Slave or Enslaved?

Dionne Brand once said, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” To me, this quote is involving both concepts of observation and the act of understanding the things you notice. I feel as if this epigraph is asking me to look beyond my own views and to look as if I am a fly on the wall, looking in on society. The amount of injustice that has been carried throughout history since 1619 is extremely unfortunate, which still continues today. Reading literature such as Medical Apartheid and Fortune’s Bones, along with the view points of my classmates has given me a new perspective on these topics. 

Unlike some other classmates, I chose to be in this class out of interest. The ideas this class focused on was one I had never been exposed to. The ideas being expressed in this class have been foreign to me, combining the topics of literature, medicine, and racism. Although I have been exposed to different forms of literature throughout my schooling, I have never been thoroughly exposed to these different ideas. I feel as though my confusion is based solely on my lack of understanding from the beginning of my education career.. Although I may not be the most informed about many things, my interests have peaked and I am extremely interested in learning more.

I have been fascinated by medicine and the medical profession as a whole since I could speak. My interest in the realms of medicine is another reason I jumped on this course. Since I was young I always dreamed of being able to help others, figuring out their pain, their mental anguish, being able to lend a helping hand. Yet, while reading the first few beginning chapters of Medical Apartheid, I am left at a standstill. This career I have always dreamt of being apart of had once done this to the people they were trying to help? Was this going to hinder my knowledge and abilities to become apart of this profession now that I know about the acts of my colleagues? I have yet to answer these questions.

In Medical Apartheid, Washington explores the 19th century during the times when students in the medical field relied on black bodies to train the physicians.  Students used the bodies to conduct experiments, provide further medical research, and allow themselves to understand the human body and all it has to offer throughout the medical field.  Washington says, “Most physicians of the day also believed that blacks had low intellectual capacities” which opens discussion for the topics of genetics and predisposed disabilities. The use of African Americans for further medical practices has left me astonished. Since slavery began in 1619, when privateer The White Lion brought African Americans from the British colonies into the United States, African Americans have been belittled and degraded. Doctor McCoy has helped me develop new ideas, particularly using with the terms “slave” and “enslaved person”. I was never aware of the difference and the impact it had on the people it surrounded. I am shocked at the lack of knowledge I have about a time period that wasn’t that long ago. I feel as if my school has let me down, and the people they have hurt when teaching these subjects. To refer to someone as a slave, is demeaning, and is characterizing them by a term that they have no control over. The word is defined as, “a human being classed as property and who is forced to work for nothing.” While the word enslaved person is, “a human being who is made to be a slave.” Enslaved person offers humanity back to not only the one being spoken about, but the society surrounding it.

Importance of Repetition

In the beginning of the course, I realized that Dr. McCoy repeated one thing more than others almost every day of class.  It got me thinking and made me understand the true concept behind it. That one thing was repetition and if you continuously repeat something, it won’t have a chance to die out; make use of it or lose it.  This concept carries over to the novel Fortune’s Bones. This book explained and elaborated on the research process that occured on a former enslaved person who went by the name of “Fortune”. Fortune’s body was discovered in a museum in Connecticut and “has been in the town [Mattatuck] for over 200 years”.  Research was conducted on the remains by medical experts and newfound information was discovered. The researchers had discovered that Fortune was married, raised children, and had been baptized later on in his life. He and his family lived on a farm and worked for a man known as Dr. Porter. There, they planted/cared for crops and raised different animals.  Dr. Porter ended up preserving Fortune’s body instead of burying him because he felt that it could be used for future research purposes. The use of repetition was displayed here by preserving the bones and passing the remains throughout the generations to come for continued research and teaching purposes.

There was a line in the book that caught my attention the most out of all and that was, “You are not your body, you are not your bones.  What’s essential about you is what can’t be owned.” Although the book was based off of bones and bodily remains, this line was expressing how people are not just what they’re made of genetically and physically but how they present themselves and act towards others.  It’s all about your way of going through life and what you take out of daily situations that makes you, you; your bones don’t do that for you. 

It was quite eye-opening to see that one person, who happened to be enslaved, could contribute so much to medical research even 200 years after dying.  Fortune lived a hard, rigorous life while still being able to provide for his family; his wife and two kids. Although his remains were taken advantage of and invaded after his passing, Fortune provided a lot of information to medical experts to help society better understand the lives of an enslaved person.  It was interesting how you could find out so much about a person 200 years later based solely off their bones and how the remains were left.

