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Old 05-14-2009, 09:30 AM   #1
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Can A White Guy Be African American?

abcnews.com

White African-American' Suing N.J. Med School for Discrimination

Paulo Serodio Says He Was Harassed, Assaulted After Defining Himself as African-American

By SARAH NETTER

May 13, 2009—

Can a white guy be African-American?

Paulo Serodio says he is.

Born and raised in Mozambique and now a naturalized U.S. citizen, Serodio, 45, has filed a lawsuit against a New Jersey medical school, claiming he was harassed and ultimately suspended for identifying himself during a class cultural exercise as a "white African-American."

"I wouldn't wish this to my worst enemy," he said. "I'm not exaggerating. This has destroyed my life, my career."

The lawsuit, which asks for Serodio's reinstatement at the school and monetary damages, named the Newark-based University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and several doctors and university employees as defendants.

Filed Monday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey, the lawsuit traces a series of events that Serodio maintains led to his 2007 suspension, starting with a March 2006 cultural exercise in a clinical skills course taught by Dr. Kathy Ann Duncan, where each student was asked to define themselves for a discussion on culture and medicine.

After Serodio labeled himself as a white African-American, another student said she was offended by his comments and that, because of his white skin, was not an African-American.

According to the lawsuit, Serodio was summoned to Duncan's office where he was instructed "never to define himself as an African-American & because it was offensive to others and to people of color for him to do so."

"It's crazy," Serodio's attorney Gregg Zeff told ABCNews.com. "Because that's what he is."

Serodio, who lives in Newark, said he never meant to offend anyone and calling himself African-American doesn't detract from another person's heritage.

Neither the American Civil Liberties Union nor the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People responded to messages seeking comment on the meaning of African-American.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines African-American as "an American of African and especially of black African descent."

"There are people of all races who are African," Serodio said, adding that he's never had a problem identifying himself as an African-American until that day in Duncan's class.

Zeff pointed out that Serodio only labeled himself after his instructors asked him to do so and was then penalized for it.

Defending an Identity or Unprofessional Behavior?

Serodio said he is a third-generation African of Portuguese ethnicity whose great-grandfather emigrated to Mozambique. He came to the U.S. in 1984 after being accepted at New York University.

He met his future wife and started a family and, after deciding to settle in the U.S. permanently, got his citizenship in the early 1990s. After doing research work on and off, including for UMDNJ, with pauses in between to be a stay-at-home dad, Serodio said he decided to become a doctor to follow in his parents footsteps.

His plan, he said, was to become a doctor and join Doctors Without Borders where he could travel back to Africa to do charity work like his parents, either as an internist or possibly a neurologist. He started medical school, he said, when his eldest child was in first grade.

The family, he said, had hoped to hold a joint graduation party this spring for his son's passing out of fourth grade and for Serodio's graduation from medical school. But they will only be celebrating his son's achievements this year.

The lawsuit claims Serodio began to be harassed by other students who sought disciplinary action against him for his statement in Duncan's class, but was never given a chance to defend his views against the complaints.

UMDNJ spokesman Jeffrey Tolvin told ABCNews.com that university officials had not yet seen the lawsuit.

"We have no comment on this matter," he said.

In September 2006, Serodio said he again asked to define himself culturally as part of another course exercise. Again, according to the lawsuit he said he was a "white African-American." And again, he was called to the course instructor's office and told never to define himself that way again.

According to the lawsuit, Serodio then wrote an article for the student newspaper, titled "A More Colorful View Than Black and White," in an attempt to explain his self-identification and to call for tolerance at the school.

But when complaints started pouring into Dr. I. Thomas Cohen, then the dean of student affairs, the lawsuit alleges that Serodio was called in again and told by Cohen that if he "lay low for awhile" Cohen would see that a record of the incident would not be placed in Serodio's transcript.

Serodio told ABCNews.com that he believes that America has outgrown the labels of black and white, something he wrote about in the article.

His own children, he said, are of mixed ethnicity, European and Chinese. In his own case, he said, "There's a distinction to be made here between ethnicity and being from Africa."

Spiraling Out of Control

The lawsuit claims Serodio tried to stop publication on the newspaper article, but was too late. In response, the professor of the latter cultural class posted a reply on the bulletin boards at the medical school stating that Serodio "had failed to learn professionalism and humanism."

That's when, according to the lawsuit, the harassment, some physical, began in earnest. According to the lawsuit, Serodio's tires were vandalized in December of 2006, other students put up posters slamming him and he was denied protection by the school.

In January 2007, Serodio was made to promise he would never again write in any public forum at the school at the risk of facing disciplinary action, according to the lawsuit.

