Can’t Catch A Break

From what I’ve learned these past few weeks in class is that Black people were never given a break from societal injustices aimed at them for hundreds of years. In the primary school systems, we were taught briefly about American Slavery and the Civil Rights Movement to get a general understanding of our history as a nation. However, no one really questioned other fields, like Biology and Literature, and how they are related to what we’ve learned in History class. Who knew that there are books published around the topics of medical enslavement and unauthorized experimentation. As the weeks go by, I’m sure that I’ll continue to be shocked and disgusted by what events occurred in the past, but for now, I can only hope that the torture finally ends in death.

That mindset I stated earlier of “the torture finally [ending] in death” was completely destroyed after I read chapter five of Medical Apartheid and Fortune’s Bones. The fact that African Americans were used as guinea pigs against their own will and no one really stepped in to stop this is heartbreaking. In Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington, the author uncovers the ugly, racist truth of the medical field. This chapter in particular stuck out to me because I never considered how there wasn’t a future of peace for those who died and happened to be Black or poor. Dissection of the human body disturbed not only the physical body itself, but the spirit that was finally trying to rest in the afterlife. “For Blacks, anatomical dissection meant even more: It was an extension of slavery into eternity, because it represented a profound level of White control over their bodies, illustrating that they were not free even in death” (Washington, Medical Apartheid, 125). Oppression carried on from the back-breaking work in the fields to the hospitals; that should be considered as clinically-accommodating facilities, but were instead used as research laboratories by doctors, medical professors and their students, and physicians to examine “clinical material” (Washington, Medical, 106).

Fortune’s Bones by Marilyn Nelson portrayed a similar idea of how a slave could go through life in excruciating pain from strenuous labor to be picked at from a skeletal point of view, never to be laid to rest even until this day. Fortune died in 1803 and there’s still a debate going on whether if his remains should be buried or examined for future, scientific/medical purposes. “His bones say only that he served and died, that he was useful, even into death, stripped his name, his story, and his flesh” (Nelson, Fortune’s Bones, 13). Scientists believe that there’s more to learn about the deceased slave’s life and how he perished. Based off of my personal beliefs, I thinking that Fortune deserves to be laid to rest once and for all. Sad to say, but it seemed like a common trend for medical workers to keep “clinical material” preserved for longer than what was morally acceptable.


-Analiese Vasciannie

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