Burial rituals are cultural practices that are used by the living to honor the dead. When someone is buried or given a funeral, a person’s life becomes recognized as having come to an end, and that the life had meaning. Everyone deserves to receive proper burial rites and burial. Funerals and the burials of the deceased are performed out of respect of the lives the deceased person impacted and to preserve the dignity of the deceased. Everyone inevitably makes an impact on another’s life because people are social beings and the interconnectedness of the world prevents this from being otherwise. Proper burials are a right, but this can be ignored by those who perceive others to be inferior to themselves, to such an extent that this simple act of humanity is disregarded. In Toni Morrison’s book Home, the two main characters of the novel excavate the site where a black man’s body had been thrown into a shallow hole, so that he can be properly buried and remembered. This action of excavation was an important gesture in the effort to reclaim the African American past, while efforts to excavate African burials grounds in lower Manhattan, as explored in Alondra Nelson’s book The Social Life of DNA, was initially disparagingContinue reading “Excavating Burials and the Racial Oppression of the Dead”
Recently I was able to encounter the Urban Bush Women Company perform at Geneseo Wadsworth Auditorium. Urban Bush Women company is a dance company that started with the passion of Jawole Willa Jo Zollar. Their purpose is connecting contemporary dance and music using the text of history and cultural and spiritual traditions from the African diaspora. The company performed four dances that each had their individual while holding the overall purpose of the Urban Bush Women. One of the performances called Girlfriends (1986) shows the relationship between black women, four women, black women of all different types of body sizes, and color shade. Each part of the dance was describing an issue most black women face, their sexuality, hair, and dominance. As a viewer, you can see the dominance in noise used by the dancers’ feet or when one another gets into each other faces. When it came to sexuality, the dancers used clothing and the idea of provocative movements of the hips, thighs, and behind — using those body parts to gain attention. Looking back at the dance, it was not just about sex, dominance, and other female factors but about the relationship between women, especially black women. All the women were connected in one way or another. They would do one another hair or disagree with each other. At the end of the dance, they all burst into laughter. The dance showed the positives and negatives of the relationship between women, but most importantly, it gave an image that black women’s relationship is different from others.
Since the beginning of time, society has created stereotypes about black women. All based on how we act, what we were, and our role in society. For example, society has degraded black women solely due to her skin color and gender. With slavery, black women were mocked and sexually abused due to body type and skin color. In the book, Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington expresses how white men would have parties to mock the black women’s bodies. A black woman would have to stand naked and impersonate a chained animal. White men would first be in disgust, laugh and mock her but then turn around and be aroused by her presence. White men only acted in such a way because black women were deemed as shameless compared to European women who were claimed as modest. Not only are black women judged on skin and body, but they are also judged on actions. Black women stereotypically are seen as loud, “ghetto,” disrespectful and angry. It is giving the impression that we have no so-called “house training.” That once a black woman enters the room, there will be an automatic issue.
Within the black community, we embrace the relationship between black women and black women itself. Black Entertainment Television (BET) has a channel called Black Entertainment Television HER, made specifically for black women and the lifestyle of black women. Another is the countless television shows and films based on black women like Girlfriends, Why Did I Get Married, Moesha, House of Payne, and Insecure. Each shows the role of the black woman in everyday society as a sister, a daughter, a granddaughter, a wife, and a mother. Giving the positives and negatives of the real sense of being a black woman, not the stereotypical black women that society has created. Not only are black women embraced, but in my experience, as a black woman, the relationships are solely based on love. The majority of outsiders looking in see black women as harsh and strict, but honestly, it is just tough love. I learned in college the reason why I was not allowed to do certain things, or why I am in the situation I am today is because of my family’s input. Women within my family love one another, but it does not mean they keep their comments to themselves. The only reason why women in my family are so outspoken is they want the best for one another.
With the novel, Home by Toni Morrison, there are prime examples of how black women use tough love to there advantage when building relationships or guiding one another. Within the reading, Cee, Frank’s younger sister, got into a circumstance with a doctor who was studying eugenics, the science of improving the human population by controlling breeding to get the desired traits. With the doctor testing her, she began to lose weight, have longer menstrual cycles, and always extremely fatigued, Frank was notified by another woman in the house, and he came to take her back home. When Frank got there, Cee was near death. Frank brought her back home were a group of women nursed Cee back to health. “Cee was different. Two months surrounding by country women who loved mean had changed her. The women handled sickness as though it were an affront, an illegal invading braggart who needed whipping” (Morrison, 121). The women that Cee was surrounded by implemented tough love in a situation that was life or death only wanted Cee to come out alive and healthy. Not only was there tough love in aid of Cee’s health but in her mindset moving forward with her life. Cee and Miss Ethel discuss Cee’s choices in letting the doctor treat her like a test dummy:
“How was I supposed to know what he was up to?”
