Forgetting the Medical Practice of Good Faith (revised)

The story of Fortune’s Bones, written by Marilyn Nelson, begins with a man named Fortune, who was enslaved by an orthopedic surgeon known as Dr. Preserved Porter. Upon Fortune’s death, his skeleton was used for anatomical study by Dr. Porter and subsequent generations. The disturbing examination of his body is believed to have contributed to the progression of medical science. Not only was Fortune taken advantage of, his wife (Dinah) was forced to clean the room where Fortune’s skeleton hung. Fortune’s skeleton was eventually donated to a museum by a descendant of Porter. Both Fortune’s real name and story were lost as the name “Larry” had been engraved on Fortune’s skull. Giving Fortune an imaginary name made it easier to accept the magnitude of suffering that he went through. Nelson also mentions that Fortune was an image of herself, enabling her to connect and empathize with the pain that Fortune had to endure. 

The practice of studying medicine has historically sought to minimize, and sometimes even justify the consequent harm brought to individuals who were promised protection. Medical professionals reimagine themselves and their subjects as small contributors to an inevitable and beneficent system, medicine and science as a whole, in order to ease the conflict of bringing harm to patients. One notable example in Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid details the infamous Dr. Sims who built his reputation and his practice from the non consensual experimentation on enslaved Black people. One such experimentation was the 40-minute, unanesthetized surgery of one enslaved man’s lower jaw noting that his experiment “proved its practicality… whether the patient [was] willing or not” (Washington 102-103). Editors of the New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journalism were “pleased to record this highly creditable achievement of a Southern Surgeon.”(Washington 103).To complete this reimagining, professionals often forfeit their own agency, as well as that of the patient, to a more abstract demand for knowledge. Though the identity of the medical professional is maintained, the identity of the patient is often obscured, or destroyed to make this reimagining easier. In context, this means that while professionals will be happy to take credit for medical discoveries, the individuals who sacrificed their autonomy in a very visceral way will be carelessly or intentionally forgotten for sake of ease.

Dr. Porter did not see Fortune’s body as the end of a human life; he saw it as an opportunity. When Fortune died, Dr. Porter dissected him. He took Fortune’s body, which he had forced to endure strenuous labor and continued struggle, and he cut it open because he wanted to. Nelson writes from Dr. Porter’s point of view in Fortune’s Bones, as he describes the act of cutting Fortune open, saying his body “falls open like a bridal gossamer” (19). The intimate metaphor is extended, as Dr. Porter begins to dissect Fortune’s body, saying “I enter Fortune, and he enters me” (22). This image connotes an air of equality, mutuality and consent. However, in reality, Dr. Porter was using Fortune’s body as a prop, slicing him into pieces, ripping his organs out of his body, leaving his bones to hang in the room Fortune’s own wife cleans. So why would Nelson’s Dr. Porter use language that implies he and Fortune were equals in this endeavor? He does so for the same reason he constantly repeats the phrase “and I am humbled by my ignorance, humbled by my ignorance” (22): to convince himself that he is not solely responsible for his brutal actions against Fortune’s body in death. If Dr. Porter can convince himself Fortune’s dead body is a willing participant in his studies, if he can convince himself that he is too ignorant to see the cruelty in what he is doing, if he can convince himself that he is merely acting in the good name of science, then he does not need to accept the gravity of what he is doing. Porter goes so far as to imagine Fortune as the agent of the dissection, not himself, stating “Here with begins my dissection of the former body of my former slave, which served him who served me throughout his life, and now serves the advance of science” (17).

The idea of autonomy can also be applied to science. Choosing whether or not to accept their own autonomy has been a common theme in our readings about medical professionals. Doctors willingly take credit for their contributions to the growth of the medical field but deny any responsibility for inflicting harm on Black people at their expense. Dr. Sims from Harriet Washington’s historical book, Medical Apartheid and Dr. Porter from Marilyn Nelson’s Fortune’s Bones, both strived for success in their work without realizing the reality and ethicality of their work on black people. Washington describes the several horrific experiments and procedures performed by Dr. James Marion Sims “father of modern gynecology,” on a group of enslaved women. Doctors had to hold back these women while Dr. Sims made incisions, without providing anesthesia to numb the pain (Washington 65). 

The story of Joice Heth, as depicted in Washington’s Medical Apartheid, is another example of the pain inflicted on a Black person at the hands of a powerful white man. P.T. Barnum, a famous American circus holder, had bought the possession of an enslaved woman named Joice Heth. After her death in 1836, Barnum ordered a public dissection to be performed to determine the cause of death and sold tickets for the public to view. Shockingly, 500 spectators showed up to this gruesome event as a form of entertainment and ensured that Barnum’s fame would rise (Washington 86-94). At the expense of Heth, P.T. Barnum used her to benefit himself and dehumanized her as an easier way to justify his cruel intentions. He made excuses to himself and to Heth that this torture would be worth it because Heth herself would become rich and famous. Unsurprisingly, Barnum was the one who reaped the benefits of his own cruelty, and Heth died penniless and stripped of her dignity and autonomy. Similar to Joice Heth, Fortune was also dehumanized as it was easier to refer to him as “Larry.” By assigning Fortune a generic name, it removes any personal or emotional connection to the body and almost takes away from the consequences of the procedures implemented by Dr. Porter. Both examples show that it was easier for the white person to take advantage of the enslaved Black person through their delusional imaginations to justify their horrible actions.

In their stories, Nelson and Morrison both discuss eugenics to showcase how doctors can manipulate their patients. In Fortune’s Bones, Nelson explains how Fortune’s body is used as a tool. Dr. Porter, a renowned surgeon, undergoes several procedures where he experiments on Fortune’s body for any scientific evidence about his life. However, diving deeper into this scene, we are able to see that no matter how much examination is done, it is Fortune’s voice and spirit that can not be owned. In this particular scene, Nelson writes, “I am not my body, I am not my bones” (27). Here, we clearly see that Fortune is stating that he is not his body. The use of this repetition is important as it highlights Fortune’s identity. Although Fortune’s body is physically there, he is mentally gone. Similarly, in her story, “Home” author Toni Morrison discusses another doctor named Dr. Beauregard, who performed sexual experiments on Cee’s body and left her traumatized. Morrison writes, “And Cee remembered—how pleasant she felt upon awakening after Dr.Beau had stuck her with a needle to put her to sleep” (Morrison, 121). Although Cee did not feel anything during the experiment process she felt like a part of her was gone. The manipulation that Dr.Beau did on Cee’s body left her empty. We see how disturbing one’s physical body can mentally affect them. Connecting this back to the thesis, individuals who sacrifice their bodies for surgeons are capable of being hurt near the end because they end up losing the most important thing to them, their identity.

Georgia, Jacob, Dineen, Nossoh, Phil, Rachel

The Loss and Subsequent Reclamation of Identity

Maya Nunez, Quentin Wall, Riley Dilger, Sarah Bryk, Kelly Edmond

Fortune’s Bones is the story of a man enslaved by Dr. Porter, an orthopedic surgeon, in Waterbury, Connecticut during the 1700s. The book utilizes poetry and narrative to follow Fortune’s life, how his identity was taken from him, and how his community attempted to remedy the actions against him. Upon Fortune’s death, his skeleton was used for generations by the surgeon and his family for anatomical study. Time passed and eventually, Fortune’s name was lost, and replaced by “Larry”. Fortune’s name was forgotten for nearly a century until a crew of workers discovered his bones boarded up in an attic they were renovating. In 1933, Sally Porter Law McGlannan, the last Porter doctor, donated the bones to the Mattatuck Museum where he is currently assembled for display. His skeleton hangs in a glass case where adults and children come to visit “Larry” and imagine him as many different things. In Nelson’s Manumission Requiem, Fortune’s identity is continuously being altered and reimagined. Looking at the passage “Kyrie of the Bones”, the reader is able to observe Fortune’s bones being used by the surgeon’s family over time. Each new stanza in the poem introduces a new way Fortune’s identity is lost; “I called him Larry, it was easier”, “I say he was my Grandfather’s slave, who slipped and broke his neck on Larry’s leap”, and “We took the skull out of its wooden box, and with a leg rolled it around the dusty floor” are all examples of Fortune’s identity being lost over time. Nelson’s focus on the loss and subsequent reclamation of identity shows the particular importance of these themes in the book. Throughout her work, we can see the impact of naming, imagination, and ease on the characters we meet and their identities’. When observing Toni Morrison’s Home and Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid through the same lens, one can see the thought-provoking ways in which they are connected. 

