Commemorating the 20-year anniversary of the LA riots, the Los Angeles Times has been running a series of stories about those events and the retrospective stories of people who were involved in them. One such story was that of Madison Richardson, a black surgeon who operated on Reginald Denny, a bus driver beaten to critical condition by four rioters in 1992.
The story described Richardson’s multi-racial background, having been raised in Texas by his African American mother and white stepfather (his father died of a medical accident which fueled his passion for medicine) and a community of Hispanic neighbors. When the family moved to LA, he went to a multi-racial high school and graduated fro Howard University.
He had always believed that race didn’t matter – yet because Denny’s beating by four African American rioters had been captured on film by TV helicopters, Denny had become an inflammatory figure and Richardson knew that his race would become problematic were Denny to succumb to his injuries. After many complications, Denny did ultimately survive, he and Richardson maintain contact, and Richardson feels that the experience ultimately shaped him in a positive way.
Richardson’s relation to his race in this article reminded me somewhat of the Kuramitsu short stories. his reaction to the riots was not so much charged with genuine racial prejudice as it was flavored with an understanding of the economics of race, almost as if he were separated from the events and just needed to strategically avoid conflict. Interactions like these – a black doctor operating on a white man who was beaten by black rioters who were angry that white police officers had not been appropriately charged for their violence against a black man – serves to illustrate not only the complexities of personal identity with race but also the racial geographies that are created in cities like Los Angeles.
Obviously, multiple races are living in close enough contact with each other that these types of professional relationships are established. In the case of the LA riots, the proximity led to conflict. But one can hope that as we learn from our mistakes and if we can continue this close proximity with an open mind, the nearness racial “others” result in greater understanding as opposed to violence.