Dennis Prager: My Wife’s Black Anesthesiologist Wasn’t an Affirmative Action Hire

The perspectives and thoughts expressed in this op-ed are the exclusive purview of the author.

Two weeks ago, my wife, Susan, underwent major surgery for breast cancer. Happily, the cancer was caught so early (via routine mammogram) that it was barely a Stage 1 cancer. The surgeon was confident that the cancer was completely eradicated.

My wife had both the oncological surgery and the breast reconstruction at the same time at a private clinic that specializes in breast cancer and breast reconstruction. It is an elite medical center run by a surgeon who hires the best people money can buy.

In light of that, after the surgery I asked my wife if she’d had a chance to meet the anesthesiologist (we had previously met both surgeons).

Given that the combined surgeries would last about seven hours, the choice of anesthesiologist was particularly important. Knowing the quality of physicians at that clinic, I assumed that whoever the anesthesiologist was, she (all the staff is female) would be among the best in Los Angeles, if not in America. And indeed, my wife could not speak highly enough about the anesthesiologist. The amount of anesthesia was so well chosen and so well administered that, in contrast to her previous experiences with surgery, which left her groggy and sleepy for the rest of the day and overnight, my wife was not only wide-awake and alert almost immediately after the surgery concluded, after seven hours of surgery she was able to edit my column just two hours later.

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This world-class anesthesiologist was a black woman, a fact that made me think about affirmative action.

Had I had any suspicion that this was a clinic that engaged in affirmative action, I would have wondered about this anesthesiologist: Was she chosen, at least in part, because she was black? But knowing this clinic, I had no doubt that anyone they hired would be chosen solely because she is an outstanding oncological surgeon, plastic surgeon or anesthesiologist.

How in good conscience can anyone who cares about any minority advocate affirmative action? Isn’t it obvious that wherever affirmative action exists, any member of the affirmed group will always have a cloud hanging over them?

From the very beginning of affirmative action, I maintained that, although blacks deserved special consideration in hiring and college acceptance — given their long history of being discriminated against — affirmative action would only hurt them.

And, indeed, that is precisely what has happened. Affirmative action has been a disaster for blacks and for society as a whole. By lowering standards in order to enroll more blacks at elite colleges, for example, the fact that many K-12 schools fail to provide black students a solid educational foundation is masked, and black students have disproportionately dropped out of colleges for which they were simply not academically prepared. And just as devastating, blacks at elite colleges are regarded with suspicion: Are they at this university because of their academic excellence or primarily because of their color? Affirmative action renders such suspicion inevitable.

Imagine, then, how you would feel if you were a black student at an elite college, knowing how just about everyone regarded you — especially if you were gifted and hard-working and deserved to be there.

It is hard to believe that whites who push for affirmative action actually care about blacks. Like most “progressive” positions, it seems that the primary aim of holding such positions is not to actually do good, but to feel good.

When confronted with this challenge to affirmative action, progressives have no response. Because there is no response. Instead, they point to the white students who have been accepted at elite universities either because their parents are alumni or because their families are big donors to the university. To cite a perfect example, this was the headline of a recent article in the left-wing Guardian newspaper: “Affirmative action is over in the United States, but only for Black people: Don’t worry, privileged white students can still rely on their parents’ money and connections to get into Harvard. Yay!”

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That claim is undoubtedly true, but it in no way invalidates the challenge presented here — that of the affirmative-action cloud that hangs over black students at elite universities. If all students at Harvard whose parents’ money and connections facilitated their getting into Harvard were identifiable, they would have the exact same affirmative-action cloud hanging over them. This is easily demonstrated. Imagine that all beneficiaries of parental clout had to wear a badge around campus that said, “Legacy Admission” or “My Parents Are Big Donors.” How would they be regarded? That badge would be the equivalent of black skin.

The moment it is known that any group is favored thanks to affirmative action, people — including members of that group — will wonder how capable that individual is.

That is why Scott Kirby, the CEO of United Airlines, is such a fool in announcing that half the enrollment of United’s pilot school will be reserved for women and people of color. He has ensured that passengers will begin to wonder just how capable their black or female pilot is. Which is not at all the case today. No one thinks twice if their pilot is black or female. We all assume they got to the cockpit on the basis of merit and are therefore perfectly capable. Just as my wife did when she met her black anesthesiologist. Because the clinic doesn’t practice affirmative action.

Dennis Prager is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host and columnist. His commentary on Numbers, the fourth volume of “The Rational Bible,” his five-volume commentary on the first five books of the Bible, will be released in November 2024 and is available now for presale. He is the co-founder of Prager University and may be contacted at


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