Chapter 16: Evolution of Thinking About Race and Inequity


Chapter 16: Evolution of Thinking About Race and Inequity



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In this chapter, Dr. Jones talks about his upbringing and the evolution of his thoughts about race. He talks about his "sheltered" upbringing and fluid experience of race in a community where blue-eyed, blond classmates were racially black and he himself was often identified as white. Dr. Jones notes aspects of Louisiana history that helped support this experience and taught him to be cautious about assumptions he made about race and how he interacted with others. Dr. Jones explains that he considers himself and optimist and a realist about race issues in this country. He compares his style with that of Harold Freeman, MD, a prominent African-American physician and friend.



Publication Date



The Making Cancer History® Voices Oral History Collection, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center


Houston, Texas

Topics Covered

The Interview Subject's Story - Personal Background; Personal Background; Experiences re: Gender, Race, Ethnicity; Gender, Race, Ethnicity, Religion; Influences from People and Life Experiences; Women and Diverse Populations


Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Yeah. Hmm. Did you always think about this issue in terms of bias or is that an evolution of your thinking? Did you go through a phase when you thought "racist" and more pejorative terms? Because "bias" is a very neutral word, really.

Lovell A. Jones, PhD:

Probably as I mentioned earlier, I had a very sheltered life, and in my elementary school there were children who were blond, blue-eyed, but they were black. So, you know, you saw and you heard about different things, but it was like, okay. So growing up in parts of southern Louisiana was an oxymoron in terms of race relations and that sort of thing, and it was only, I guess, going to-well, the funny thing about this, when I was growing up as a kid and I had hair, I had big curly locks. And I got lost in Woolworth's, and the person who found me took me over to the area where the white kids were, because the gradation in Louisiana, depending on how you're labeled, you could be-I tell people there's this overlapping arc where depending on if they knew your family background, you would be black but you'd be light. Or if they didn't know your family background, you could be white and be light. And you put the two people beside each other without people knowing their background, and they automatically move them to the white category. So she moved me. (laughs) When my mother came, they thought my mother was a sitter coming to pick me up. (laughs)

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Interesting. So you had a really very fluid experience of race as a child, I mean not the usual experience.

Lovell A. Jones, PhD:

Right. And I would say that for a lot-I would say probably a good number of people, the same sort of fluid kind of interaction took place, and to some extent it was overreaction simply because in that part of the country, people could pass very easily back and forth, so it was a dynamic, and I would say today probably something similar, not as much, but something similar, so it's a very fluid dynamic culture to an extent. And you have to remember that in Louisiana, especially in New Orleans and places around Louisiana, they were French before it became a state, and even as a state. The French would send their male children, if they had the money, whether black or white, to France to be educated. So you had this class, even though you read about slavery and the efforts to block slaves from reading, and this movie Twelve Years a Slave and the whole-but in the metropolitan areas in New Orleans, there was a whole class of free blacks and, for lack of a better term, indentured servants who worked out, who were slaves but worked out, who were educated. So that had an impact on Louisiana, for me as a child, in terms of interaction. So, I mean, you knew internally who you were, what you were, and what the limitations were and that sort of thing, but in terms of labeling people to an extent by skin color, you could be in error. (laughs) And so you became cautious about how you interacted. So I'll tell people-I have these couple of white friends and I will tell them, I said, "By your heritage, I know [unclear], you're black, just by where you're from, your family history. You may have "˜white' on your birth certificate, but if I did a DNA analysis of you, you have [unclear]." And that's why I say the whole issue of how we divide people in this country is just a fallacy, but it's the way it is at the moment.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Mm-hmm. We have ten minutes left in our time today. We have a lot of specific things to talk about, but we've kind of had a philosophical day here. I'm loathe to change that. (laughter)

Lovell A. Jones, PhD:

Well, you know, somebody asked me yesterday was I despondent on where we are, where we're going, and I said I'm an optimist and realist, and I have to be a realist to continue to be an optimist, because without that, I don't think I would see where the needs are to make the changes that need to be made and to continue to voice that opinion. Harold Freeman and I have been friends, and he is, as past president of American Cancer Society, he is the person that is most associated with the advent and the rise of patient navigation in America. Harold says he's the genteel one and I'm the one that comes in with a sledgehammer. (Rosolowski laughs.) And sometimes it's with felt around the hammer, but sometimes it's not. And that we've made a good team in terms of me coming in and being like the icebreaker.

Tacey Ann Rosolowski, PhD:

Now, what does he mean that you wield the sledgehammer?

Lovell A. Jones, PhD:

Well, you know, I say things that people don't want to hear, and that disrupts them in terms of equilibrium, and because it disrupts them, they react sometimes in a very negative way, and therefore, in some instances, if they can prevent me from being there, they will, because they want a normal sort of way of moving forward.

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Chapter 16: Evolution of Thinking About Race and Inequity