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December 4, 2008

on Black dentists, and paths to prosperity

A few weeks ago, in a hotel room, I watched Chris Rock's current show--which is very funny. One segment concerns his suburban New Jersey neighborhood, where the houses cost millions. He notes that there are only three other African Americans in town, and all are extremely famous and talented cultural figures. But his next-door neighbor, who is White, is a dentist. He says that for a Black dentist to reach this level of success, he'd have to discover a cure for cavities (or something to that effect).

I get the joke, but it sends the wrong message. I cannot find statistics on dentists' income by race/ethnicity. But I suspect that Black dentists make roughly the same as White dentists; and if there is a gap, it is partly explained by the greater willingness of Black dentists to serve African American communities. African American male physicians earn slightly more than White male physicians; Black women physicians earn less. (See this and this.)

I fully understand that the path to dental school can be much harder if you are an African American teenager than if you are White. On average, schools that enroll lots of Black kids score lower on tests and have weaker curricula; and African American youth often have fewer educational networks and resources at home. Further, there is evidence that once African American students reach dental school, there is "subtle discrimination and miscommunication." Only 5.4 percent of current dental students are African American (pdf).

Nevertheless, the main message has to be that there is a path to prosperity that runs through a high school diploma, a BA, and then a professional degree. While that path is hard, it is much easier than trying to be a world-famous actor or athlete. Dental school can get you to Summit, NJ; but Hollywood or the NBA probably cannot.

December 4, 2008 4:23 PM | category: none


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