“Misery don’t call ahead. That’s why you have to stay awake—otherwise it just walks on in your door.”
“But nothing. You good enough for Jesus. That’s all you need to know.” (Morrison, 122)
With both of these passages, you can see the profound nature of tough love within the black community, black women only wanting the best for the people around them. Miss Ethel was honest with Cee; her choice was not smart, and she should not belittle herself and know she is enough. Of course, Cee is defensive, but she understands the circumstances and should and will no longer tolerate being pushed around anymore. With this treatment, it starts the basis for Miss Ethel and Cee relationship.
Therefore, when looking at black women and the relationships they have between one another is none other than the raw truth of the situation told without hesitation, but with confidence knowing will help you in the long run. It is crucial to notice that when it comes to the black community, we consistently express ourselves, always having the role of the black women shown at different stages for different reasons. It is the idea that the “stereotypical black women” are not the majority of our women. The “stereotypical black women” is a slap in the black woman’s face, putting a stigma on one makes it harder to be expected in the society and expressed in many shows like Scandal or Insecure where black women have to work ten times harder than the average. Not only is the stigma misleading and hurtful, but the assumptions opposed on black women and our relationships are as well. A stereotype is an over-generalized belief about a particular category of people. It is an expectation that people might have about every person of a particular group. It is just another extension of racism.
Overall, do not judge a book by its cover.
Throughout the medical community’s history those used in experiments not only lost their autonomy but their identity as well. Many were not seen as people, and didn’t even have their name reported. This lack of identity was used to erase people’s ability to tell their stories and speak out at the pain they endured. Without an identity, these people could not be found, could not be traced, and at times could not say “no”.
In Medical Apartheid Harriet Washington speaks on this lack of identity in several chapters, many spanning several decades. When speaking about James Marion Sims, Washington notes the name of two out of the eleven enslaved women Sims did his experiments on. Seventeen year old Anarcha and another woman by the name of Lucy. The other nine women are not named, even though the pain of what they experienced is (pg. 63-65). In another chapter Washington speaks about the 1960 bioterrorism inflected on the Carver Village, there she mentions this: “After the story broke in the 1890s, victims came forward, but news accounts tended not to name them. In 1959, for example, one unnamed black woman had fainted after a swarming ‘dark cloud of mosquitoes’ covered her thickly.” (pg. 361-362). The news not covering the names of those coming forward strips them once more of their identity, of them being able to say “this is me and this is what I went through.” It strips away a part of their humanity and their ability to be seen as human. Instead it kept them in the dark, unable to be seen by others. When speaking on the radiation experiments in 1944, Washington is quick to mention the code used for the unwilling and unknowing people involved. Instead of using the subject’s name they were designated as “HP” for “human product”, and then given a number to correspond to that. In the case of Ebb Cade, he became HP-12, a title that completely stripped him of his humanity (pg. 216-219). Cade in turn became a human product, one of many on a list of people who like him had become nameless, faceless, and a means to an end. A human product, yet the human part was ignored and the product emphasized.
Many notable authors have made commentary on the loss of identity that leads to being dehumanized. Percival Everett makes note of this in his novel Zulus. Alice Achitophel, pregnant and held captive is visited by Body-woman Rima. Body-woman Rima, ignoring Alice Achitophel’s desire to leave, says “You are a vehicle and nothing more…” (pg 105) referring to Alice Achitophel only being a means to an end, in this case bringing forth new life. Alice Achitophel is not seen as a person to Body-woman Rima, and therefore she is only given the value that Body-woman Rima believes her to have. This reduction of value, to seeing Alice Achitophel as something less than human, mirrors the same way scientists and doctors striped their patients of value. Alice Achitophel is not given the proper identity and respect she as a person deserves, much like those who were forced into these situations. Later while running and hiding from these rebels, Alice Achitophel will take on the name of a dead baby. Alice Achitophel becomes Ester MacAree and loses her identity completely (pgs. 170-171). This allows her to blend back into society, but also keeps her from speaking about the truth of the rebel camps. That they saw her as just as much as an object as the state does. She lacks her true identity and with it the power of being able to speak on what happened to her. Alice Achitophel was an experiment to the rebels, as they waited to see if she would give birth to the baby they longed for. That was the only thing they cared about; not Alice, not her story, or her voice. Instead they ignored Alice Achitophel and her wishes, choosing to see her as a vehicle, a human product.
