Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Keeping Them Comfortable

[Media prompt] Black undergraduates say their academic progress is being hampered by older white professors who cannot relate to them. “Both of my tutors are white men. How can I have a rapport and feel comfortable talking to a 60-year-old white man?” asks one [black undergraduate at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London]. “Our experiences of life are so different and you’re coming from completely different places.”

Keeping Them Comfortable

Peter McEwan sedated himself with half a dozen glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon on the shuttle to Istanbul, but was feeling none the worse for wear when he reached the clinic in Bursa. For no particular reason he had imagined a sterile white building, all glass and sharp edges. He was pleasantly surprised when the car passed through gates built into an ancient stone arch, which opened onto a long drive bordered by trees that after a kilometre or more revealed what must have been at one time a holiday resort modelled on an English manor house. It wouldn’t have, he realised, looked very much out of place in the Home Counties.

As the car settled onto its landing legs, a woman came out to greet him, ushering him up to his room while reassuring him there was no need for paperwork, and that he should rest because Dr. Wang wouldn’t see him until tomorrow morning at ten. “Don’t worry,” she said, “someone will come and get you.” Peter took off his shoes when she left, and lay down on the bed, closing his eyes and feeling the fear in his stomach. After a while he rang down to the front desk, asking for something to calm his nerves. Before he knew it, there was a knock on the door, and in five minutes he was fast asleep.

The next morning, Dr. Wang eyed him across the desk. He was abnormally frank for a Chinese doctor. “The black race,” he said, spinning a golden pen in his hand, “doesn’t respect age. Or wisdom. They can’t imagine beyond tomorrow; everything is urgent for them. They can’t think abstractly. They can’t imagine another point of view. They’re unwilling to learn. I have never understood your propensity to let them invade you.” Peter didn’t respond, and Dr. Wang said, “It’s why China is a strong nation. We never let in the blacks.” As if ordered to by some secret signal, a man dressed in white knocked on the door and came into the room. “I’ll see you in thirty minutes in the operating room, Professor McEwan,” said Dr. Wang, turning to a screen on which Peter glimpsed what he thought was a stock chart for a Chinese multinational active in asteroid mining.

When he woke up, Peter recognised the jacket hanging on the back of a chair and knew he was in his room. A nurse, cheery but professionally subdued, came in, fussed efficiently at the corner of his bed, checked various readings on a device embedded in his desk, and said Dr. Wang would be in to see him shortly. While he waited, Peter thought about a paper he was writing on the collapse of the House of Saud and the puppet state the Chinese established in its aftermath. Everything was artificial if you looked carefully enough.

When Dr. Wang arrived, he conferred with the nurse while a man dressed in black placed a digital folder on the desk. Dr. Wang turned to Peter mid-sentence. “Dr. Bakabulindi, so nice to meet you,” he said, chuckling to himself as he turned back to the nurse. The doctor’s blasé response reassured Peter, but he raised his hand to his face nonetheless. Dr. Wang indicated to the man in black to bring a mirror, and then for the first time Peter looked upon his new face; a youthful black man, only recently in possession of a Ph.D., and ready to start his first job at SOAS. “You’ll be good for another fifteen years,” said Dr. Wang. “Then you can retire.” Peter nodded. He was grateful, but also knew it hadn’t always been like this. 

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