NPR logo Do Public Apologies Matter?


Do Public Apologies Matter?

File photo

Happy Bastille Day!

And what that has to do with us? Not a darn thing, except I'll take any excuse for a party. Champagne, anyone?

Onto today's business, which is not the happiest. (You might want that glass of bubbly, I don't know.)

The American Medical Association (AMA) is offering apologies for its legacy of aiding and abetting racism in the medical profession. I want to point out the Washington Post piece, which broke the story last week. It details exactly why the AMA's history of excluding African American physicians matters, or did matter.

African Americans within the medical community were often denied hospital privileges, or access to continuing education, so they had a hard time being trained on the latest techniques. They were also denied scholarships because, often, the AMA would not give any support to doctors trained at black hospitals. And on, and on ...

Is this ancient history?


Dr. Carl Bell, one of Chicago's (and frankly the country's) most prominent physicians, experienced many of these things in the late 1960's and early 70's. Bell was one of our guests on today's program, along with AMA immediate past president Dr. Ronald Davis, who wrote the apology.

Our question to you: Do you care? Does this matter?

Does this make clear the organization's "current moral orientation," as Davis put it, or is it just a way to relieve past guilt.

... Too little, too late (or some other point of view we haven't thought of)? No need to open old wounds? Do public apologies matter?

And, today's conversation about undocumented immigrant undergrads ... Here is where I hope we can have a deeper discussion because, frankly, I don't think we got all the way there in the interview, for which I take full responsibility. I'll just say it: it was interesting to hear the existentialist, as well as the practical dilemmas of undocumented college undergrads, but I still feel there are social equity issues that were not fully explored.

Is this a sins-of-the-fathers question, like the apologies for past racism? Are we asking children who were brought here by their parents without papers to pay for their parents' decision by denying them access to higher education, for which they would otherwise be qualified?

Are we encouraging more people to break the law? Are we flouting the law? ... Or, is this common sense, suggesting that if people are here in the U.S., they should be as well trained as possible?

Mariana Zamboni, one of our guests in today's discussion, had these thoughts after the interview (posted with her permission):

... I left feeling unaccomplished, especially when I had to answer the question Ms. Martin asked Professor Wong and I about social equity and granting undocumented immigrants privileges/rights above those waiting in line. Although I support the importance of complying to the law and understand that undocumented immigrants broke the law by entering the country without proper documentation or overstaying their visa, reality is that when migration determines if you live or die, waiting in line for 10 years is not feasible. The factors that lead many immigrants to leave their countries is rarely addressed. The war and poverty led many Guatemalans to migrate many illegally, like my family. What is rarely discussed is the involvement of the U.S. government in training and financing the war in Guatemala. So, we are here because they were there. U.S. foreign policy has had a huge impact on the economic development and social conditions of many Latin American countries, and as a result [there is] pushing and pulling to immigrate to the United States. But, it was difficult for me to express this sentiment on the air because I come from a country that if you speak up against the government you are killed. And, although I don't think I will lose my life, I felt very scared to share my opinion because I am not a naturalized U.S. citizen yet, therefore, I was afraid to speak up. So, through this email, I hope my voice can be fully heard.

What's the right frame for having this discussion? Should we revisit? ... And with whom?

Also regarding today's program, if you have time, I'd love for you to read Ha Jin's story in its entirety. You don't need to be a fan of his work to devour the details of his first summer in America — although, I think it will convert you, as well as the other three essays (one was so heartbreaking, I had a hard time getting through it ... if you have young kids yourself, I bet you can guess which one).

And, TMM's CHEAPSKATE week. What about taking a vacation (horrors!) at home?

I confess my family did not grow up going on vacations, so I don't find this so startling as a concept. But, what I do wonder is: if taking a "staycation," how do you keep your office from bugging you when they know you're at home?



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

I think Mariana Zamboni hit the nail on the head here, especially in regards to Central American immigration. Why do people forget that the U.S. intervened in the politics of these countries, supporting military agendas that destroyed the lives of millions of people, and then these people were left with literally nothing? The connection was created and has much to do with why they are now here searching for a better future.

One thing that is also rarely mentioned in the U.S. media in regards to Mexican immigration to the U.S. is the fact that RECRUITMENT of particularly poorer, rural Mexicans to come to work in the U.S. occurred for decades, and this has definitely contributed to the growth of this group in this country. Still to this day laborers come based on social networks, from employer to employee to work soliciter.

When we talk about "breaking the laws," in regards to immigration, it is very unfair to exclude these factors. WE HERE IN THE US HAVE CONTRIBUTED to this broken immigration system, and children should not be punished and allowed to become third class citizens!

How does it make any sense to give away scholarships to foreign students while you have a growing underclass that WILL NOT disappear at home? It does not make any sense to punish children who are productinve members of society for a decision their parents made.

Sent by LS | 2:20 PM | 7-15-2008

Sometimes I feel undocumented by Brandon Greene

As I was listening to the NPR Program tell me more, I found myself surprisingly engaged in a story that dealt with undocumented college students. As the stories of these talented students began to unfold, I couldn't help but see striking similarities between their stories and mine. Now of course I am not an undocumented student, but I share similar struggles. They were brought to this country against their will because their families were looking for better lives. My ancestors were also brought to this country against their will. These students worked hard and excelled in hopes that they would have the opportunity to attend college. I did the same, even earning college credit while in highschool. Their dream was that college would put them in a position to be able to provide for their families and set an example. My dream was that college would allow me to continue the legacy of my family and escape the ills of the inner city. We all fulfilled our dreams of becoming college educated, some are continuing on with masters degrees and even doctorates. I am starting my graduate program next month. After all their hard work and dedication, they are unable to secure jobs because they're not citizens. After all my hard work I am unable to secure a job because of "lack of experience", and I am unable to secure certain internships because I already possess an undergraduate degree. We are all being deprived of what we have been told is the attainable American Dream. I was taught that if I go to school and excel that the world is my oyster, however me and the undocumented college graduates of UCLA of both found this line of thinking to be a false hood. I fear at 25 I am much to young to so jaded.

Sent by brandon greene editor of | 3:35 PM | 7-15-2008

AMA Apologies:

What I want to know is what else is AMA doing beyond the apologies. I'm not questioning the sincerity of the association's apology but what action is it going to take in the future for history not to repeat itself. Hint: Get more diverse or offer scholarships to people of color could be a start.

About Staycations:

On most vacations, I'm out of the country or my resident state. But in 2005, I decided to stay home (with some time at the beach) for a few days. My colleagues at the time had the nerve to call me (when I didn't do the same to them) about some work problems as if the office will go down if I didn't respond.

After the call was over, I switched my cell phone to vacation status with a "special message" that I won't return any calls until a certain date. And you know what, it worked. Nobody left a message except a friend who was laughing on the other line asking who was bugging me.

Sent by Moji | 7:24 PM | 7-15-2008