Percival Everett was not the only author to notice this. Writing in memoriam of an enslaved man, Marilyn Nelson tells the story of Fortune, in her Manumission Requiem Fortune’s Bones. After death, Fortune’s body and bones were passed on from doctor to doctor, generation to generation of the Porter family. Nelson explains: “At some point-no one knows when- ‘Larry’ was written on the skull. Fortune’s name was forgotten for nearly a century.” (pg. 20). The loss of identity that Fortune faces, in turn allows for what he went through to be obscured and forgotten. Identity is critical to being able to give these stories a voice, to put a person behind the pain, and acknowledge what they went through. Without that identity there is no way to give back and restore peace to the individuals who had to watch their own identity and rights be taken from them. How can we correct the injustices done to people like Fortune if we can’t even start with a name?
Recently on a blog post, I was speaking of a character and I chronically spelled her name wrong, erasing who she was and replacing her with someone else. I had taken her identity from her. Even off the page, we must ensure we continually work to protect other’s identity, make sure their voice remains attached to them, that way when they need to raise it and tell their story, they can. A lack of identity paves the way for a person to lose their rights, to be seen as a “human product” or a “vehicle”, a means to an end, no matter their wishes. Without us making sure this doesn’t happen, we leave the door open for history to repeat itself.
The idea of informed consent, and whether or not it is being administered, is a complex concept that is constantly adapting to society’s ever advancing expectations. As a result, researchers and physicians are continuously evolving their methods of obtaining consent from their subjects in order to better communicate the risks and situations that they are going to be a part of. In a class skype conversation with Ben Chapman, a food safety specialist and researcher, he shared a specific instance in which a research-subject felt that he had not been fully informed of the elements involved in an experiment. Due to the subject’s lack of medical background, he was alarmed when informed after the fact that he was in contact with a “non-pathogenic” bacterium. Chapman, who is well-educated in the medical field, was aware that “non-pathogenic” means a bacterium is harmless to be in contact with. However, the subject was unaware of this definition, and in response acted with anger due to his lack of knowledge on the subject. This enraged response was triggered by the fact that the subject was a caretaker for an individual with M.S.; in being so, he consistently needed to be cautious of the germs that he could bring home in order to avoid putting his family member in harm. In light of this situation, Chapman became aware that he needed to change and review the way he received consent from the participants in his study, and additionally needed to work on making sure the subjects fully understood all parts of the experiment, not leaving any elements up for interpretation.
Looking at Ben Chapman’s process in dealing with his research subjects, it is easy to create a parallel to Alice Achitophel’s experience with the rebels in Percival Everett’s “Zulus”. Alice lives in a dystopian, post-nuclear war society, where it is no longer legal to have children. As a result, all women are forced to be sterilized. However, Alice manages to fall through the cracks, failing to be sterilized. In a violent sequence of events, Alice is impregnated against her will, left hopeless and unsure of how to hide her pregnancy from the world (since it is outlawed). Due to these circumstances, Alice places all her trust in the so-called “rebels” and she flees her home to reach a rebel-base outside of the city. Fleeing the city, Alice is unaware of the true intentions that these rebels have for her and her unborn child – yet naively she blindly follows Theodore Theodore and Lucinda Knotes (known rebels) to the base. There are several occasions where Alice is treated like an object/data specimen rather than an actual living human-being, most memorably when she is first examined by the physicians of the base to determine whether or not she is actually pregnant:
“Alice Achitophel leaned back, the lanky man taking her legs and raising them onto the table. The woman unlaced her shoes and removed them while another doctor switched on the examination lamp and rolled it to the foot of the table. The doctors all stepped back, fanning the air and saying “Oh, my. Oh, my” … her (Alice’s) words went unnoticed, unheard and the doctors continued to make a fuss about how bad she smelled, and one even conjectured that her malodorous condition was a side effect of her pregnancy… “It’s just this woman is filthy…”…They put Alice Achitophel’s naked feet into the holders and stood between her legs, moaning and complaining even more loudly…it was no longer funny and she began to cry out loud, but, like her words, her sobs went without note” (Everett 89-90).
In this intensely uncomfortable scene, we witness Alice being treated like an animal, wrestled and ridiculed as if she cannot even feel or understand. It is evident that the rebel doctor’s only concern was for Alice’s unborn child, not Alice herself; viewing her as merely a “vessel” that was to deliver the miracle child. As described by Ben Chapman, this is often a flaw in human-subject based studies, as researchers can often become single minded when looking at their subjects, viewing them merely as data on paper rather than actual people with emotions and connections. This fact is at the crux of what causes Ben Chapman’s incident with the subject who becomes infuriated due to miscommunication and lack of understanding. Responding to the situation, Chapman consults the board of his study, and urges that they change the consent/information papers given to the subjects at the beginning of the study. Unfortunately for Alice, the rebel doctors do not share Chapman’s immense concern with obtaining consent and informing his subjects. As a result, Alice is consistently ignored, and her valid questions and concerns are brushed aside, as they are meaningless in the grand scheme of what the rebels plan to do with Alice’s child, a plan that is kept completely secret from Alice herself.