In Fortune’s Bones, we see how one’s name plays a large role in one’s identity and self-image. Before Fortune became “Larry”, people knew him as a father, a husband, a baptized Christian, and a slave. He lived in Waterbury Connecticut with his wife Dina and his two daughters Mira and Roxa. After his death, Fortune’s identity, name, and story were forgotten and replaced by “Larry”. People who visit “Larry” at the Mattatuck Museum don’t consider these things, they don’t consider that he was a human being, with a story and an identity. His transition to “Larry” has stripped him of his identity and has contributed to the loss of his autonomy. Just as Fortune is stripped of his identity and sense of self, so is Cee when she is referred to as anything but her name in the book Home by Toni Morrison. “Being born in the street” (44), Cee is referred to as a “gutter child” by her grandmother. Throughout the entire book, she is referred to by a series of nicknames, the gutter child being one of many. Even her name in the book “Cee ” is a nickname in-of-itself; her real name is Ycidra. Both Fortune and Cee are stripped of their identities when they are called anything but their names. Cee’s loss of identity through “naming” shapes the way she views and cares for herself. She depends on everyone whether that be her brother Frank, her boyfriend, Prince, or her boss, Dr.Beau because she has lost what is most important, her identity. She accepts these different names (identities) because it allows her to avoid having to reckon with her own identity which she doesn’t even know what that might look like. People who visit “Larry” and try to “imagine” his story for themselves do so because they are trying to avoid the grim and brutal history of his life. Nelson and Morrison’s emphasis on naming helps us to understand how loss of identity works as a tactic for avoiding having to reckon with the truth which is both brutal and saddening but also extremely necessary. The same can be said for Washington’s Medical Apartheid. Washington discusses the systematic oppression of African Americans in our healthcare system through different historical medical accounts. By exposing the dark and grim history of American medicalization, she is reclaiming the identity of thousands of vulnerable subjects (black bodies) so that us readers can reckon with the racialized harm of our history. These grim and brutal stories on experimental brain surgeries and birth control programs (that targeted black people) just to name a couple, help bring back this sense of identity that has been covered/hidden for so long. 

Fortune’s Bones is written through different perspectives that are imagined by Marilyn Nelson. Nelson writes what she imagines Fortune, his wife Dinah, Dr. Porter, and more would have felt during the time of his existence and after his death. The poems throughout Nelson’s book show how Fortune’s identity was slowly stripped from him in his death. Fortune’s loss of identity begins when Dr. Porter first dissects his body. Nelson writes, “Herewith begins my dissection of the former body of my former slave” (14). Porter imagines Fortune to be an opportunity for an advancement in science and as a person no more. Nelson illustrates how she imagines Dr. Porter to feel by stating, “I enter Fortune, and he enters me” (19). From this, the reader can sense that Dr. Porter does not care about the person that he just cut into, instead Dr. Porter is amazed at the “delicate organs” and “smooth muscles” that he can see make up the human body. Fortune’s loss of identity is further discussed during Kyrie of the Bones. Nelson uses this poem to imagine the impact that Fortune may have had on generations of Porters’. The poem suggests that around the year 1890, Porter children played in the attic with Fortune’s bones. Nelson writes, “…we took the skull out of its wooden box, and with a leg rolled it around the dusty floor” (21). This is a representation of Fortune during the years that he was forgotten. Nelson imagines that the Porter children continued making up stories about a man named “Larry” and playing with the bones of Fortune to pass time. Nelson’s impactful poem titled, Not My Bones, is imagined to be written from the point of view of Fortune. This poem represents the feelings felt by Fortune during the time of his death and how he felt about his own loss of identity. Nelson imagines Fortune to feel violated and states“…while it was in my hands it was called my name; but I am not my body, I am not my body” (25). After the death of Fortune, his identity was slowly stripped from him and it was not until centuries later that he got it back. This loss of identity tied to imagination can also be seen in the novel written by Toni Morrison, Home. In Home, Frank is unable to deal with the reality of the murder that he committed when he was in Korea. Instead of coming to terms with what he did, Frank imagines that he witnessed the murder instead. This plays a big role in Frank’s loss of identity because of how it made him feel. Frank states, “…I think the guard felt more than disgust. I think he felt tempted and that is what he had to kill” (Home, 96). Frank here is describing how he believes the ‘guard’ felt about the sexual thoughts that he had toward the Korean girl. Frank is displacing his feelings of temptation onto the guard in order to make himself feel better about being the one to kill her. In the following chapter, Frank admits to being the one who felt tempted by these inappropriate thoughts and it can be seen that he had an internal conflict with his identity during the time of his decision. “How could I like myself, even be myself if I surrendered to that place where I unzip my fly and let her taste me right then and there” (Home, 134). By admitting his conflicting thoughts during this situation, Frank gains some of his identity back that has been gone since he returned from the war. The use of imagination emphasized by Nelson and Morrison helps us to understand how easy it is for a person to lose their identity in exchange for a new one. This helps people come to terms with their actions or decisions, but can be damaging to their self image. Harriet Washington exhibits similar ideas in Medical Apartheid when discussing the improper medical experimentation and treatment on black bodies. Physicians imagined black bodies to be the only subjects that they could use to study anatomy. African American cadavers were often purchased and used by medical schools in order to show students anatomy. The stories written in this book written by Washington, allow for accountability to be placed on the perpetrators who contributed to the loss of identity of many African Americans and allows for the return of identity for those affected by these medical experiments.

In Fortune’s Bones, Nelson provides the reader with a sense of ease when describing how Fortune’s identity was stripped from him by Dr. Porter and his family. Dr. Porter decided to take the ‘easy way out’ during the time that he began dissecting Fortune’s body to further the study of anatomy. By doing this, Dr. Porter was doing what was most convenient for himself rather than dealing with the matter correctly. As mentioned before, Dr Porter was a surgeon who did work on an enslaved man named Fortune. He chose the easy way out as soon as things became uncomfortable. As seen in the text, “I called him Larry. It was easier to face him with an imaginary name” (21). Coming to terms with the fact that Fortune was not an object, but a person with value was difficult for Porter to accept. It was easier to not imagine Fortune’s bones to belong to someone new, someone different. He later proceeds with his experiment, “ I enter Fortune, and he enters me” (22). Self deception involves believing something that is demonstrably false is real and Porter speaks as if entering Fortune was some sort of even exchange. Evaluating the tone of Porter, it is clear that he is not comfortable with what he is doing. Imagine if Porter, who used Fortune for experimental purposes, stepped back and noticed that what he was doing was wrong and brought this to the attention of others. That would have made an impact even if by doing that may have put him in an uncomfortable situation. It was easier to follow society and experiment on black bodies. Evaluating Marylin Nelson’s Home, it is evident that Frank takes the easy way out in order to avoid his trauma and guilt. He tells the story of watching a man murder a little girl in Korea, only to later admit that man was him. He avoids his guilt by imagining himself as a bystander to the murder, as it is easier than admitting to himself and others the horror he comitted and well as the reason he did it. He says, “I lied to you and I lied to me. I hid it from you because I hid it from me” (Home 133). Frank chose to lie about the situation because he was unable to come to terms with his actions, and realized his own identity as well as how others viewed him, would forever be changed when he admitted his wrongdoings. It was easier for him to run away from reality in order to protect his identity and sense of self, than to have to face what he had done and how it would ultimately change his view of himself forever. Harriet Washington also uses the idea of ease in Medical Apartheid to illustrate the carelessness that doctors had for the identity of black bodies when experimenting. Washington writes, “Northern medical schools recognized that being unable to acquire sufficient cadavers to attract medical students could mean their dissolution, so they imported black corpses” (Medical Apartheid, 133). Black bodies were experimented on more because they were easier to find than cadavers. During experimentation, they were stripped of their identities and only used in regards to medical advancement. 