The course epigraph of “my job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice” plays into the role of my realization that repetition throughout life does have an impact on society.  In Fortune’s Bones, repetition had a vital impact on research tactics and how generations starting 200 years ago until now have had the same understanding as to how Fortune lived, died, and lasted during his afterlife.  Dr. Porter was the main source in beginning this repetitive cycle. He began this by leaving the remains for his children and grandchildren to do research and experiments on and allow them to also use the bones as teaching methods for more people to learn from and carry on the “routine” in the continuous years.  I believe that this eye-opening experience was vital to my life because I have a better understanding as to how just one enslaved person lived his life and that repetition is a key to getting through life in more than one way. It allows for something to be carried on for generations and never die because if you continue to use something, there’s no way it could ever die off and be lost in the past forever.

Where Our Power Comes From

The gains of society which have made based on abhorrent evils are significant. I find it deeply unsettling, just how much of modern medicine is based on human experimentation and non-consensual research. Entire fields of medical study being based on research which violated the human rights of so many leads to questions about how mankind has benefitted from its capacity for evil. The accounts read on Dr. Sims and his use of enslaved women for practice before utilizing what he learned to cure Caucasian women is a story which to me, encapsulates the disturbing long term moral dilemma of unethical medical research. When research can benefit all women for generations to come and save countless lives, are we right to benefit and prosper off of them so long as we recognize their evil origins? The answer is not so simple.

No doubt we have all benefited from the evil deeds of medical practitioners like Dr. Sims. Whether directly or indirectly, a large part of male and female population alive today can chalk up their high odds of survival to the knowledge gained by Sims. I think ultimately what is important is to not excuse the horrors perpetrated in this way by lauding the men behind the knowledge. While it is important to acknowledge the sources of our knowledge and the individuals who brought about their development, we should always keep fresh in our minds the evils done by those we learn from. We should celebrate the life saving techniques we have today and use them, but vow never again to utilize the sordid methods which lead to their realization. Professor McCoy’s acknowledgment of this was something which caused me to think a great deal about ends justifying means and how this is never a mindset which we should fall into. Fortune’s bones has had me thinking of just how important it is to be intimate and not to look away from the horrors done in the name of progress.

I sincerely hope that when Doctor Porter dissected Fortune and had to look upon the damage done to his body, that he came to terms with what he did, and understood the full extent of the wrongs he had committed. When he wrote “I enter Fortune and he enters me.” I believe that the Doctor did come to understand that he had hurt a person, a father, a son, and a brother, tortured him for a lifetime and done a truly horrible thing. I believe that this kind of intimacy is important, not only for those who committed the horrible crime of slavery, but for us in the modern world for whom slavery can easily and dangerously become a distant memory bound to history books. It is important for Fortune’s Bones and the deep scars they bare to be visible in a museum. Despite being dead, Fortune’s body is a living reminder of what mankind is capable of when we abandon morality for the possibility of knowledge. We should never forget where our foundation has come from. We must always remember the evils done in the past so that we do not repeat them.

The most important thing to remember is that the legacy of harm which left its marks on Fortune’s bones is not limited to them. The legacy of racism and the racial complexities of our time are things we must always work to overcome in our personal lives. We can do this by recognizing where our power has come from and treating others with kindness and empathy.

Awake or Woke?

Are you awake or woke?

Most likely, you’ve at least heard someone use the word “woke” as an adjective, in a social media post, or in activism.

The Merriam-Webster definition of woke is as follows: A word currently used to describe “consciousness”. “Being aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice)”. It is truly powerful when someone is aware of the truth behind things “the man” doesn’t want you to know (i.e classism, sexism, and any other social injustices). The modern slang term is in use when you want someone to notice their privilege, complacency, and ignorance (sometimes unintentional). To be woke is to be well-informed of the problems and injustices in our country. Being woke doesn’t just apply to race. A person who is “woke” is mindful of racism and other forms of prejudice, and isn’t just going to turn a blind eye.

What does woke mean to me?

Continue reading “Awake or Woke?”

