. Greenfield?
Like most authors, I’ve always had several books on the back burner. One, for years, was a book about how Jews have changed business in America and vice versa. Another was a book about the decline of the Protestant establishment in America. I came across Albert M. Greenfield, and I realized this man ties into both of those themes, and that’s what I was really interested in. He was the quintessential Russian immigrant hustler who terrified the Protestant establishment in Philadelphia. They tried to shut him down in 1930. They thought they had. He came back and shut many of them down.

What surprised you in researching and telling Greenfield’s story?
What surprised me was that I couldn’t quite get a handle on him: Do I like this man or don’t I like him? There were a lot of things about Greenfield that I really liked and that I found I had in common with him—he was a tremendous optimist, and had no use for people who whined and complained—I’m pretty much the same way. He had very little empathy for people who had problems. He said take your problems somewhere else. On the other hand, he did a lot of things that were not quite ethical. He had his own narrative of his life, a lot of it was total nonsense. What I had to do as the writer was sift out the myth from the facts.

The Outsider_smHow do you think Greenfield used his Jewishness, or broke away from the stereotype in his business affairs?
Greenfield was Jewish, but he really broke all boundaries, and all rules. His basic mantra was, I can define myself as whatever I want. Sometimes he defined himself as Jewish, sometimes he thought he was the second coming of Benjamin Franklin. He was all over the place.

Do you find that his business savvy was his sheer love of business, versus fear of financial failure?
When you come right down to it, he was not really that concerned with making money or power, he really just loved to play the game. He lost a fortune twice in his life, and came back and each time, he really got the sense that he enjoyed the comeback. It was much more fun. He once said, “I’d rather fall off the highest rung than never climb the ladder.”

Greenfield was active in real estate, banking, retail, and politics, among other things. What do you think was his greatest accomplishment?
In business, he built up a huge empire, including department store chains up and down the east coast. He built some of the major building that still stand to this day, including the Ben Franklin Hotel and the Philadelphia Building, which for years was called the Bankers’ Security Building, named for his company.  But really his business empire collapsed shortly after he died. It was largely a one-man band. His legacy really lies elsewhere.

What was his greatest disaster?
Probably the failure of the Banker’s Trust Company in 1930—his venture into banking. He just assumed he was smarter than everybody else and he could succeed at anything he put his hand to. Banking turned out to be something very different than real estate. In real estate, the biggest asset is your optimism, your ability to inspire confidence in your investors or tenants. In a banker, your biggest asset is your reputation for prudence, caution, and reliability. Totally different things.

What do you think Greenfield’s legacy in Philadelphia is today?
I would say his greatest legacy is the message that his life transmits to people, that you, as a private, ordinary citizen, can really exert tremendous influence on your community, your country—if you really want to. The idea that we ought to be a little more optimistic about the future—that we ought to be a little more accepting of change. You can make your own identity, whatever you want it to be, and collectively, we can make this community and this world a better place if we want. I also think his legacy is the importance of immigrants in our society. Every generation there is a fear of immigrants and a feeling that immigrants don’t really know what America is about. Greenfield had the opposite idea. He said immigrants really appreciate America more than anybody else does.

About the author
Dan Rottenberg is the author of eleven books, including The Man Who Made Wall Street: Anthony J. Drexel and the Rise of Modern Finance, and the founding editor of the Broad Street Review, an arts and culture website.

 

We’ve Got a Book on That!

This week in North Philly Notes, a rundown of recent news articles that relate to topics in Temple University Press books.

The Meaning of Emancipation Day in the Opinionator column of the August 4, 2014 issue of the New York Times

Korb writes about abolitionist writer and former slave Harriet Jacobs, who published Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.

Envisioning Emancipation_smJacobs was featured in Envisioning Emancipation: Black Americans and the End of Slavery by Deborah Willis and Barbara Krauthamer. The authors quote Jacobs about fleeing her North Carolina master in 1842, and making her way to Brooklyn:

“What a disgrace to a city calling itself free, that inhabitants, guiltless of offence, and seeking to perform their duties conscientiously, should be condemned to live in such incessant fear, and have nowhere to turn for protection. This state of things, of course, gave rise to many impromptu vigilance committees. Every colored person, and every friend of their persecuted race, kept their eyes wide open.”

Willis and Krauthamer write that activists like Jacobs, “portrayed themselves as intelligent, empowered, sensitive, and dignified women.”