Marilyn Nelson, Toni Morrison, and Harriet Washington use naming, imagination, and ease as tactics to explore themes of identity, both the loss and reclamation of identity, in their novels. Through discussing the loss of identity, it’s almost as if these authors are giving these characters (in the books) their identities back. In Home, we see how Cee’s doesn’t have much of an identity for herself, until she is rescued from Dr. Beau’s office. Once treated by Ethel, she begins to learn for the first time who she really is, and she is able to gain a sort of autonomy. She’s reckoning with the uncomfortable truth of what her life was up until that moment. This is both an uncomfortable but extremely necessary process. Cee is, for the first time, taking accountability for her past actions and is working, in good faith, towards creating a better life for herself. Looking at Fortune’s Bones, Nelson writes this book to allow us readers to understand the brutal and saddening life of Fortune’s. It is our job as readers to recognize Fortune’s sad and brutal life and decide for ourselves how to process this information. It is up to us to act in good faith and assess what it is we want to do with this newly disclosed information. The same can be said for Washington’s Medical Apartheid. Washington does a good job exposing the dark and brutal history of the medicalization of black bodies in the United States. She tells stories from reproductive health to brain surgery, exposing the horrible experiments that took place on black people in the US. People who read the book can reckon with these stories and these identities that for so long, have been removed and/or hidden from our history. Reading these stories allows us to re-identify the lives of those that have been removed from American history which is a necessary process in acting in good faith. As readers and as students, it is our responsibility to reckon with the racialized harms that are not only displayed throughout the books but that are also displayed throughout the world and throughout our lives. At SUNY Geneseo, we acknowledge the importance of recognizing, learning, and understanding diversity, global awareness and engagement through our Geneseo Learning Outcomes. Geneseo’s mission through GLOBE collaboration outcomes allows us students to situate ourselves with different individual and community experiences. Doing so allows us to understand and appreciate the various identities that are present in our Geneseo and global community. When we appreciate the identities that make up our community we actively participate in an exchange of good faith.

Forgetting the Medical Practice of Good Faith

Nossoh Diarra, Jacob Clarke, Georgia VanDerwater, Rachel Dems, Philip Cai, Dineen Vogler

The story of Fortune’s Bones, written by Marilyn Nelson, begins with a man named Fortune,who was enslaved by an orthopedic surgeon known as Dr. Preserver Porter. Upon Fortune’s death, his skeleton was used for anatomical study by Dr. Porter and subsequent generations. The disturbing examination of his body is believed to contribute to the progression of medical science. Not only was Fortune taken advantage of, his wife (Dinah) was forced to clean the room where Fortune’s skeleton hung. Fortune’s skeleton was eventually donated to a museum by a descendant of Porter. Both Fortune’s real name and story were lost as the name “Larry” had been engraved on Fortune’s skull. Giving Fortune an imaginary name because it made it easier to accept the magnitude of suffering that he went through. Nelson also mentions that Fortune was an image of herself, enabling her to connect and empathize with the pain that Fortune had to endure. 

The practice of studying medicine has historically sought to minimize, and sometimes even justify the consequent harm brought to individuals who were promised protection. Medical professionals reimagine themselves and their subjects as small contributors to an inevitable and beneficent system (medicine and science as a whole), to ease the conflict of bringing harm to a patient. To complete this reimagining, professionals often forfeit their own agency, as well as that of the patient, to a more abstract demand for knowledge. Though the identity of the medical professional is maintained, the identity of the patient is often obscured, or destroyed to make this reimagining easier. In context, this means that while professionals will be happy to take credit for medical discoveries, the individuals who sacrificed their autonomy in a very visceral way will be carelessly or intentionally forgotten for sake of ease.

Dr. Porter did not see Fortune’s body as the end of a human life; he saw it as an opportunity. When Fortune died, Dr. Porter dissected him. He took Fortune’s body, which he had forced to endure strenuous labor and continued struggle, and he cut it open because he wanted to. Nelson writes from Dr. Porter’s point of view in Fortune’s Bones, as he describes the act of cutting Fortune open, saying his body “falls open like a bridal gossamer” (19). This intimate metaphor is extended, as Dr. Porter begins to dissect Fortune’s body, saying “I enter Fortune, and he enters me” (22). This image connotes an air of equality, mutuality and consent. However, in reality, Dr. Porter was using Fortune’s body as a prop, slicing him into pieces, ripping his organs out of his body, leaving his bones to hang in the room Fortune’s own wife cleans. So why would Nelson’s Dr. Porter use language that implies he and Fortune were equals in this endeavor? He does so for the same reason he constantly repeats the phrase “and I am humbled by my ignorance, humbled by my ignorance” (22): to convince himself that he is not solely responsible for his brutal actions against Fortune’s body in death. If Dr. Porter can convince himself Fortune’s dead body is a willing participant in his studies, if he can convince himself that he is too ignorant to see the cruelty in what he is doing, if he can convince himself that he is merely acting in the good name of science, then he does not need to accept the gravity of what he is doing. He goes so far as to imagine Fortune as the agent of the dissection, not himself, stating “Here with begins my dissection of the former body of my former slave, which served him who served me throughout his life, and now serves the advance of science” (17).

The idea of autonomy can also be applied to science. Choosing whether or not to accept their own autonomy has been a common theme in our readings about medical professionals. Doctors willingly take credit for their contributions to the growth of the medical field but deny any responsibility for inflicting harm on black people at their expense. Among Medical Apartheid and Fortune’s Bones, both medical Dr. Sims and Dr. Porter strived for success in their work without realizing the reality and ethicality of their work on black people. Known as the “father of modern gynecology”, Dr. James Marion Sims conducted several horrific experiments and procedures on a group of enslaved women. Doctors had to hold back these women while Dr. Sims made incisions, without providing anesthesia to numb the pain. 

The story of Joice Heth is also another example of the pain inflicted on a Black person at the hands of a powerful white man. P.T. Barnum, a famous American circus holder, had bought the possession of an enslaved woman named Joice Heth. After her death in 1836, Barnum ordered a public dissection to be performed to determine the cause of death and sold tickets for the public to view. Shockingly, 500 spectators showed up to this gruesome event as a form of entertainment and ensured that Barnum’s fame would rise (86-94). At the expense of Heth, P.T. Barnum used her to benefit himself and dehumanized her as an easier way to justify his cruel intentions. He made excuses to himself and to Heth that this torture would be worth it because Heth herself would become rich and famous. Unsurprisingly, Barnum was the one who reaped the befits of his own cruelty, and Heth died penniless and stripped of her dignity and autonomy. Similar to Joice Heth, Fortune was also dehumanized as it was easier to refer to him as “Larry.” By naming him with a generic name, it removes any personal or emotional connection to the body and almost takes away from the consequences of the procedures implemented by Dr. Porter. Both examples show that it was easier for the white person to take advantage of the enslaved Black person through their delusional imaginations to justify their horrible actions.

In their stories, Nelson and Morrison both discuss the scientifics about eugenics to showcase how doctors can manipulate their patients for their own benefits. Specifically, in the novel, “Fortune’s The Manumission Requiem Bones”, Nelson explains how Fortune’s body is used as a tool. Dr. Porter, a renowned surgeon, undergoes several procedures where he experiments on Fortune’s body for any scientific evidence about his life. However, diving deeper into this scene, we are able to see that no matter how much examination is done, it is Fortune’s voice and spirit that can not be owned. In this particular scene, Nelson writes, “I am not my body, I am not my bones” (27). Here, we clearly see that Fortune’s is stating that he is not his body. The use of this repetition is important as it highlights Fortune’s identity. Although Fortune’s body is physically there, he is mentally gone. Who is his and who people will remember him by will be forgotten. 