The Medical Practice of Consent

The quote from Dionne Brand as the course epigraph, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice,” made me look at this course from a new perspective. I interpreted this as essentially saying everything that we do is a two-way interaction and should be treated as such. I think this has already been reflected several times in this course already. The primary example of this is the ENGL-101 Life Preserver.

The ENGL-101 Life Preserver has two things for us to pay attention to: “Both/And” and “Consent”. I want to put an emphasis on the consent aspect of the life preserver. We all have heard about consent before, but most of us have only heard it being used in limited contexts. Obviously, we know consent is incredibly important, but there have been countless times where, in various situations, consent has been and still is ignored.

Continue reading “The Medical Practice of Consent”

Slave vs. Enslaved Person?

Without a doubt, the topic of slavery is a hard pill to swallow. It is the sad truth to not only American history but to world history. One can also say when the topic of slavery comes up, two words are frequently used slave and enslaved. A slave is being a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey the owner. Enslave, or enslaved person is making someone a slave. Those words to the untrained eye may be used in a similar connotation. The idea never really occurred to me, that those two words are actually entirely different. In class, Doctor McCoy stated her views on enslaved person vs. slave. She expressed that she preferred to use the word enslaved person over a slave, suggesting that saying or calling one a slave is demeaning and strips away their humanity. In other words, Doctor McCoy believes saying enslaved person gives back the idea of humanity, how that person is a human being and not property. Although I agree with Doctor McCoy up to a point, I cannot accept her overall conclusion that we should use enslaved person exclusively over the word slave. This idea may look small and simple, but it’s not a simple black and white context. Overall, to truly understand history, we should not replace but re-use and become innovative.

If the idea is using the word enslaved person over a slave. My next question would be what happens to the textual evidence and biographies with such vulgar language? How will others respond? Are they ready to acknowledge the truth? Using censorship against the original language causes people to erase a part of their history. In the book, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present, the author speaks on the abuse of black slaves in the medical field. “Each naked, unanesthetized slave women had to be forcibly restrained by the other physicians through her shrieks of agony as Sims, determinedly sliced, then sutured her genitalia” (Washington, 2006,p. 2). Within this quote, you see the hard and truthful language being used. Censoring information such as this leads to discrediting every account of the act(s) from that time, which will make it less believable for skeptics. We can not as a society, try to substitute the fact African American were slaves and endured a lot throughout that time.

In the article “The Language of Enslavement”, the author Lucy Ferris says “But I doubt the film title Twelve Years a Slave would be changed substantially had it been Twelve Years Enslaved.” I think Ferris is mistaken because she overlooks the concept of the title. The slight change in the title softens the story, it diminishes the true story of a slave. I want to elaborate on the fact of changing or using substitution only discredits the real story. In the movie Twelve Years a Slave, there are multiple occasions of someone calling or saying the word “nigger.” What if that word was censored? Not acknowledge. Substantially that is a larger difference. That is a pure example of watering down. Not showing the truth of what white southerners said about black slaves is demeaning and disrespectful to the black community. So why change slave to enslave? Changing the title of the story is like not acknowledging such a powerful and hurtful word such as “nigger.” Furthermore, not censoring history will lead to an understanding of our past. As well as grasping the realization that slaves were people held against their will.

But as I said before, I partly agree with Doctor McCoy when using the term enslaved person in the context of a conversation or in literature. We are no longer in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, language has changed and continues to. In the latest post, “Slaves vs Enslaved People-The Subtle, Strong Powers of Words” the author Andi says “By changing from the use of a name – slaves – to an adjective – enslaved– we grant these individuals an identity as people and use a term to describe their position in society rather than reducing them to that position. In a small but important way, we carry them forward as people, not the property that they were in that time. This is not a minor thing, this change of language.” Andi is right because when we use the word enslaved, we are acknowledging these individuals are humans and not someone’s property. In short, there is a need to use the term enslaved person to give back their human qualities, but it shouldn’t be the only option to describe these individuals.

All in all, when facing the discussion between using the terms slave or enslaved person, an enslaved person should not be exclusively used over the word slave. We need to continue the use of the word slave to keep the original language, censoring may only lead to disbelief. But on the other hand, we need to maintain the term of an enslaved person to identify these individuals as humans, not property. We need both terms in our vocabulary, we should know our history, while still giving respect to the ones before us.