Another New York Times piece, Bright Passages, Along the Northeast Corridor, published on July 24, celebrated the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. The article showcased the five-mile stretch in Philadelphia that features, what the article described as  “Christo-esque installations of seven enormous works of art by the Berlin-based visual artist Katharina Grosse, entitled, ‘psychylustro'”

Phila Mural Arts 30_smJane Golden, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program for 30 years, co-edited Philadelphia Mural Arts @ 30, with David Updike, an editor in the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s publishing department. Their book showcases the results of 21 projects completed since 2009 and features essays by policy makers, curators, scholars, and educators that offer valuable lessons for artists, activists, and communities to emulate. Philadelphia Mural Arts @ 30 traces the program’s history and evolution, acknowledging the challenges and rewards of growth and change while maintaining a core commitment to social, personal, and community transformation.

In other local news, Timothy Cwiek reported on SEPTA (Philadelphia’s transit agency) denying union workers same-sex marriage benefits in the Philadelphia Gay News on July 31.

Cwiek writes, “Due to an impasse with union representatives, SEPTA’s management only recognizes the same-sex marriages of its non-union workers for the purpose of workplace benefits.”

Out in the Union_smMiriam Frank’s recent publication, Out in the Union: A Labor History of Queer America, chronicles the evolution of labor politics with queer activism and identity formation, showing how unions began affirming the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers in the 1970s and 1980s.

Frank provides an inclusive history of the convergence of labor and LGBT interests. She carefully details how queer caucuses in local unions introduced domestic partner benefits and union-based AIDS education for health care workers-innovations that have been influential across the U.S. workforce. Out in the Union also examines organizing drives at queer workplaces, campaigns for marriage equality, and other gay civil rights issues to show the enduring power of LGBT workers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvey Milk’s lasting influence in the labor history of queer America

In this blog entry, Miriam Frank, author of Out in the Union, explores Harvey Milk’s political vision of union involvement and LGBT progress.

article-stamp-0404Two months ago the United States Postal Service issued a new “Forever” postage stamp to honor Harvey Milk. I remember when Harvey Milk won his seat on San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors in 1977. He was California’s first openly gay elected official.

A year later Milk was still campaigning, but not for himself. A new amendment to California’s state constitution was on the ballot for the November election. If Proposition 6 passed, it would require local boards of education to fire school employees for public or private declarations of their queer identities, as well as any school worker, straight or gay, who affirmed or advocated gay existence.

In June 1978, Milk spoke out against the menace of Proposition 6 to hundreds of thousands of gay people at San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day rally. He challenged supporters to defy the threat by making their gayness more open than ever. “Come out to your friends, if they indeed are your friends,” he said. “Come out to your neighbors, to your fellow workers, to the people who work where you eat and shop.”

Milk organized hard against the amendment. Throughout the summer, he was on TV for interviews, or for debates with state Senator John Briggs, Proposition 6’s author. Milk’s prominence and charisma kept the battle in the news, but central to the fight were California’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens: city dwellers, suburbanites, rural folks. Many so feared how the amendment would affect their lives that they did come out. Sons, daughters, friends and co-workers told the people in their lives the truth about what the amendment would mean for their futures. One by one they asked their families and neighbors to vote “no on 6.” And one by one, they broke through the secrecy and fear that had held them back from living open, authentic lives as equals in civil society.

The decision to come out had to be an individual one, but LGBT people who were fighting Proposition 6 were not alone. Harvey Milk was not only dedicated to the gay community of the Castro but had also supported the municipal workers’ unions and a successful Teamster-led boycott of Coors beer in the neighborhood’s gay bars. Unionists were familiar with Senator Briggs’ record of hostility to labor’s issues and opposed the amendment because it would undermine collective bargaining and legalize workplace discrimination. Three days after the Gay Freedom Day rally, the San Francisco’s Labor Council announced its unanimous opposition to Proposition 6.

Out in the Union_smUnion endorsements and donations enabled wide canvassing and publicity. By mid-summer, liberal religious groups and civil liberties organizations were also involved in the expanding grassroots campaign. Squads of queer activists knocked on doors in city and suburban neighborhoods and visited community meetings at union halls and country churches. In September, an endorsement of “No on 6” by former Governor Ronald Reagan, a right-wing rival of Senator Briggs, swung many more voters. Unions released the power of their political machine in late October with phone banks, a front- page editorial in the AFL-CIO newsletter and 2.3 million palm cards at the polls. On election day, Proposition 6 was rejected by 58 percent of California voters.