But Zeff said that the same month, his client was designated as the person who would take notes from a particular class for posting online, as was customary. The notes, Zeff said, contained a few jokes and comments as was typical for students who posted notes online and had been approved by the class professor.

But after a fellow student complained, the same professor that approved the notes filed a complaint about their content, according to the lawsuit, and school officials demanded that Serodio submit to a psychiatric evaluation.

The evaluation was given in April 2007 and Serodio was declared "fit for medical student functions," according to the lawsuit. But after a disciplinary hearing on April 1, which consisted of testimony from anyone claiming to be offended by Serodio's comments, he was notified of his suspension.

The lawsuit claims Serodio was suspended on May 15, 2007 for a period "of not less than one year."

Messages and e-mails left with Duncan and Cohen as well as UMDNJ Dean Dr. Robert Johnson were not returned.

His suspension, which Serodio said was for "unprofessional behavior," meant he was unable to take the board exams reserved for students preparing to enter third year and therefore could not transfer elsewhere to continue his education even though he completed all the second-year coursework.

Resolving the Issue

Serodio told ABCNews.com that he was technically reinstated last spring, but it was too late to start his third year because he still had not been allowed to take his second-year exams.

"I feel unprepared now," he said. "That was very penalizing to me."

So Serodio said he decided to take a year's leave of absence to spend time with his children and get things sorted out with the school, while trying to stay current on his studies for the exam.

The lawsuit is asking for reinstatement to UMDNJ and to the National Board of Medical Examiners so Serodio be allowed to take his board exams. The suit is also asking for recognition that UMDNJ's actions were discriminatory and retaliatory and for unspecified monetary damages.

"I felt this issue had to be resolved," he said.

For now, Serodio is hoping to be able to get his medical degree and put what he considers to be the humiliation of the incident behind him.

"He's lost a part of his career," Zeff said. "He's lost two years of his life."
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Old 05-14-2009, 10:26 AM   #2
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I somehow think that there has to be another issue at hand here. A commenter also claims that there is too:

'White African-American' Suing N.J. Med School for Discrimination - ABC News

Quote:
Everyone is losing sight of the issue at hand. This lawsuit has NOTHING to do with this students claim that he is an African American. With regard to his identification as an AA, to each his own. If he wants to be identified as such, then he is entitled to it. However, what is not being portrayed by the media is the ugly repercussions of this students own actions. He acted and behaved very disgustingly and provoked many students after he made his comments. He is being portrayed by the victim in this situation when in fact he was the aggressor. He wrote a very blasphemous and derogatory essay in the school newspaper that I hope you will all be able to read should it resurface. He continued to provoke other students after that essay was published and there were counterarguments and other responses. Only after the student continued this unprofessional behavior was he suspended for the year. Was this all handled positively and in the best possible way? NO. But was this student suspended from school merely because of his identity? NO. He was suspended for his disgusting actions. This case will go nowhere. I saw this because I was a student with this student at this school before he was suspended. He is no victim.
So I guess who knows what the full story is.
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Old 05-14-2009, 10:35 AM   #3
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This was in Medical School? We're conditioned to think people in med school are a little more intelligent than the average person, but I guess not... Slashing his tires? Harrasment?

I don't know, something about this story makes me think we're not hearing the whole thing. According to this story, he always identified himself as "white African-American", surely med students are bright enough to realize there are white people in Africa.
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Old 05-14-2009, 10:38 AM   #4
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So I guess who knows what the full story is.
I was looking up other stories as I was posting this but didn't find a whole lot, but a part of me had the suspicion that the guy is just an asshole and was pushing buttons on purpose and that this paticular article was painting him as a victim.
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Old 05-14-2009, 10:49 AM   #5
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Well whether he's an a hole or not, I think it still poses an interesting question about race and if people would be offended by a white person identifying himself in that way (or any other combination of races for that matter). The person's behavior aside. I can see them being offended by other things he may have said..I'd like to know what they were.
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Old 05-14-2009, 11:00 AM   #6
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Being an African or African American has nothing to do with being black or white. It's got to do where you come from.

But what Melon posted shows there's always something behind these kind of things. Double truth. I can understand that if this guy provoked people, that he got reactions.
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Old 05-14-2009, 11:18 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by MrsSpringsteen View Post
Well whether he's an a hole or not, I think it still poses an interesting question about race and if people would be offended by a white person identifying himself in that way (or any other combination of races for that matter). The person's behavior aside. I can see them being offended by other things he may have said..I'd like to know what they were.
A couple of years ago I think I remember a slight controversy of Charlise Theron identifying herself as African American.