The Scary Truth of Medical Institutions

When I saw Medicine and Racism on my schedule I had absolutely no idea how those two topics had anything in common. How did medicine and racism have anything to do with each other? Then, I was introduced to “Medical Apartheid” and “Fortunes Bones” and my whole outlook changed. “Medical Apartheid”, by Harriet A. Washington shows how abusive the medical field was during the time that was portrayed in the text “Fortune’s Bones,” by Marilyn Nelson told the story of the life of Fortune and what happened to him after he died.

Reading “Medical Apartheid” made me realize how lucky I am to be able to go to the doctors office or hospital and know that I will be given treatments that will help me get healthy again.During the time period of “Fortune’s Bones,” many African Americans feared anything that had to do with the medical field. I feel privileged because I can trust that I will get the best treatment, but African Americans knew they would be test subjects when they went to “receive treatments.”  African Americans were not as fortunate when it came to being treated in the medical field. More often than not, African Americans were used to experiment with new and different medicines, even though it wouldn’t help them and wasn’t the right treatment. In Medical Apartheid, Washington stated, “Dangerous, involuntary, and nontherapeutic experimentatiom upon African Americans has been practiced widely and documented extensively at least since the eighteenth century(Washington,7).” Also, medical researchers believed that African Americans did not have to give consent in order to experiment on them. At the time, most African Americans were enslaved people that did not have a say in what happened in their life. “These subjects were given experimental vaccines known to have highly lethality, were enrolled in experiments without their consent or knowledge…(Washington, 6)” When I read this quote and read about the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in “Medical Apartheid,” I wanted to know more. In 1932, the Public Health Service worked with the Tuskegee Institute for a study to record the natural history of syphilis to possibly find a treatment for African Americans. The study originally called for 600 black men, 399 did have syphilis, but the other 201 did not have the disease. The patients did not have the benefit of consent, and therefore did not know what was being put into their bodies. The men were told they were being treated for syphilis but in reality, they were never given the right treatment for the disease. The men had been misled and had not been informed of the studies real purpose. In 1947, penicillin was discovered as the treatment to help syphilis and even then, the men were not given penicillin. The last participant of the Tuskegee Study died in January of 2009 and there is currently 12 offspring receiving medical health benefits.

 African Americans went to the hospital thinking they were being treated and nursed back to health but in reality they were being used as experiments that the doctors knew they probably would not survive. The people that “owned” them believed that they could give consent for them at hospitals. After reading “Medical Apartheid”, I learned that if an enslaved person was hurt or old or basically not performing to their best ability, the owner would sent them to the hospital and if they survived and got better, they would be sent back to the owner to continue working. If the enslaved person did not make it, the hospital would either keep them for experimentation, to autopsy tables, or even medical universities. “If a master sent a sick, elderly, or otherwise-unproductive slave to the hospital, he usually gave the institution caring for and boarding the slave carte blanche for his treatment-and for his disposal(Washington, 126).” What this means is once the “Master” sends an enslaved person to the hospital, that person is not his responsibility any longer. It’s very frightening to know that at a point in time people had to worry that once a family member or friend dies they may not remain in peace. It was very common in the 19th century for African Americans to be stolen in the grave and sold to medical universities to be used in human anatomy classes and for experiments. Reading “Medical Apartheid” opened my eyes to how cruel the medical world treated African Americans and shows why so many could be hesitent or scared to go to hospitals today.

Though Medical Apartheid is not the only book that made me realize what medicine and racism had to do with each other. Fortune’s Bones, by Marilyn Nelson also shows how cruel African Americans were treated in the medical world. African Americans were not only tortured while they were alive, but after they pass away too. In Fortune’s Bones, an African American Man was used for human anatomy purposes after death. This was not uncommon with African Americans after they passed away. They could be sold to Medical Universities and used for research. One quote that stuck out to me in Fortune’s Bones was, “ In profound and awful intimacy, I enter Fortune, and he enters me(” When I read this quote  I realized that as this man entered Fortune’s body and prodded at his bones, Fortune’s life entered this man. This man was getting information about Fortune’s life and how difficult it was and getting information about Fortune’s bones and body. While looking at Fortune’s body, “They found that his lower back had been broken, then healed at sometime during his life. His shoulders, hands, and feet had all been injured(Nelson, 18).” This suggests that Fortune’s life had been full of continuous hard labor. Not only did he have a difficult life while he was alive but even when he’s dead he is still being tortured and abused. Over the years, Fortune’s body was passed down through the Porter family and used for human anatomy. As the years went on, someone changed Fortune’s name to Larry. Fortune’s identity was taken away from him as well as the life he lived. Children played with “Larry” like he wasn’t an actual human being and he was some sort of toy. Fortune was soon forgotten as “Larry” was being shown off at the Mattatuck Museum. “Larry” was on display at the Museum and new stories were made up about him, Fortune’s legacy was soon changed and his whole life was left behind. I do not have to live with knowing that when I die I could be stolen from the grave, or not even make it to a cemetery and be sold to Medical Universities to be poked and prodded in human anatomy classes. Fortune’s Bones made me realize how frightening it was for African Americans even after they passed away. They had such a hard life while they were alive, they should be able to rest in peace.