Similarly, in her novel, “Home” author Toni Morrison discusses another doctor named Dr. Beauregard, who performed sexual experiments on Cece’s body and left her traumatized. We see how disturbing one’s physical body can affect them. Connecting this back to the thesis, individuals who sacrifice their bodies for surgeons are capable of being hurt near the end because they end up losing the most important thing to them, their identity.

Understanding just how medical professionals relinquish their autonomy to the pursuit of knowledge as an act of imagination in order to justify cruelty, we can begin to question the larger and urgent implications to essential concepts like autonomy, care, and accountability.

One of the more disturbing components of this analytical framework is its wide applicability; the fallacy that imagines inflicting harm as justified if in service of larger systems isn’t by any means exclusive. While our analysis focuses on the justification of harm in medical contexts, you can trace this narrative through a plethora of situations where those in power imagine they have no choice but to seriously hurt someone for the sake of furthering some abstract and beneficent pursuit or institution. In doing so, those of authority can justify any violence to themselves as well as the public. Medical professionals such as J. Marion Sims, who built his medical understanding of gynecology from inhumane experimentation on women that he enslaved, are largely afforded praise, attention, and reward while victims of medical brutalization sacrifice their bodies, and in many cases the simple dignity of their name. This rationale for cruelty does not only discredit individual accountability, it also degrades public faith in these beneficent systems.

The Power of Identity and Imagination

Ryan Silverstein, Rebecca Perry, Marissa Volk, Tommy Castronova, Noah Taylor, Connor Canfield

In Marilyn Nelson’s requiem Fortune’s Bones, Nelson pays careful attention to naming, imagination, and ease, all of which are critical to the perception of racialized harm. Fortune’s Bones tells the story of Fortune, an African American man who was dehumanized through the mistreatment of his remains. In a poem included within this story, “Kyrie of the Bones,” the descendants of his former enslaver, physician Dr. Porter, describe their experiences with Fortune’s remains. His bones are put in disrespectful situations: displayed at a medical practice, played with by a child, found boarded up in an attic, and exhibited at a museum under the false identity given to him by Porter’s descendants. Marilyn Nelson’s recognition of naming, imagination and ease in Fortune’s Bones transcend literature, and can be used to further illustrate racialized harm in Toni Morrison’s novel, Home, and Harriet Washington’s anthology Medical Apartheid. All three works illuminate the act of stripping one’s name, and therefore reimagining their identity as an individual, which makes it easier to ignore the consequences of treating African American individuals as objects rather than humans. 

The act of naming is a significant part of society because it serves as the foundation of one’s identity. Consequently, the act of un-naming, taking away one’s name, strips an individual of their identity. The influence of un-naming is a prevalent part of Fortune’s Bones. After Fortune’s death, the name ‘Larry’ had been written on the back of his skull while his remains were passed down to Dr. Porter’s descendants. As a result of this name change, the people who came into contact with his remains were able to regard him not as a person who he had once been alive, Fortune, but as the false identity of ‘Larry.’ Whether his bones were viewed in a museum or played with in an attic, they were noted to belong to Larry. By having his name erased, his identity is forgotten and altered. Nelson repeats, “And I’ve been humbled by my ignorance, humbled by my ignorance,” (17-19). Nelson’s repetition of this line reveals the ignorance within individuals, as they look past the significance of Larry’s life and only regard the object of his skeleton. However, Nelson seems to be attempting to combat this perception of Fortune through the naming of their requiem. By naming her anthology ‘Fortune’s Bones’ rather than simply calling it ‘Fortune’ or ‘Larry’, she seems to be separating the life that Fortune actually lived from the treatment of his remains. The poem “Not My Bones,” which is presented from Fortune’s perspective, supports this view with the line “You are not your body/you are not your bones” (Nelson 27). Despite his remains being treated as an object, Fortune’s life still has value even if it was almost erased by the loss of his identity. 

In addition, Morrison’s novel, Home, illustrates the act of un-naming through Dr. Beau ignoring the identities of the patients he used for experimentation. For instance, Cee mentions that Dr. Beau “gave shots, had his patients drink medicines he made up himself, and occasionally performed abortions on society ladies” (Morrison 112). The identities of his patients, including their names, are never mentioned nor deemed significant because Dr. Beau views his patients solely as objects for experimentation. By ignoring the identities of his experimental subjects, Dr. Beau feels at ease to take advantage of his patients because un-naming them removes any sense of humanity and therefore Dr. Beauregard does not feel guilt or shame when harming his patients. As shown, naming is an important aspect of human identity. Un-naming an individual takes away their identity, making it easier for them to be treated inhumanely, as shown in both Fortune’s Bones and Home. 

In Medical Apartheid, this act of un-naming is illustrated in the form of stripping deseased African Americans from the identities they once held while they were alive. For instance, Washington reveals how African American bodies have been disregarded as human and treated with disrespect through grave robbing. In this act, white individuals selfishly dug up Black remains to use in classroom experiments. She shares that this dissection “gave the corpse a very different meaning, limiting him to a bit of useful flesh, an object to be surgically severed from his community, treated with disdain, then discarded like trash” (Washington 125). Through this process of objectification, the remains are not viewed for what they are: a human body. Instead, they are viewed inhumanely and the identities that these individuals once held are ignored and forgotten. After Black individuals were used as objects for classroom experiments, such inhumanity continued; the remains were discarded in basements of the school. According to Washington, “The basement was filled with mostly black bodies not by accident but by design” (121). white professors decided it was easier to discard the remains of their subjects than to return their bodies with care. As shown, extreme disrespect for the dead, African American individuals, is prevalent in Medical Aaprtheid as they are unnamed by being stripped of their identity in an unconsented act of grave robbing. 

In addition to all three works using un-naming as means for white individuals to feel at ease while committing racialized harm, imagination is also another notion widely used by these three authors. This can first be seen within the Nelson’s Fortune Bones. Fortune is “imagined” to have been a good laborer when he was alive,  that being the only way that he is remembered in history, and was seen as the extent of his worth. Nelson in this quotation from the preface is able to show how this is not true and the limitation put upon him and many others can make them feel hopeless: “Fortune’s legacy was his inheritance: the hopeless hope of a people valued for their labor, not for their ability to watch and dream” (Nelson 7). Dreaming and striving for more can bring hope, but when others imagine people like Fortune strictly as a workforce, it forces them into a predetermined role which can be harmful and make them feel hopeless. 

The thread of favoring imagination over reality is seen throughout Morrison’s Home. It’s especially apparent in chapter four, which describes Cee’s life from her childhood up to getting a job with Dr. Beauregard. Throughout this chapter, Morrison taps into our collective memory and imagination by evoking images from fairy tales and other children’s stories as a way of drawing us back to a time in our own lives where the line between imagination and reality was less pronounced, for example Cee’s story bears a striking resemblance to Cinderella, complete with her own evil stepmother (though she’s also described as “the wicked witch” in the form of Lenore (Morrison 53). We also see Frank himself struggle with favoring imagination over reality. His denial of the fact that he is still traumatized by the war plays into his imagined idea that he is entirely over his trauma, as we see in chapter 10, where Frank, reflecting on his past, imagines that he might be “cured” of his PTSD: “Frank suddenly realized that those memories, powerful as they were, did not crush him anymore or throw him into paralyzing despair. He could recall every detail, every sorrow, without needing alcohol to steady him. Was this the fruit of sobriety?  mere minutes before violently beating a man within an inch of his life (Morrison 100). We also see Dr. Beauregard favoring his imagination over reality in chapter twelve, where his almost comical reaction to Frank entering his home, is entirely due to him imagining Frank to be a threat, regardless of the reality that he is only there for his sister. He saw a Black man entering his home and immediately let his imagination run wild, jumping to the conclusion that the man was up to no good, shouting “‘There’s nothing to steal here!’”, frantically crying for his housekeeper, attempting to call the police, and pulling out a (unloaded) gun when the phone is knocked out of his hands (Morrison 110). In all three of these cases, imagination is used as a way of helping the imaginer avoid facing difficult truths. Cee sees herself as the main character of a fairy tale, ignoring the reality that life is far harder than she was ever prepared for. Frank imagines himself and his PTSD as a thing with a malfunction to be fixed in order to avoid the reality that PTSD is far more complicated than that. Dr. Beauregard sees Frank as nothing but a threat to himself and his work, ignoring the reality that he is simply there to rescue his sister. Clearly, the imaginer substitutes reality with their perception, the same way one might do in order to justify treating a person as an object. 