California’s successful defeat of Proposition 6 in 1978 was the first major political coalition to connect the fresh and angry power of gay liberation with labor’s long-haul commitment to fairness and equality. Many other great LGBT labor collaborations have flowed forth since then.

In my book, Out in the Union, I interviewed people who participated in those coalitions. My research began in 1995 and my search for stories continued for another several years. To explore the lives and achievements of primary activists, I conducted interviews in New York City, Boston, Detroit, Washington DC, Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, Seattle, Tacoma, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and many places in between.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender union members who have told me their stories have been newspaper workers, nurses and health technicians, bus drivers, telephone installers, construction tradespeople, store clerks, hotel and restaurant employees, factory workers, social service workers and employees of AIDS clinics. Their queer lives have taken them through extraordinary adventures and long phases of everyday routine; and their everyday jobs are as various and their unions as diverse as the labor movement itself. Some have founded new union locals; others have negotiated innovative contracts; and still others have fought to save jobs when their plants were being closed. They are the people of Out in the Union.

Harvey Milk did not live to see the great changes that his activism started.  But  I like to think that he would have been proud of all that the labor and LGBT movements have accomplished.

 

Do you want an American nurse?

This week in North Philly Notes, an interview with  Catheters, Slurs, and Pickup Lines  author Lisa Ruchti  from Al-Jazeera America‘s July 3rd morning news program. [She appears at the 2:00 minute mark in the video link].

 

In addition, we repost Elijah Wolfson’s July 3 article from Al-Jazeera America‘s website that features Lisa Ruchti.

The doctor won’t see you now

Patients in American hospitals often get away with asking for caregivers based on race

Tonya Battle had been working as a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of the Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan, for 24 years. Her employment record was spotless — by all accounts she was one of the most knowledgeable and capable care providers on the NICU floor. Even so, it wasn’t so surprising when, in the fall of 2012, one infant’s father asked to speak to Battle’s supervisor: Health is extremely personal, and no matter how skilled a health care provider, there will be times when communication with a patient breaks down. It’s common for a patient to ask for another doctor or another nurse.

What was shocking, however, was the note posted on the department assignment clipboard the next day: “NO AFRICAN AMERICAN NURSE TO TAKE CARE OF BABY.”

Here’s how the incident unfolded, according to allegations made by Battle in a lawsuit that followed: After she had finished her shift the day before, the father had come to the charge nurse (Battle’s supervisor) demanding that no black nurses attend to his (very sick) infant girl. To punctuate his point, he rolled up his sleeve to show off a swastika tattoo. The charge nurse, Deborah Herholz, then called her boss, the nurse manager Mary Osika, to ask what she should do. Osika said to reassign the baby to another nurse.

A staff meeting followed, in which the NICU nurses were told that Hurley Medical Center had decided not to allow any African-American employees to take care of this particular baby. The note was posted on the assignment clipboard for everyone to see.

The next day, Osika called Battle at home to inform her that the father’s request would be granted. Later that day, Battle reported to work, where one of her co-workers showed her a photo of the offensive note (which had since been removed).

Battle would go on to sue Hurley Medical Center for employment discrimination, settling out of court for an undisclosed amount, and with Hurley agreeing to hire an “employee advocate” whose role would be to forestall similar misadventures in the future.

It’s unclear how common these types of experiences are; there have been no major studies on the issue, so advocates and policymakers have had to rely on anecdotal evidence, the few isolated stories that leak out of the hospital wing and into the press. But many believe Hurley represents the norm and not the exception — that discrimination of this kind is endemic to the health care system.

The ‘open secret’

“I think it happens a lot,” said Julie Gafkay, Battle’s attorney. “I have 20 plaintiffs in the last year who have been subjected to this type of discrimination.” According to Gafkay, after Battle’s case was made public, dozens of other health care workers (nurses, social workers, home health aides, etc.) reached out to her with similar complaints.

Some situations were even more outrageous than Battle’s. In one case, the plaintiff is a human resources employee who says she has direct knowledge that an African-American nurse was fired under false pretenses; the real reason for the firing, she alleges, is that a patient had made the request that no African-Americans care for him.