Before taking this class, I never knew how bad the medical field was for African Americans and how scary it was to go to hospitals. After only a few weeks in this course I have already widened my knowledge on this topic and am interested in learning more about such a hard hitting topic that most people probably didn’t know existed in our history.

Noticing Gender and Racialized Oppression through the Exploitation of the Body

Educating oneself is as meaningful, if not more, than one who’s instructed, but to do this one must be critical to their own thoughts, beliefs and perceptions. In the class Medicine and Racism in literature, knowing ourselves and challenging our preconceived notions of what we think we believe is important. By doing this self-check consistently we will be able to grow as an individual, and learn at a greater capacity.

In understanding race, it is important to notice the conundrum of defining it. The source of the instability is articulated by Geraldine Heng in her book, The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages when she states that race is used “to distribute positions and power differentially to human groups”. Therefore, race as a biological concept may be disproven, as shown in the film Race the Power of an Illusion, while having social repercussion as a result of the oppressor’s insistence on a difference that isn’t biologically verified. As a result, the oppressed are in a position of constant upheaval and chaos because others ignorance is affecting themselves.

In the book, Between the World and Me Ta-Nehisi Coates presents the way he came to reason with this upheaval and tumultuous oppression, and that is through an insistence that “the struggle to understand is our only advantage over the madness”. Educating yourself and others can help to bring words and verify that racialized oppression is distressing, but knowing why and how it operates can alleviate the hold it has upon yourself.

For this class, we are assigned readings from the book, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present written by Harriett A. Washington, and in the readings thus far I’ve been shocked by the horrors experienced by Black Americans in medical settings conducted by professionals. I learned about a term called Iatrophobia, which means the fear black Americans have of medical institutions and professionals. Learning about this fear and the history that engendered it is shocking and disturbing. It also is key to understanding medical disparities between white and blacks skinned people in the past to the present.

In an assigned reading for my Canadian literature class a reference to the book, Over Her Dead Body: Death, Femininity and the aesthetic by Elizabeth Bronfen was made, and it led me to pick up a copy at the library. In the preface, she outlines her argument that the display of dead feminine figures conjures an aesthetic, which is capitalized by patriarchal hegemonic enforcers. Drawing from psychoanalytical theory, Elizabeth Bronfen explains that female bodies are used, or rather, exploited to preserve an individual’s fragile and delusive sense of immortality in western culture.

Defining femininity and the oppression women experience is quite a conundrum as it is, for different and specific reasons, for racial oppression as well. For example, in the preface of Over Her Dead Body, Elizabeth describes a similar ironic phenomenon of oppressed women to racialized oppression through stating that “duplicitous by nature, a symptom [ or an oppressive act] tries to maintain a balance of sorts, but does so by obliquely pointing to that which threatens to disturb the order”. In Over Her Dead Body, the disturbance of order would be the female gender. In Medical Apartheid, the black community would be the threatening force. This quote relates to black people being exploited in the medical field and the medical community’s use of people of the African American community to practice procedures and teach doctors in training. The irony here is that racism had led to the practice of using people with black skin to train doctors because they were considered inferior, yet the biological basis for the difference isn’t present to be having the doctors learn on their bodies. Instead, it just shows that their racist practices are the result of white medical professionals being “taught to view these bodies as expendable” and as practice when it came to truly treating the white race.

