I arrived at this class with little or no knowledge of the subject. I wasn’t sure how I would like the class since I wasn’t really interested in medicine and had only a minimal knowledge on the topic of racism (through high-school history classes, social media, and current events). My initial reaction to the class was probably more on the negative side. I wondered what could racism possibly have to do with medicine? I wasn’t familiar with the subject and we never discussed it in high school. Nonetheless, after doing research and learning about racism and medicine, and their correlation, I have grown curious and interested in this topic.
This tangent may seem slightly off topic but it actually brings me to an important point. The reason I am so uninformed about the correlation of medicine and racism may not be a coincidence, rather due to the inaccessibility of these sources. In Medical Aparthied, Harriet A. Washington describes that many of the medical records of experimentation are not easily accessible. Washington begins the novel by explaining that there has been an mistreatment of African Americans in general, but specifically in the medical field. The author goes on to list various examples of issues in medical research with African Americans. These include but are not limited to historical cases and some more contemporary.
On page 1, Harriet Washington refers to a well-known women’s doctor, James Marian Sims, who had many breakthroughs but who also had a dark past regarding medical experimentation on African Americans. Despite performing many gruesome surgeries, Sims is still praised for his medical breakthroughs and contributions to women’s surgery. Another more contemporary example of this idea is found on page 8. Washington refers to a case in which the Medical College of Georgia used stolen African American bodies for physician training. Although this was a terrible incident, it was overlooked due to the school’s prestige.
Harriet A. Washington’s introduction to Medical Aparthied conveys many crucial themes, one of which is the idea that African American’s side of the story was not well represented. Rather than portraying the abuse and records of experimentation of African Americans, the breakthroughs of upper class white doctors was magnified. A Nigerian proverb on page 8 states “Don’t let the lion tell the giraffe’s story.” Unfortunately in our world, the lion told it. Although there are many medical records, they do not account for the pain that many African Americans went through and are going through. The author also states that many of these documents are hidden away.
It’s disturbing to me that this topic is not often talked about. In a plethora of ways, it is wrong that people like James Marion Sims are glorified when they have committed such monstrous acts. Although it isn’t the most lighthearted topic, it is imperative to address the evident mistreatment, abuse, and experimentation of so many innocent people.