In Medical Apartheid, white individuals utilize their imagination to cover up and ignore the true reality of how they intentionally treat people of color inhumanely in medical settings. According to Washington, “Early medical records routinely identified African Americans as experimental subjects, especially in the slaveholding states” (57). Washington shares that Black individuals were put on the operating table even when they did not require surgery. Further, surgery procedures differed based upon race; Black individuals underwent more painful surgeries because they were not given anesthesia. To illustrate, James Marion Sims, a doctor who performed gynecologic surgeries, “claimed that his procedures were ‘not painful enough to justify the trouble and risk attending the administration [of anesthesia]’” (Washington 65). Sims developed a lie in regards to the levels of pain experienced throughout surgeries to cover up the truth of reality: these surgeries were extremely painful for African Americans; he purposely wanted to harm Black patients. He used his imagination as a tool to justify his decision and to distort reality; he made it appear that he was concerned to numb Black patients due to extreme risks. Yet, Sims always administered anesthesia to white surgical patients. Clearly, Sims used his imagination to avoid dealing with the consequences associated with discrimination and treating Black people inhumanely. Another example of using imagination to justify acts of bad faith in Medical Apartheid is revealed when Ota Benga, a human from Southern Africa, is put on display at the New York Zoological Gardens. Washington states that nearly every visitor made their way towards “the monkey house to see the star attraction in the park, the wild man from Africa” (78). whites treated Benga inhumanely by imagining him as an animal and using him for entertainment purposes. Clearly, imagination plays a role in such inhumane treatment. white individuals justified that it is okay to treat a Black individual in such a demeaning way because they instilled in their minds that he was in fact an animal and therefore deserved to be treated as one. Viewing Benga as an animal made it easier for white people to ignore the truth of how cruel of an act this was in reality. Without a doubt, imagination is a contributing factor that makes it easier for the white individuals in Medical Apartheid to inflict such physcial and emoitional harm.

The points Nelson, Morrison, and Washington are making within their works still apply to society today, arguably now more than ever. White American Society as a whole still refuses to acknowledge the horrible acts it has committed against people of color, preferring the false narrative of an imaginary society where systemic oppression doesn’t exist. Many individuals foster beliefs that racism ended with Martin Luther King and ever since all people have all been treated equally regardless of race or ethnicity. Of course, we know this isn’t the case. The reality is that people of color are still oppressed today. For this reason, it is important to hold white people accountable for their acts in the past because it has been pushed aside, hidden and distorted over time. The truth has gone unacknowledged in schools and communities. Revealing such truth is a major step in the healing process for those who have been affected by such horrific crimes and treatment because it is the basis of racism that is established and seen within society today. All in all, making reparations through the past is crucial in the step of healing today and will contribute immensely to the discontinuation of such oppression experienced by Black individuals in America.

The Untold Legacy of Medicine

Dan Bast, Delaney Carnahan, Samuel Comstock, Taylor Kerr, Jose Romero, Bryanna Spaulding

Through the works of Harriet A. Washington, Marilyn Nelson, and Toni Morrison readers can witness the influence of racism that has created disparities in medical care, highlighted by the inhumane medical treatment of those suffering from racial injustice among society. It is evident that Black Americans have suffered improper and unfair treatment when compared to White Americans. When we read Fortune’s Bones, we can see that Marilyn Nelson emphasizes the idea that being born a slave also enslaves possibilities and expectations of freedom, shown in institutions that perform medical experiments on enslaved people. This highlights the severe mistreatment and dehumanization of Black Americans that altered and limited the basic essential parts of life that are still seen in today’s demographic. “Fortune was born; he died”- the simplicity of life summarized in a simple sentence with no context to what Fortune did. It’s almost as though Fortune had no reason to be alive, a shadow of a man whose body was merely property and his soul only being released in death. At the time of his death, his body portrayed his life of servitude, and he was stripped of his identity by Porter when he was simply renamed “Larry.” Fortune’s life was defined by his work, and in his death, his body was nonconsensually used for medical research, further dehumanizing him. He was no longer an individual person, he served for Dr. Porter and he was not recognized as a man with his own life for years after his death. Fortune represents one of many instances where the life of a black individual is viewed as insignificant. 

In literature dealing with this subject matter, we witness corruption in the medical industry. These works emphasize the toll this corruption had and continues to have on African Americans and other black people. Whether it be a lack of consent or belligerent plans made by medical professionals without fear of repercussions. “His bones say only that he served and died, that he was useful, even into death, stripped of his name, his story, and his flesh” (Nelson 13). Nelson conveys to the readers in this quote that Fortune was not seen as a human being but rather as a tool that could be used when convenient. He was viewed not as an individual person with his own thoughts and ideas, he was seen as a mechanism for physical labor. Fortune’s bones are the framework for basic human autonomy and functioning in society; in this instance, the bones of Fortune are no longer individually owned, but rather owned and used by the owners bidding beyond free will. When Nelson speaks of Fortune being stripped of his story this can be connected to the concept of legacy. His individuality was not respected during his life and his body was used and continued to be disrespected in death. With that being said, the inhumane treatment and corruption on Fortune’s bones ultimately contaminates the legacy of those who wish to bring their stories of hardship and racial disparity, to be known. A loss of individuality is an opportunity lost to obtain a legacy. By reading works like Fortune’s Bones, it highlights the mistreatment black people experienced within the medical field and allows this piece of the medical community’s legacy to come to light. Similarly in Home by Toni Morrison, the author writes about Cee, a young black woman, and details her loss of legacy in a different way. After Cee endures the intensity of her recovery, Miss Ethel informs her saying, “Your womb can never bear fruit” (Morrison 128).  This displays the true (non-consensual) sacrifice made by African Americans in terms of medical research. Cee was not aware of what was being done to her, and she never gave consent nor accepted her medical fate. Dr. Beauregard performed experiments that not only left her body in an almost unrecoverable state but also made a drastic life decision for her, that she can never bear children of her own. She not only was used for her body non consensually, but she was in such a poor state that she herself could barely survive on her own. In losing the opportunity to bear children her choice to continue her legacy through children was no longer available to her. Although Cee was not a slave to the extent that Fortune was, she still experienced that same loss of autonomy. When taking this job, she was not aware of the true nature of the position making it impossible for her to have consented to the repercussions that came along with it. 

Many influential characters in history can be tied to the mistreatment of minority groups which define the success of their accomplishments. When reflecting upon the medical examinations that have changed over the duration of time, Washington’s Medical Apartheid highlights the corrupt mistreatment of African Americans and almost compares them to animals upon examination. We’re able to truly see the faults and degradation in our medical systems in her writing. This comparison can be seen within the quote “Dr. W. Montaguene Cobb…vociferously opposed abusive experimentation with blacks, but he defended Sims. ‘To refer to Anarcha and the five vesicovaginal patients whom Sims treated with her, as human guinea pigs would be grossly unfair… one of the great humanitarian as well as scientific landmarks of American surgery” (Washington 68-69). While the nonconsensual and inhumane experiments performed on these African American individuals were in no way justified, they did contribute to further medical advancements and treatments that benefited patients in a whole new aspect. Even though this research was ultimately beneficial to the world of medicine and future patients, the experiments performed cannot be excused. This is evidence of the brutal dehumanization of African Americans and no matter the benefits, racial discrimination in the medical field is unacceptable. 