Interestingly, both texts, Medical Apartheid and Over Her Dead Body, seem to encapsulate and condemn the exploitation of bodies to further the oppressor’s agenda. In Medical Apartheid, readers learn about Saartjie Baartman, a Khoi woman, who was displayed by scientist who exploited her to support their racial hierarchy construction. They would examine her body inappropriately and use their supposed findings to show that the Khoi people are a lower race. The examinations would make these women’s features out to be overly sexualized compared to white women.

In Over Her Dead Body, the oppressors are predominantly male figures who are artists and writers who use a woman’s body to be kept in unity with death for aesthetics. The phenomenon of overly sexualizing women extends into a woman’s death through the aestheticism of art. In Over Her Dead Body, Elizabeth Bronfen brings up the western aesthetic of women being joined with death. The sexualization of death through this aesthetic is fundamentally wrong, yet it is common place in western culture through art, films and literature.

The aesthetic of women joined with death goes as far back as ancient Greece. In the play, Antigone Sophocles, the playwright, conceives of a character who in search of autonomy goes against a decree and commits suicide through this act of rebellion. Creon criticizes Antigone for her rebellion by saying she’s in love with death, because she knew that acting against the law would cost her life.

Connecting the interstice of race and gender in women being overly sexualized shows that this is also prevalent in those who are oppressed and it could increase their feeling of otherness from people who don’t look like themselves or identify in their way. Exploitation comes in many forms and being overly sexualized by groupings of people is one form of it.

Noticing Without a Name

When we are born, we are given a name to go by. That name will represent us for the rest of our lives, and even when some of us decide to change our names, that new name will impact how others define us as people. After a person dies, most within our society are buried with a headstone, making sure that we will always be known by our name. By acknowledging someone’s name, we are noticing them, just as the author Dionne Brand once said, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” My main concern is, what happens when a person is unable or unwilling to notice in the first place? When someone is no longer there to defend their body and show us a large part of who they are, how are we able to notice them at all?

As we have moved throughout this course so far, a large part of what we have talked about has to do with people being disrespected after their passing. In the case of Fortune, his body was taken and used for generations by his slave master in order to further their scientific understanding of the body. As it was passed down, the body became just that; a set of bones to be inspected, rather than the housing of someone’s spirit. Fortune no longer was in control of his body, and there was nothing to signify that it was once his. No one was able to notice who he was or what he experienced once his bones went unmarked. I feel that in this case, Dionne Brand’s quote can work in another way. If the people who owned slaves noticed that no one else was paying attention, or at least no one else was going to stop them, they were able to continue doing horrendous things to black people, both dead and alive.

When Fortune’s body was stolen, most slaves were unable to read or write, because that education was hidden from them. As a result, doctors were able to openly write about their manipulation of the black body after someone had passed, because people weren’t given the opportunity or the resources to realize what was happening in the first place. However, just because they were unable to solidify their worries in the texts being written does not mean they were unaware of what was happening all around them. Although the stories told about abusive doctors by African Americans are often seen as not being based in fact, “Researchers who exploit African Americans were the norm for much of our nation’s history, when black patients were commonly regarded as fit subjects for nonconsensual, nontherapeutic research. (Washington 2006: 13).” For centuries, black people recognized that they were being experimented on, and their loved ones’ bodies were being stolen in the middle of the night. However, they were unable to provide hard evidence in most of those cases, and even when they were they had no means to fight back against their oppressors.

As we move on, we are forced to look at the past and see the impact it has on our current culture. I should say, if we want to create a society where people feel comfortable and feel that they have equal opportunities, we need to address all of the trauma that has been caused in the past. We choose not to teach the full extent of marginalized groups within this country, whether that be Native Americans or African Americans. We have chosen as a society to gloss over the past and act as if we are unified, when that is not reflected in the world we live in. When Harriet A. Washington began writing Medical Apartheid, she was met with criticism from her white professor at Harvard of all places, who told her “It’s a terrible thing that you are doing. You are going to make African Americans afraid of medical research and physicians! You cannot write this book (Washington 2006: 22).” Despite the fact that this woman worked at Harvard, held a Ph. D., and was white, she still felt that her opinion on the topic of experimentation on black people was superior to that of a black woman who had experience working in a hospital, and who was researching for a book specifically on that topic. She was unwilling to look at our history as a country, and therefore is unable to truly notice the current state of our country, and more specifically the health inequities that currently separate us.

