Watch Your Back, Barack

It’s a scenario so familiar I can smell it in my sleep.  I fell asleep watching CNN, and lots of the reporting was election-related.  The discussions about the Democratic race focused on the issue of using votes from the prohibited primaries.  As you all know, the Democratic party forbade Florida and Michigan from holding primaries after they moved their dates earlier in the process.  The candidates were aware of that and planned their campaigning accordingly.  Clinton put her name on the ballot nonetheless, and declared herself the “winner”.  Old news. 
The older news is that there’s a scenario that plays out like this:  You are the newcomer, the underdog, the one with brown skin and no personal money and no legacy.  You play by the rules.  As a matter of fact, you obey them scrupulously, because you know how easily the slightest infraction will be used to disqualify you.  You are aware that even if you follow every regulation to the letter, there will be those who say you only made it because of affirmative action, or because you slept with the someone, or because all of the brown people on the planet conspired and somehow cheated you in.  But you are following the rules, dotting your i’s, crossing the t’s, meeting all the deadlines, and then reality steps in and slaps you silly.  Because those in power have the ability to change the rules and foil your plans and undercut your careful planning and keep you on the outside.  And they will do that with cruel, relentless regularity, all the while making justifications and rationalising and turning the story around to make you look like a lawless renegade with no respect for the American way. 


This is a true story.  I attended Vanderbilt University, enrolled in the School of Engineering.  I was premed, and I took the usual premed courses along with all the ambitious students.  Working hard, I kept my average up, frequently making it onto the Dean’s List.  Eventually the Medical College Admission Test came.  I was sick, having contracted bloody stools a few days before.  Diagnosed with colitis, I was taking medications that made me drowsy.  I showed up for the test on time, brought my number 2 pencils, sat in the designated chair, and made sure all my answers were clearly marked on the test sheet.  After I finished each portion of the test, I put my head down and dozed until the next one started.  My medical colleagues will recall that as the year of the “new MCAT“, when the test became less like the old SAT and more like a real test of ability and knowledge in specific areas.  I did very well, scoring high in every single area.  So far, so good.  Our MCAT scores were mailed to the university’s premed adviser, and we had individual appointments to meet with him and hear our scores.  The adviser (I don’t remember his name, but I’m sure it can be figured out, and he doesn’t deserve anonymity) faced me for the first time, showed me my scores, and told me that they were among the best of all his premed students.  Then, he said he felt there must be a number of wrong answers on this new test.  He earnestly explained to me that there was no way I could have done better than his favorite students, many of whom were Biology and Chemistry majors while I was only a Biomedical Engineering student (and, unsaid, a Black one whose daddy wasn’t a doctor).  Boom.  There it was.  I had followed the rules and prepared myself thoroughly, but one bigoted man was beginning a rationalisation that could have destroyed my career hopes.  Fortunately, I was self-contained enough to sit quietly in my chair and not call him the names he deserved.  I was not dissuaded.  I knew that somewhere in my file would be a “recommendation” from that premed adviser, and I countered it with a spotless record and letters from the professors who really knew me. 

Watch your back, Barack Obama.  To quote Cameo, “The stuff is starting now.”  Get your dance on.  This is life in America.



4 Responses

  1. Hi Essie, we’re in Charleston going to ballgames with your friend J. It makes for a fun, busy weekend. Maybe I’ll get to the morning knitting group at __ sometime. I hang out at Studio 2 on Williams St., which moved in just about the time Great Balls of Yarn closed next door.

  2. I have to agree with you. I think that the primary system sucks, but when the Democrat National Committe said, “These are the rules” and he took his name off of the ballot while Hillary didn’t bother (perhaps on purpose), he should get a lot of points for honesty, etc. And I think it would really suck if Hillary got those delegates because she was either lazy or scheming. (Although it would be nice for the votes form Michiganders and Floridians to count for something).

    By the way, that’s amazing about your MCAT scores. Amazingly bad that the “advisor” was such a jerk, but amazingly great that you were so dedicated and persistent! 🙂

  3. I am sorry that that happened to you…I have been so furious lately at what I am witnessing happening to Barack. I agree…although I don’t have brown skin…I have been the subject of gender discrimination since I have always wanted to do things that were in the realm of men only…play the drums as a kid, play basketball, later on as an adult, I had to really prove myself to be a deckhand on a ship…I was grudgingly accepted since I never quit…but still. It sucks. In my head, I am just Stacie…not woman, not white, not anything…just me. I intensely dislike the Clintons…they have never played by the rules and they are elitist. I hope she goes down hard. What she is doing is disgraceful…But I think Barack will prevail. He has to…excellent post.

  4. WEll another win today in Wyoming! Then Mississippi Tuesday.

    Assuming Barack has been minding most of his P’s and Q’s, he should win.

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