Thursday, November 15, 2007
Zora Says: Another Respectable Negro ‘Bites the Dust’ – the tale of Dr. Jan Adams
I was already saddened when I heard that the mother of rap-star Kanye West died tragically this past weekend. I am at the age where the loss of my parents is becoming more and more tangible. I get nervous whenever they are sick and any mention of their having to undergo major surgery scares me to death. My heart really goes out to Brother Kanye. Unfortunately, I realized days later that the death of Donda West was accompanied by another tragic loss -- that of her doctor, Jan Adams.
On the scale of “respectable negroes,” Dr. Adams was uber respectable. As a graduate from Harvard College, a medical resident at the University of Michigan, a television personality and a renowned plastic surgeon, he was a model for little black girls and boys across America. Dr. Adams was committed to making sure that women of color be able to alter their bodies at the same rate as white women. For him, plastic surgery was about providing us with “a new path to self-discovery and self-esteem." With our civil rights affirmed and economic security in place, Dr Adams was taking us to a new frontier. He was part of the vanguard of individuals who were breaking new ground for us black folks. His fame and influence had even led me to consider plastic surgery. (Could he have been the one to deliver me from the tag of having a "white girl's bootie?")
All of this is in the past tense, of course, for Dr. Adams has now lost all respectability. Whether or not he is found responsible for the death of Kanye’s mother, he will never again be seen as a good, non-threatening negro. He has fallen from our ranks. With allegations of driving under the influence, medical malpractice, spousal abuse and rape, he will now evoke and confirm every known stereotype attached to negro men in America.
Why? How did Dr. Adams allow himself to fall so far? I don't know him, of course, but I will conjecture: with all of his fame and achievements, Dr. Adams allowed himself to forget his very basic status of being a negro in America. He forgot the words of our elders cautioning us that "you have to be twice as good." He saw his white colleagues getting sloppy in the operating room and thought, "If they can get away with it, so can I." He saw other high-profile figures in Hollywood getting slaps on the wrist for drunk-driving, for assault, for rape, even for murder and thought, "If there are no consequences for them, why should there be for me?" The more Dr. Adams got away with, the more emboldened he became with his carelessness. I imagine that Dr. Adams got caught up in a lifestyle and lost his head. With bills mounting and over a half million dollars in malpractice settlements, he said yes to a surgery that he should have declined. The conclusion of this cautionary tale has yet to be written, but I think that we all know the ending already.
I write this not to suggest that the burden of having to be twice as good, of always having to be squeaky clean is fair. It is not. The level of scrutiny and judgement that goes along with being a respectable negro is almost impossible to bear. But the moment when we delude ourselves into thinking that we have "arrived," that we are somehow not like "the other negroes" is when we begin to stumble on that steep incline toward success and equality.