As we continue to move through this course, I feel that we must keep this question in mind: are we truly able to notice someone if they are not able to properly identify themselves to us? If we can’t determine who a person is, it seems almost impossible to do much more than theorize who they are, or in the case of a body, who they once were. In the case of African Americans who were experimented on, essentially tortured, or disrespected after their deaths, their impacts on the healthcare field are immeasurable, but the doctors who forcibly worked on them are the ones who receive credit and often praise. While we look at these bodies we need to be able to get past what their use was to science and identify who they really were as people, which in the most basic sense would mean learning and speaking their names.

Olivia Herring

ENGL 101

Thursday, September 12th

During the first few class periods we have read and talked about a lot of different topics. We have talked about race, discrimination, knowledge, both/and, epistemology, and even more. All the things that we have talked about are very important yet most of it I have never even thought about or discussed. I think taking this class as a freshman and this being one of my first classes here at college will really help my understanding of the world. It will help me think about a lot of the things that I have never even discussed before. I am already learning so much because of this class. 

In what we have discussed in class and learned these first few periods I really started to think more about race. We discussed and watched a video on race that really got me thinking more about the topic. Nothing that people have said about race is scientifically proven. There is no scientific basis for race. After we watched this video I wanted to learn more about it so I read into it more. A doctor by the name of Samuel Morton believed that whites were the most intelligent of the races and at the very top. Going from greatest to least, it was Whites, East Asians, Native Americans, and then Blacks. His ideas were believed by the people who supported slavery. Come to find out, his ideas were not correct at all. There was no scientific evidence that suggests this is correct. (There’s No Scientific Basis For Race, Elizabeth Kolbert)

Many people believe, like Morton, that race is somehow connected to athletic ability and intelligence. People think that somehow athletic ability and intelligence is in your genes. But, there is no genetic evidence to prove this. People use biology as an excuse for social differences. All humans are actually very similar. In the video we watched they talked about how penguins that look almost identical are more different from each other than humans are. Humans can look completely different. Different skin color, hair color, hair texture, eye color, etc. Yet penguins that look exactly the same are more different than we are. Learning this fact sort of blew my mind. I never would have expected this at all. 

In the video we watched during class, they looked at the DNA of all the different people in the class. Each assumed their DNA would be the closest to someone of the same race as themselves. The African American man assumed he would be closest to the other African 

American and the latino assumed she would be closest to another latino in the class. Their assumptions of who they would be closest to was very wrong. All of the people in the class were wrong and I would say quite shocked that they were wrong about this. Your DNA can be closest to someone who looks absolutely nothing like you and someone you would never expect. This shows me how genetically similar humans really are. Even the people you would never expect to be so closely the same as you are. In my opinion it really is crazy to think about and it is absolutely amazing learning about this.

Seeing how similar humans really are, and realizing that there is no scientific evidence to support the claims that have been made, you can come to say that race is really just an illusion that organizes peoples’ lives. Race is just an excuse that people use instead of facing the real concrete evidence that people have spent their whole lives researching. These people have spent their whole lives researching this because race has had such a huge impact on our society. Race always comes back. Everyone fights it, but it always finds a way back out of the grave and raises to life again and causes problems. Police brutality, it is such a sensitive topic so I will not be going into it but that is a huge popular issue happening in our society today and it has so much to do with race. People blame it on race.

I think going forward in this course I can really improve and set many goals for myself. After we watched the video in class, I looked up more information about what I learned in the video. In high school, this is not something I would have done. In high school I just learned the information that was given to me and that was it. But the stuff I am learning in this class is real world stuff. This is the kind of knowledge I would like to have as I grow into an adult. An adult would look more into something like this and dig deeper to widen their understanding of the topic and get as much information as possible so that they can form their own opinion of the topic. This is something I did and something I will continue to do throughout the semester because I know this will help me during class and as well as helping me throughout life in the future.

Some goals I want to set for the rest of the semester would definitely be to make sure I read everything assigned to me and then to go even deeper and read more than just the assigned reading. I also want to set another goal for myself, making sure that while I am reading something I understand it before I move on to something different. I sometimes struggle with this and I will read something and then not actually fully understand it and move on anyway. This does not help me learn at all so that is why I am setting this goal for myself. I am not sure if I am the only person who will be setting a goal like this or if other people find they also struggle with this, but I think it is a super important part of my learning skills that needs to be fixed.