Skunk


a spotted skunk is shown standing on its front paws with its hindquarters up and its tail lifted, ostensibly spraying an aggressor.
Skunks are badass.

“I always enjoy Cal’s presentations, but I thought it was deeply inappropriate to throw Critical Race Theory into the middle of a presentation about oncology and health. Honestly, I was disappointed.”


Earlier this year, I was invited to offer a keynote presentation at a virtual gathering for health care providers. A few weeks later I received a spreadsheet with the feedback received from attendees who completed the satisfaction survey. I can only assume there was a character limit in the survey instrument that led to the short and seemingly incomplete responses like the one above. As there were a handful of people* who responded in this way, I thought I would offer to write what I’m sure they must have meant to say.


“I am used to attending this event of mostly white providers in a way that doesn’t challenge me to confront the unrelenting and ubiquitous forces of racism. The thing is, I’m accustomed to having my white comfort centered at events like this and Cal didn’t do that. At all. I much prefer when I can receive statistics about health outcomes for non-whites without context so that I can continue to believe centuries of lies about how Black bodies are simply inferior and more susceptible to disease. When Cal explained it clearly, I found it much harder to stay in a place of imagined personal benevolence and detached pity for people who aren’t white. I hope that, in the future, Cal will stay true to the dictates of white solidarity and leave the truth, real-life consequences and unvarnished history out of it, particularly when it’s clear that most of the audience is white. My fragile self-concept and nervous system are not up to the challenge of reorienting my reality or taking responsibility for my role in perpetuating this unequitable hellscape. I suspect Cal doesn’t know this, but I’m actually a provider myself and I am good friends with many white oncologists. They are really good people. Salt of the earth. When Cal suggested that these people, and even I, might be shortening the lives and decreasing the likelihood of good outcomes for Black patients in my care because of the forces of systemic racism on clinical decisions, I almost had to wonder if that was true. That was unfair and, to be honest, a little uncomfortable. I was able to stop listening fully at that point, so I didn’t have to go more deeply into it, but it was only my commitment to my own comfort that allowed me to escape this presentation without having to shift my perspective. I will be steering clear of Cal Cates and facts about race and health care moving forward.”


I do believe that white people will get better at talking about what we’re really feeling, but I don’t see it happening anytime soon on any kind of a consistent basis. Culture change like that will take awareness, discipline and consistency for which we don’t currently have the collective chops.


In the meantime, I fully intend to continue to embrace the role of Skunk at the Picnic.


*the “quote” that opens this piece is not a single quote, but a conglomeration of a number of different attendees’ feedback. No need to single out one person as this perspective is not unique. As a sidenote. I did not actually introduce or refer to Critical Race Theory in the presentation in question, just good old fashioned cognitive dissonance, implicit bias and racism…which is clearly plenty to upset and disquiet some white people.