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Jonathan Wolfman Headshot

Now Imagine the Child Is White

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Atlanta, in part because it was somewhat less dependent on the plantation economy, more commercially diverse than other antebellum southern cities, saw less (although not always dramatically less) racist violence before the Civil War and after it was sacked and burned in 1864, during the Reconstruction period, up through the Civil Rights Era, and on into the current day. From the late 1960s, Atlanta increasingly prided itself as a bellwether of New South attitudes and social conventions.

When we lived in Atlanta in the late 1980s/early 1990s, we found metropolitan Atlanta relatively welcoming to our interracial family. And yet (like the rest of the nation) Atlanta as yet wrestles with resistant racial sentiment, and it isn't always a matter of what may be shown in reams of statistics.

Sometimes anecdotes tell us something we need to hear. We need to hear them not as ammunition we might venally direct at particular regions or demographics but as cautionary, and nationally.

Just last week word comes of 15-year-old Atlanta student, Anthony Stokes, fighting his way back from recent surgery to give him a new heart. Yet without concerted community pressure and the resultant publicity brought to bear on Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Edelston, Anthony, according to his doctors, would almost certainly have died in three-to-six months' time had there been no transplant.

Initially, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta refused to place Anthony Stokes on the heart transplant list. CHA cited nothing medical. Instead, it keyed on Anthony's low grades and school behavior record. The hospital, in its decision not to place the child on the list, said that "the decision was made that Anthony is currently not a transplant candidate due to having a history of non-compliance. As we discussed today with Anthony's mother, we will not place Anthony on the heart transplant waiting list at this time due to this decision." *

Now, as a kidney transplantee myself since July 3, 1998, I'm keenly aware of how necessary it is for any recipient to comply with medication and other regimens. Nonetheless, in young Mr. Stokes' case, Children's Healthcare never told his folks why they thought their son would be unlikely to comply with in-hospital post-op or at-home procedures and deserved a before-the-fact "non-compliant" label. It remains unclear, too, how the hospital accessed a minor's school record and on what basis it did that and whether or not it does that or tries to do that as a matter of routine. There is also no evidence one way or another suggesting, as matters of course, that school districts in the Atlanta region voluntarily share academic and behavior records with hospitals.

Nevertheless, as an organ recipient and as the father of an African-American son, a son who was an Atlanta-area student in his immediate pre-teen years, I do wonder -- and I do not think wondering is unreasonable -- if in Atlanta, or anywhere in our country, how Anthony Stokes, or my own son under similar circumstances, would have fared were they white.