It’s an “open secret” that “patients routinely refuse or demand medical treatment based on the assigned physician’s racial identity, and hospitals typically yield to patients’ racial preferences,” wrote Kimani Paul-Emile, a professor of law and biomedical ethics at Fordham University, in a 2012 study published in the UCLA Law Review.

So why aren’t more people outraged? Racism in health care settings tends to be much more insidious than the type of racism that would, say, make it onto the nightly news. Patients aren’t screaming racial slurs in the ER or spray-painting derogatory signs on the sides of hospital buildings. They often won’t even say outright that they don’t want a black doctor.

“Patients know it’s not PC” to directly request a white doctor, said Paul-Emile. “They come up with different ways to do it. I talked to this one doctor who said there are these older ladies who will say, ‘You know, I want a Jewish doctor, I just think a Jewish doctor is better.’”

Lisa Ruchti, a professor of sociology at West Chester University and the author of the book “Catheters, Slurs, and Pick Up Lines,” agreed. “Patients who want to fire their nurses based on race say things like ‘I want an American nurse,’” she said.

And hospitals comply. Health care providers are trained to be so patient-focused that even when they feel a request is amiss, many ignore their qualms — whatever the patient wants, the patient gets. In another of Gafkay’s current cases, two plaintiffs allege that an elderly white woman was being treated in the rehabilitation facility of a nursing home when she began to express fears that an African-American man was coming into her bedroom at night to “touch” her. The facility decided that, for the good of the patient, no African-Americans — male or female — would be assigned to her care, and it issued a directive to its staff saying as much. One female African-American nurse was even questioned for coming into the patient’s room at night, and suspended during the questioning.

“[The organizations] are so patient-focused,” said Gafkay, “that they ignore the civil rights of their own employees.”

Not just nurses

At particular risk is the nurse-patient relationship, which Ruchti believes is regularly informed by racism. In providing what Ruchti called “professional intimate care,” nurses are already at risk of being seen more as hired help than as health care professionals. And racist beliefs can exacerbate that misconception. “There are lots of examples of nurses of color being mislabeled as housekeepers by patients even when they are obviously doing nurse work — symbolically demoting them, if you will.”

But it’s not just nurses. Dr. Meghan Lane-Fall treats cardiovascular patients in the surgical care unit at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

“All of the things that are taught in medicine about being a care provider are to really not think about yourself or your characteristics,” Lane-Fall said. “Your gender and ethnicity are, in theory, erased when you walk through the doors of the hospital.”

But in reality, as an African-American woman, Lane-Fall is often subjected to racially based judgments.

“I can be walking the hallway wearing a white coat,” she said, “and someone will think I’m the janitor, and I’ll think, ‘Is that because I’m black?’”

Lane-Fall recently wrote about an experience caring for a coma patient. On the third day during which the man was under her care, she happened to be in a room when the nurses were changing his gown. Spread across his chest was a tattoo: 3- to 4-inch-high lettering spelling out the words “White Power.”

At that moment, Lane-Fall recalled how she had felt nothing but coldness from the tattooed man’s family; until now, she had thought nothing of it. Now it seemed sinister.

She thought: “Oh, you’re not just this nameless, faceless person taking care of a patient; you’re a black woman who has all these other characteristics that affect the way patients see you.”

Race concordance

On the flip side, Ruchti said nurses of color she spoke with told her that patients of color sought them out on purpose. And in fact, research suggests that your health outcomes can improve if you and your physician have what’s called in the literature “race concordance.”

A Johns Hopkins study published in 2002, for example, found that, when given the choice, patients would choose doctors of their own race. And, when treated by same-race physicians, the patients reported higher satisfaction. The results cut across all races and ethnicities. The study, led by Thomas LaVeist, was one of the first of its kind.

But others soon followed. A 2005 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine found that many African-Americans and Latinos believed strongly that the health care system was racist — and that they preferred to have same-race doctors as a result.

And more recently, a 2010 study published in the Journal of the National Medical Association confirmed the previous findings: Black patients were more likely to feel that white doctors were giving them subpar care compared with black doctors and, therefore, preferred same-race health care providers.

Some will even argue that choosing a doctor of the same skin color is no different from choosing a doctor of the same gender. Many women don’t feel comfortable talking to a man about gynecological issues; is it that much of a stretch to imagine an African-American man feeling he can be more open and honest about his lifestyle and behavior with an African-American doctor?

All things being equal, if you offered me a black provider I’d probably choose that.