In order to commit to health equity, racism has to be acknowledged as an obstacle and while there is more progression, there is still an evident lack of reparations seen through the mistreatment of people of color. Through Geneseo’s DEI initiatives, the school works to inclusify the community while providing knowledge that is so wrongly excluded from most school curriculums. This course acknowledges those issues and pushes us to reflect on the tragedies and learn from them so we can move forward as scholars. Students in this course are also from different backgrounds which allows us to work collaboratively and provide different points of view on the stories we are reading. We believe these ideas are reflected in Marilyn Nelson’s words interpreting Fortune stating, “And I am humbled by ignorance, humbled by ignorance” (Nelson 19). Ignorance is a crutch utilized in order to ignore the reality of racism that still exists in our society today. The weight of our actions as a society is robbing those who deserve to be recognized for their sacrifices towards the advancement of medical research.  

Goal Setting Essay: The Process of ThinkING & NoticING


Throughout the beginning weeks of American Ways: Literature, Medicine and Racism, I have begun to realize the importance of thinkING, what it means to be thinkING, and the implications it has on the course and the texts we have read thus far. The course epigraph “my job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice,” from Dionne Brand has helped foster my understanding of the process of thinkING, which I have come to see is a repetitive action of looking at current works and also continuously going back to readings and notes from the past. It’s a cyclical process that requires new understandings to be made with the progress of the course.

My primary goal for this course is to first establish a proper process of noticING and thinkING, and take what I unpack with those processes and apply it to my understanding of the course themes: literature, medicine, and racism. I feel that the ability to be actively engaged in these works can help people better develop an understanding of this country’s lack of care and failure to be actively noticing and thinking of ways to repair the damage inflicted on minorities, which is critical for change and growth. Within the community of this course, the foundation of growth is built into our collaborative efforts to care for our peers, to be able to nurture discussion and learn from our collaborations. By not learning how to notice, think, and apply, not only would I be stopping myself from learning and caring for myself, but I wouldn’t be staying true to the collaborative nature of this course. 

  The implications of proper care have been evident in the course texts we have read and been discussing over the beginning weeks of this semester. More often than not, we have noticed that what the texts we have worked with are demonstrating is a lack of care, and I first noticed this is Medical Apartheid, by Harriet Washington. The chapter that featured Ota Benga and William T. Hornaday was disturbing and alarming to read, and it was a clear demonstration of pure carelessness. Perhaps one of the most eye opening passages was the description of Ota Benga being described as “small, apelike, elfish creatures, furtive and mischievous, they closely parallel the brownies and goblins of our fairy tales,” (Washington 76). Beyond the blatantly racist description of Ota Benga, a human being who is being “given as a gift,” the fact that he was also “locked in the monkey house, before the staring crowd with keepers always nearby,” (Washington 76). Reading and thinkING about Medical Apartheid has been my first real view into racism and science in this course, and what was even more shocking was learning that this was happening in the Bronx Zoo, a place I have been to many times throughout my life. Granted that the careless display and concern for Ota Benga happened in 1906, it still is such a horrendous thing to think about. 

We have further been able to notice similar medical racism and carelessness in Toni Morrison’s novel Home. The presence of the theme of care is recurring throughout the novel, but perhaps the strongest example is with Dr. Beauregard, where he exhibits similar scientific carelessness to that of William Horndaday. Dr. Beau purposely misled Cee into thinking that he was a friend and good person, and we see this through noticING the literature on his bookshelf. We are shown, through Cee’s perspective, books such as Out of the Night, The Passing of the Great Race, Heredity, and Race and Society (Morrison 65). Through noticING and unpacking these references to literature, as a class we were able to look up and get an idea of what these works were about and we found that they all are problematic and racist texts. Going further into the carelessness, it is tragic to see that Cee has been made to feel “this was a good, safe place, she knew, and Sarah had become her family, her friend, and her confidante,” (Morrison 65). We later come to find out that Dr. Beau leaves Cee in a horrible medical state, as she was “close to the edge of life,” (Morrison 147), and she needed to be helped by Miss Ethel in order to survive. 

What I have been thinkING about throughout this course is the negative connection to carelessness, in order for me to accentuate the importance of good faith carING. By providing good faith care in the process of thinkING and noticING I feel that I am putting myself in the position to not only understand and unpack what we are working on, but also to grow my sense of recognizing what has happened historically, what is happening currently, and what direction change should be going. The knowledge and level of understanding gained from actively thinkING and noticING things in the course, both through the works we have been reading and also from collaborating with my peers, has been amazing thus far. I feel that my process for working in this class has formed (and is still forming) from realizing that learning is not linear, it is, as Dr. McCoy stated, cyclical. To read through texts and then abandon them is not how I think I am going to learn and notice. The mini collaboration exercise helped show me the impact that going back and understanding, unpacking, and connecting has in a course like this. Without returning to Fortune’s Bones I do not think that our group would have been able to clearly demonstrate what the implications of not having self identity and autonomy are. If we had not discussed and unpacked the idea of autonomy, and how we thought the parasite in the eye of fish connected to how Frank protected Cee all her life, Dr. Beau’s experimentation on her, and Miss Ethel’s healing process, then our understanding of human and self autonomy would have been incomplete. By trying to create processes that will allow myself to be thinkING and noticING better, then in turn I believe that I will be able to unpack and apply the content to both the course and my discussions with peers, and I will also be able to retain what I have learned outside the classroom in the real world.

English 101: Literature, Medicine & Racism, Goal Setting Essay

When I signed up for this class, I did not know what to expect. I thought this would be like most english classes where we are given some books and just write a paper about it with a given prompt. However, I noticed during the first class that this would be an english class I have never taken before. The first thing we did in class was talk about how we can grow and help one another grow. Everyone started at a different writing and reading level before signing up for the class but we should all have the same goal of growth. The past english classes I have taken the teachers typically assume everyone is at the same level and just want us to write. This class puts a lot of emphasis on our readings and doing a lot of analysis. We talk a lot about our readings and we get many perspectives when do our discussions. In fact, we talked about a semicolon in Fortune’s “The Manumission Requiem Bones” by Marilyn Nelson for nearly a whole class. This kind of in-depth analysis was not what I expected. We come back to many ideas which give us readers and students more time to analyze the text. This helps my growth since going back helps me think about ideas we talk about in class. This is especially useful when one of my classmates talks about something in the reading that I did not think about.

As the course has progressed, we have put a strong emphasis on analysis when breaking down text. We do a lot of thinkING, conversING, considerING, and reflectING. The “ING” being capitalized points out the act of doing. The Epigraph to our class “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” (Dionne Brand) puts a strong focus on pay close attention to the readings and how they can relate to modern times. It also reminds us to keep track and recognize growth not only from ourselves but also our peers. I believe this is the most important part of the class as Dr. McCoy has talked about growth since our first class. For myself, in order to grow, I think the best way would be participating more and having more thoughtful discussions with the class. This would be done best if everyone else in the class also continues to grow. When we grow together, our class becomes more of a community as opposed to just a learning center. We also wanted to make sure we defined faith and what separates the good from bad. When we have our discussions, it is important to keep in mind that what people may say even if it is controversial is all in good faith.

As mentioned earlier, we spent a lot of time analyzng a semicolon in Fortune’s Bone. We were asked questions by Dr. McCoy such as “why is it there” and “what is the importance of it”. We even went back and defined what a semicolon was which was something we learned in our middle school and late high school days. This deep analysis provided commentary for our class and we worked together to try and figure out its significance. We also spent a lot of time on the line “Fortune was born; he died ” (Nelson, p.13). Even though this line was short, it clearly carried a lot of significance. Most of the class interpreted it as him being alive through his mind but not his body. However, I had a different opinion. I thought of this line as Fortune having such an insignificant life that after being born, his greatest accomplishment in life was death. The reasoning behind this was that he was meerly used as a test subject and for observation. However, after our class had the discussion, I heard different ideas such as after fortune was born, his legacy died with him. These kind of group discussions contribute a significant amount to my growth because I never would have thought about that line with that perspective.