I do think we get bogged down with race labels. So much that we don't even know what some mean anymore. The actual term 'African American' honestly has very little to do with race but it's been used for so long that way that it has become synonymous with race.
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Old 05-14-2009, 12:05 PM   #8
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Can a white guy be African-American?
How about this: can a person of African, Mideastern or Asian descent be called European?
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Old 05-14-2009, 12:06 PM   #9
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If this is true he's definitely an a hole-and more. But he apparently feels he had the right to say and do those things and he was the victim of discrimination.


This article is extremely one sided. As a student at New Jersey Medical School and a former classmate of Paulo Serodio, I witnessed the numerous incidents that culminated in Paulo's suspension. The disciplinary action was widely supported by the student body because of Paulo's overt racism and blatant disregard for the viewpoints and feelings of others. The suspension had nothing to do with Paulo identifying himself as an African American, but rather was based on repeated, offensive comments he made in public forums of the NJMS community. Paolo published an article in the NJMS Plexus (school newpaper) belittling the significance of African American history and slavery. In addition, he wrote that most blacks had no right calling themselves African Americans, as they have never been to Africa, and posited that only people like himself were worthy of the label African-American. Fellow students were understandably incensed at being told how to identify themselves, and numerous rebuttals followed. Furthermore, he went on to make racist and sexist jokes in scribe notes (notes taken for the entire class during lectures) as well as emails, further belittling black culture. As a means of responding to his critics, one memorable public email referred to the course director as "Ms. Piggy" and referenced a "lynch mob" being after him. The obvious parallel to public lynchings of blacks in times past did not go unnoticed.
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Old 05-14-2009, 01:58 PM   #10
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i have a few black friends from jamaica who get highly pissed off when they're refered to as african americans.

in reality, aren't we all african americans?
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Old 05-14-2009, 02:05 PM   #11
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No, we should all be Americans first of (insert country) descent.

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Old 05-14-2009, 02:45 PM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Headache in a Suitcase View Post

in reality, aren't we all african americans?
Sure we are, in a sense. All human beings came from Africa, so when you really trace back your heritage, you trace it back to Africa.
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Old 05-14-2009, 02:45 PM   #13
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No, we should all be Americans first of (insert country) descent.

<>
That depends if you were born here. My parents are Cuban-Americans but I am an American of Cuban descent.
The man in this article was born in Africa.
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Old 05-14-2009, 02:47 PM   #14
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Quote:
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Can a white guy be African-American?
How about this: can a person of African, Mideastern or Asian descent be called European?
No, logically it would follow that they are African-European, Mideastern-European or Asian-European.
But then again, I wouldn't give a damn if they saw themselves as just European.
By the way, only the most fervent supporters of the EU would call themselves European.

I agree with the others, this article only portrays the students' view. Who knows what really happened for other students to be offended like that. Can't really imagine that someone would feel deeply offended if another person referred to himself as white African-American, let alone a whole class, except he presented it in a way that the "white" came across derogatory or superior.
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Old 05-14-2009, 02:56 PM   #15
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The actual term 'African American' honestly has very little to do with race
In the context of US history though, this really isn't true. The term became common late in the Civil Rights era (originally 'Afro-American') as an alternative to 'Negro,' and was quite specifically intended to refer to black Americans, particularly black Americans descended from people brought here as slaves (as Headache alluded to, some black Americans of Caribbean heritage prefer 'Afro-Caribbean American' or just 'Caribbean-American' instead). Even today, the US government (Census Bureau) defines African-American as "a person having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa" (the Census Bureau does also explicitly acknowledge that this usage reflects "the social definition of race recognized in this country"). I suppose one implication of this might be that someone of Mr. Serodio's background 'should' describe himself as 'Mozambican-American,' if he wished to identify himself by national origin. Most African-Americans, of course, are unable to be this specific even if they wished, since they have no idea where in Africa their ancestors came from. The supposedly corresponding 'European-American,' by contrast, is seldom used except by white supremacists, and occasionally without such implications when context creates a need to refer to white Americans collectively in a way that denotes ancestral origin. Otherwise, most white Americans seeking to identify themselves by ancestral origin will use the specific country names: Irish-American, Italian-American, German-American etc.

I'm not saying this makes it 'reasonable' for anyone to throw a fit over a white US citizen originally from Mozambique (or any other African country) describing himself as an 'African-American'--particularly if he were doing so in an unassuming way, and was able to respectfully make a case why this ought to be a valid way for him to self-identify, without deriding or belittling the specific history of the term (and the people it's conventionally understood to refer to) within the United States. Unfortunately, it doesn't sound like Mr. Serodio at all behaved in this manner.
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