Dr. Meghan Lane-Fall

Preferences like these aren’t driven by ignorance. Lane-Fall got her undergraduate degree in molecular and cell biology from the University of California, Berkeley, her master’s in health policy from the University of Pennsylvania and her M.D. from Yale. She’s about as well educated as a human being could ever be. And yet, “all things being equal, if you offered me a black provider I’d probably choose that,” she said, adding that she’d assume someone from a similar background would know more about her.

Because of these complexities, the legal issues here are legion. The 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on race, gender, national origin or religion in public accommodations and in any place that receives public funding. On the face of it, this would appear to mean that a patient could not make race-based requests for nurses and doctors. After all, pretty much every health care institution receives some federal funding, whether directly or in the form of public health insurance reimbursements.

But, as Paul-Emile argues, those provisions of the Civil Rights Act are actually meant to preclude institutions from “prohibiting individuals from enjoying the benefits that the institution provides” — and by accommodating a patient’s preference, “you are actually allowing that patient to enjoy the benefits” provided by a federally funded hospital.

And, in fact, that is what is happening in the real world. A 2010 study, for example, showed that patients across the board will often make race-based requests with regard to their health care provider — and that providers will often accede to these preferences. In that same study, Dr. Herbert Rakatansky, the former chair of the American Medical Association’s Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, is quoted as saying, “In a life-threatening situation, you would have to abide by a patient’s request.” In other words, there may be both a legal and an ethical imperative to accommodate racial preference in the hospital.

The positive preference

None of this, however, is meant to justify racism.

Paul-Emile has highlighted an important legal distinction between doctors, who can usually decide themselves whether to treat a given patient or not, and nurses and other health care support staff, who are assigned their charges. She argues that hospitals run afoul of the law when they reassign African-American nurses at a patient’s request, no matter the potential health benefits.

Gafkay, the attorney in Michigan, pointed out that all her cases involve an “organization validating the discriminatory request” — a much different situation, since it puts nurses in the precarious position of being unable to express themselves for fear of organization retribution.

Second, while it may be both legally and ethically acceptable for a patient of color to seek out a doctor of color, what about a white patient who seeks out a white doctor?

The legacy of years of racial discrimination has led to a disproportionately low number of African-American doctors. A 2009 Health System Change report, for example, found that the physician workforce was about 74 percent white and 4 percent black, while the U.S. population as a whole was 69 percent white and 12 percent black during the same year.

And one major study a few years back had patients go to doctors presenting with the exact same symptoms (which suggested cardiovascular disease), identical in every way except race and gender. Across the board, African-American women received substandard treatment and poor diagnoses.

Studies like this suggest that it’s entirely rational for an African-American patient to feel wary of the medical system. And that, Paul-Emile believes, is what should drive a physician’s decision whether or not to accommodate a racial preference.

In other words, though it may be difficult to discern a patient’s motivations, the goal of health care professionals should be to distinguish between a positive preference, in which patients are seeking better care, and discrimination, in which patients are just expressing racist beliefs.

And even then, Paul-Emile said, accommodating these positive preferences is far from ideal.

“I don’t think this is a solution,” she said. “I think it’s a stopgap measure until we get to the more fundamental issues that are driving this. The medical profession must instead increase diversity among providers to encourage tolerance and understanding of other cultures, and expand cultural awareness at all levels of practice and training to enable providers to interact more effectively with their diverse patient populations.”

Adia Harvey Wingfield, acknowledges receiving another award for No More Invisible Man

This week in North Philly Notes, Adia Harvey Wingfield, author of No More Invisible Man, offers her thoughts on winning the Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award from the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) section on Race, Gender and Class, 2014.

WingfieldFinal.inddI am so happy and proud to receive the Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Book Award from the American Sociological Association’s (ASA) Race, Gender, and Class Section. This section of the ASA has long been at the forefront of focusing scholarly attention on how these fundamental issues of race, gender, and class are overlapping categories that mutually influence each other in different ways. It is a section that is replete with brilliant scholars doing cutting edge work, so it really means a lot to me to be honored in this way.

I particularly appreciate the recognition that black professional men’s work lives are significantly shaped by these issues of race, gender, and class in ways that render their experiences unique. As the title of this book indicates, for far too long these men have been ignored and overlooked by scholars and media alike. I am happy to be part of the effort to highlight how black professional men, too, live lives that are formed not just by race but also by their gender and class position, and am so pleased that the Race, Gender, and Class section saw fit to recognize these men as well.

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