It is important to not forget the official name of this class “Literature, Medicine, and Racism”. In many of our readings, we have indulged in racism in the past, specifically in medicine. A reading that we spent a long amount of time on was Harriet Washington’s Medical Aparthied. The story about a character who was dealing with racism in medicine opened my eyes to a whole new world of racism. It was almost hard to read when she talks about how dehumanized black people were. She goes in great detail about how black people were basically called zoo animals which was mentioned in  chapter 2 “circus africanus”. She also mentions how black people, similar to Fortune’s Bone, were used as test subjects for white doctors. They would be dissected without prior consent and were give medication without understanding the possible side effects. Although it was difficult to read through due to how vulgar it was, it contributed to my growth which I am thankful for.

Although we are only about one month into this semester, I feel like I have grown a lot. I feel as if having the perspectives of by classmates and peers has helped my understanding of our readings. Not only have I grown, but I have noticed many of my peers grow. In order to maintain confidentiality I will not name them but I have noticed more participation from them. They provide a lot of thoughtful insight that our class can debrief and think about. My hope is that we can all grow as a community as opposed to individuals in a room where we talk. I had a shaky start to the semester as I did not speak my differing opinion as much as I should have. I can monitor my growth as we continue to do our self-reflections and staying on top of the work that is given to us.

Goal Setting Essay: Growing Together

Taylor Kerr

English 101: Literature, Medicine & Racism

Dr. McCoy

ThinkING is a critical part of any course, especially in English and literature focused courses. The epigraph, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice,” the words of Dionne Brand, represent a significant part of this course. Due to the nature of this course, with many self graded assignments, collaborative essays and class discussions, it is so important to be self-aware and keep notice of yourself and others. This allows for effective conversation and a beneficial learning space. 

One of the largest parts of our course outline and even in life, is care. Care for ourselves, our peers, and the course accountability. This epigraph directly connects to the thought of care. As part of care, we must take notice of ourselves, others, and how the course progresses. This care allows us to work efficiently, work well together, and get in our best work. Quite literally, you will get out what you put in. We can track our work and effort in this course as well as our growth and progress, and this is an extremely important practice in any learning experience. Keeping in check with yourself as well as others holds you accountable and allows you to continue to progress in your knowledge and education. The epigraph refers to us and our peers, as well as Beth and other mentors. As we complete readings and discussions, Beth will offer her feedback in our thinking, and our peers will also provide feedback as well as their own thoughts. This allows us to grow as we learn other opinions, also by understanding different perspectives as valid. This ties to the notice of ourselves and the notice of others. As we notice ourselves and our peers, Beth also takes notice of us. Beth can keep us on track and assure that we are also keeping notice of ourselves and our peers. 

In the novel by Toni Morrison, Home, care is a prominent theme. There is a disconnect in Frank and Cee’s family, the care is not exactly what you would expect. Throughout her life, Cee was taken care of by Frank. He shielded her from the threats of the world, protected her when her family was not there for her, and made sure she was okay until he enlisted in the army. In addition, Lenore was put into a motherly position when Cee’s parents could not be there for her. While Lenore’s care seemed harsh and unloving, she truly did want the best for her. Since Cee was protected by Frank for most of her life, she was not exposed to harm and hurt. This is why when she went to work for Dr. Beauregard, she was unaware of his true intentions, and in a way, she was naive and vulnerable. This example displays the importance of care in good faith. We should strive to always care for the growth of ourselves and others in good faith. Referring to that, we should provide helpful feedback and contribute to beneficial conversation. Like in the novel, Home,  and many others that we may read, it is important to take notice of ourselves and others always. This allows us to grow as individuals and also together as a class, to get the most out of this course. Since this course combines both a 101 and a 439 class, we are all coming from different majors and educational backgrounds. Having a wide range and variety of knowledge and information, we can all benefit from each other’s contributions and feedback. 

As important as it is to notice ourselves and others in terms of growth, it is also important to keep notice when we are reading. One of the most important things a student and reader can do to truly understand a reading is to keep up with proper analysis. Taking notice of significant symbolism and main themes is critical in proper analysis. The main topics of this course are Literature, Medicine and Racism. These topics parallel all of our readings in varying depths. In Fortune’s Bones by Marilyn Nelson, there are evident themes of medicine and racism. Fortune was a slave whose body was nonconsensually used for medical research. His body had been passed down into the researcher’s family to help their children learn about anatomy, however, his skeleton had been renamed Larry, which diminished his identity. When his body was later donated to a museum, an anthropologist had studied his history, learning his real name and about his life. This theme of nonconsensual medical research on African American people relates to the novel, Home. Cee was taken advantage of by her boss, Dr. Beauregard. Dr. Beauregard performed gynecological research on Cee while she was working for him, and the doctor left her in horrible condition, unable to have children in the future. These paralleling themes connect to a major topic in our course, the importance of looking forward while still circling back. This practice of looking forward and circling back refers to connecting current readings to past readings and seeing the connections in characters and motifs. 

In this course, we can notice ourselves and others in many ways, and thoroughly keep track of our accountability and growth. In class discussions, we talk about important points in our readings and work together in groups to answer questions. In order to do this, we must keep up with the assigned readings and articles. This allows us to fully invest ourselves in conversation and provide beneficial feedback to our peer’s reponses. We also work on a few collaborative essays, which also require reading and working together. During group work, we must keep notice of what our peers are saying and respect other opinions and ideas. We may not always agree, but discussing in groups allows us to see things from different perspectives. Seeing things in different perspectives is a critical skill of learning. Readings can be analyzed in many different ways, and many authors typically leave their work up for interpretation. Working through readings together is important, especially when dealing with sensitive topics. While we work through sensitive topics such as medicine and racism, we can learn in good faith. Our job as students in this course is to notice our efforts individually and as a group, in doing this, we can grow together in a constructive learning environment. 

Morrison, Toni. Home. ISBN: 9780307740915

Nelson, Marilyn. Fortune’s Bones: The Manumission Requiem. ISBN: 9781932425123

Goal-Setting Essay: Judge Less

10/02/2021

“My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”–Dionne Brand

“Judge less; think more.”—Beth McCoy

               My job is to notice. Every time I return to the course syllabus and read this epigraph, I am reminded of my role as a student, teacher and human. To me, it means that my sole responsibility is to notice, and to be okay with other people noticing too. My most important responsibility is not to assume, not to debate, not to immediately react, and certainly not to judge. My job is to notice. Eventually, and hopefully, the effect of my noticing will become understanding that grows steadily and gracefully.

               In a course setting, this means reading. It means noticing themes within material, connections between course texts, historical contexts, perspectives of authors, due dates, errors in my writing. It means noticing my own time management habits, my own participation, my part in collaborations and my care for my own growth in the course. It means noticing my professor, Beth McCoy, and my TA, Kya Primm: noticing what they choose to emphasize in class, noticing their expectations and their responses to the material, the questions they ask. It means noticing what is going on with my peers: noticing their perspectives, their growth, their understanding of and reactions to course material. It also means noticing what’s going on in my life outside of class, in my community, my family, my own head. Most importantly, it means noticing all of this without judgement.

Instructions for living a life:

Pay attention.

Be Astonished.

Tell about it.

-Mary Oliver

This poem is not a part of our course material, so I won’t dwell on it, but I have thought about it often throughout the first few weeks of this course. It adds on two subsequent parts of the action of “noticing.” One, is allowing yourself to feel how you feel in response. There is a fine line between feeling and judging, and noticing comes in again, there. Many times in this class, I have learned something, or noticed something that makes me absolutely sick with disgust. I’ve noticed unfathomable things that make me feel incredibly angry and inconsolably helpless. In those moments, I have had to remind myself to notice what those feelings are, and why I’m feeling them. That’s how I work to avoid judgement.

The second element of noticing that Oliver mentions is telling others about what you noticed. This feels especially specific in the context of an English class, and especially one as collaborative as this. Here, we read, notice, and learn how to share our findings with our peers, and potentially the public.

For me, Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid has been an awesome (in the true meaning of the word) example of deeply noticing, learning, and sharing without judging. Throughout the chapters we’ve read for class, Washington details unimaginably painful and degrading actions taken by white people at the direct physical, mental, and existential expense of millions of Black people throughout several centuries. She notices, and she shares these stories in excruciating detail, leaving nothing out, and she refrains from judgement in her writing consistently and unwaveringly. In chapter 3, Washington quotes Baron Georges Cuvier, a man who repeatedly dehumanized Africans physically and verbally, writing:

“Cuvier had once noted that Baartman possessed a tenacious memory; she also spoke Dutch, English, and French. Yet, he left her this final assessment: “‘These races with depressed and compressed skulls are condemned to a never-ending inferiority.’” ( I have a kindle edition with no page numbers, I’m sorry!)

This quote ended the entire section on Cuvier and Baartman. Washington does not share her feelings on this, she does not write angrily about the racism so clearly evident in Cuvier’s perspective. She just notices, and tells about it. It’s our job to do the same.

My job is to notice. During the first week of class, Dr. McCoy asked us to look up the age of consent Wikipedia page, and read the “history” tab. Many of us were immediately appalled seeing ages of consent as low as 7 years old throughout American history, and as low as 14 in very recent years. The goal behind the exercise was a reminder to notice. Historical context is important to notice in regards to action and intention in our readings during this course. While reading Toni Morrison’s Home, I mentioned in our class discussion that I thought it was significant that Mrs. K was having sexual relationships with all of the teenage boys in the town, and that their mothers didn’t mind because “a local widow who didn’t want their husbands was more of a boon than a sin. Besides, their own daughters were safer that way” (90). This immediately disturbed me, and I felt that it was significant, and should have had some sort of effect on the development of the boys who were involved with her. When I brought it up in class, Dr. McCoy reminded me that I had possibly not taken note of the time period in which this was happening, and the age of consent that was legal and socially acceptable at the time.

These reminders in class never come across as judgements. They are reminders to notice everything we can—to think more, and judge less. This course is teaching me how to think actively, and carefully about my readings and my interactions in class. Last week, in groups, we discussed homeopathic and natural medicine as seen administered by Ms. Ethel to Cee in Home. I noticed there were certainly some differing opinions on the idea within my group, as I leaned toward Ms. Ethel healing Cee in the best way she knew how—and it working—and others saw it as a moral indiscretion to treat Cee the way she did. While my initial reaction to the conversation was to argue, or to feel offended, I eventually returned to our course objectives mentally and decided to share what I noticed about the healing rituals with my group. I also took the time to notice why some of my other group members may have felt the way they did, and found that all of us were operating and thinking in the same good faith despite our different backgrounds, majors and philosophies.

My goal in this class is to reach that mode of thinkING and noticING and not judging even sooner. By the end of this course, I hope I’ve practiced these skills enough so that it becomes my default response more often than not.

Works Cited:

Morrison, Toni. Home (Vintage International) (p. 90). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Washington, Harriet A.. Medical Apartheid . Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Goal Setting Essay: The Awareness of Yourself and Others

The course epigraph, a quote by Dionne Brand, says “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice,”. The first thing that came to my mind after reading this quote a few times was a sense of awareness. The idea that one should not only be aware of all the things that go on around them, but also know what they are presenting to others and what they are aware of. Additionally, it made me consider how an individual needs to be aware of the fact that what they are perceiving may not be the full picture. How one perceives others, the world around them and how they themselves are perceived has played a big part in much of the worlds’ history, and has also featured prominently in several of the works we have read since the start of the semester. In both fiction as well as nonfiction literature, the world views of the characters are often radically different based on what they notice in the world around them. This can also apply to real-life personal relations, as well as real world current events. And throughout our texts, one of the major throughlines throughout each of them seems to be one’s awareness of themselves and others.

One of the texts that I noticed about this idea was in the Journal of Clinical Investigation article by Peter Hotez, America’s deadly flirtation with antiscience and the medical freedom movement. The article discusses how, for as long as vaccinations have been around, there have been vocal groups that have actively opposed their usage for a wide variety of reasons. These beliefs stem from the ideal of medical freedom, and the alternate medicinal methods and counterarguments that have been suggested range from herbal medications to nutritional supplements, and even to the belief that the “…measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine replicated in the colons of children to cause pervasive developmental disorder (autism),” (2) These beliefs have become more and more prevalent now that the threat of Covid-19, and are an example of how one’s perception of the world can end up being a negative. By locking oneself into the belief that vaccines can only cause harm, you endanger both yourself as well as the people close to you to avoidable diseases. These groups fail to notice the overwhelming evidence that claims the vaccines are safe, and are seemingly trapped by their perceptions of what they deem to be ‘proper’ medicine. While it is definitely important to have medical freedom, it is also important to be able to notice the benefits that vaccines offer.

Another aspect of the article that fits this idea is the section about specific groups being targeted by this mentality. Many groups have been targeted by these kinds of groups, such as the Somali immigrant community in Minnesota in 2017, the Orthodox Jewish community in New York and New Jersey and the targeting of African American communities in places such as Harlem. Due to many of these campaigns, many people ended up sick with easily avoidable diseases. By viewing these sorts of groups in a harsher light, these anti vaccination groups end up putting these communities in danger simply to prove that their viewpoint is the correct one. This ties in to the idea of how one notices others, as these anti-vaccination groups take notice of groups like these and target them with their own perceptions of vaccinations. They alter what these groups notice in an attempt to control how they view a medical procedure that works to keep people safe, rather than allowing them to form their own independent opinions. And it is groups like these that make me want to better understand the work I am reading as I read it. Groups like these can come to be based on a belief that has little to no evidence backing it, and it’s a scary thought that they would put others in danger because of it. When I experience an article or book in the future, I believe that it will be extremely important for me to gather my own research on a topic I don’t understand before my opinion of the subject is affected by the author’s bias. And although I cannot affect the actions of the people in the groups mentioned before, I would hope that they would do the same.

Toni Morrison’s Home also portrays several interesting ways in which characters notice the world around them, particularly with the main character Frank. Having grown up in the small town of Lotus with parents who are hardly around, a grandmother who hardly loved him, and a sister who he constantly had to look out for, Frank’s childhood was filled with a fair amount of stress and fear. Because of this, he and his two friends grew to hate both their town and what it represented, and longed to leave it and join the army. However, when he returns to his hometown when his sister is in desperate need of medical attention, he begins to notice small things about the town that he had never seen when he was a child. As he walks down the road to pass the time, he notices small things about the town, and comments “Had the trees always been this deep, deep green?” (116). His view of his hometown had before been so affected by the circumstances of his childhood, but having returned to the town with fresh eyes. he suddenly see it for all the beauty it has always had. This ties in to the idea of how one can perceive the world around them, as so much of what you notice as an individual can tie in to your past experiences. While most people will not have as much of a troubled past as Frank, the experiences one has throughout life will nonetheless tint the way you see the world and form opinions. And it is precisely because of this that you must inform yourself about subjects before forming these opinions instead of relying entirely on pre-existing biases.

Both the article as well as the book make it clear that informing oneself on a subject before forming an opinion is vital if one is to properly perceive the world around them. And I believe this can extend to a much smaller scale as well. Even in cases like the in-class discussions that we have had so far, gaining as much information on the subject matter before the class can be a great boon for the discussion, as you may be able to provide more to the conversation. Having the course epigraph mention how important it is for me to notice things makes it quite clear that I must continue to strive to be aware of all the factors surrounding both me as well as the works we read in class. Due to this, I keep the epigraph in mind as we continue with the semester, and will pursue self-growth in regards to how I view the world around me. 

Works Cited

Morrison, Toni. Home. New York: Vintage Books, 2012. Print

Hotez, Peter J. “America’s Deadly Flirtation with Antiscience and the Medical Freedom Movement.” Journal of Clinical Investigation, vol. 131, no. 7, 2021, https://doi.org/10.1172/jci149072.