Chapman goes into great detail when describing his method of research, which involves withholding specific information from the subjects in order to remove bias from the study. This method of study is extremely relevant to Alice Achitophel’s situation as Alice is constantly tragically uninformed about the events she is about to endure. This lack of information, and naivety at times in Alice’s case, is what leads to an extreme series of events were Alice’s body ends up encased in a glass box for the world to observe and gawk at like a scientific specimen. This act of being encased in glass reveals Alice’s true worth to the individuals in the rebel base. Rather than treating Alice like a person (where it is the custom to bury the dead), they instead encase her in glass to be observed by all:
“She was in her body, in the Flesh House, set down to just stare at the walls of her insides, at the petrified organs frozen in mid fester…There was so much light, more light than any daytime offered, shining on her and making everything all to clear too see.. She hoped she would fill the cube with her salty tears and drown her vision away from the view, but she could even live as a severed head, so she would not drown” (Everett 85).
This is all done horrifically without Alice’s consent. Delving deeper, it is imperative that we discuss how Everett fully attacks and quite literally “explodes” the entire conception of consent by having Alice be ever aware and conscious of what is done to her body, whether she is alive or dead. Although Alice’s body is scattered in pieces after her unnatural, self-explosive birth, her head somehow manages to remain intact. In a nightmarish depiction, it becomes evident that Alice’s head still remains conscious despite being completely decapitated from her exploded body; Alice is able to perceive and interpret everything that is occurring around her, yet she is unable to respond or make remarks to defend herself. This graphic and surreal situation creates a vivid visual of lack of consent that is truly terrifying. Alice is very conscious about the wrongs being done to her, and assaults against her body, yet she is forever unable to consent to or help her situation, never being put to rest.
In discussion, we can compare this situation to the immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks. After her passing due to a rapid cancer, without her or her family’s consent, doctors began using Henrietta Lacks’ ever-reproducing cells for research and medical experimentation. This real-life situation can be compared to Alice’s ever living conscience even after death, her soul never really being put to rest. Looking at it from this perspective, it is impossible not to question the ethics involved with the continued usage of the cells of Henrietta Lacks’ even after her death, her DNA forever living through scientific experimentation without her true consent; just as Alice is forever conscience, left in a deserted world with only the memories and facts that she learned over the course of her lifetime, from A-Z.
How is it that we as a society are so able to put aside an individual, and demean them for our own gain, despite the consequences to that individual or those connected to them? This pattern of non-consensual doings has been repeated throughout time, so much so that several authors, such as Percival Everett, have incorporated these violations into their own literary works. Although “Zulus” is a surreal fiction novel, its concepts and issues can be compared to several tangible real-life situations such as the immortal cells of Henrietta lacks, and even the research studies of Ben Chapman. Just as Chapman recognized that something needed to be improved and changed in his own studies, it is important that we as a society learn to recognize when we need to evolve. Thus, breaking the pattern of seeing merely zeros and ones, when we should be viewing a living human being, with thoughts, emotions, and a free will.
As explained in a previous blog post, Colson Whitehead’s Zone One and Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan’s Washington Post article “The Painful Truth about Teeth” similarly illustrate the severity and endurance of social divisions produced through income inequality. In addition to demonstrating the link between economic disparity and social fragmentation, Zone One and the Washington Post article also consider the causes of wealth inequity. One of the primary factors that directly generates economic inequality, or exacerbates it through discriminatory policies, is the United States federal government. By examining Jordan and Sullivan’s article, it is evident that the Trump Administration has betrayed its promise to improve the quality of life for the working-class. Instead the administration has facilitated the implementation of Republican policies that favor the affluent through tax cuts and harm economically disadvantaged Americans as a result of reductions in spending for education and healthcare. Analogously, in Zone One there is a revived federal government, the American Phoenix based in Buffalo, New York, that privileges the political and intellectual elite over the surviving masses. In this way, the Americans Phoenix resembles the Trump administration and Republican controlled congress discussed in the Washington Post article. Thus, both the Trump administration and the American Phoenix government manipulate the public to acquire support, yet then proceed to increase America’s wealth gap by enriching the elite at the expense of ordinary people.Continue reading “Governmental Deception and Exacerbation of Income Inequality: The Parallel between the American Phoenix Government of Zone One and the Trump Administration”
Income inequality is a dire problem that is exponentially worsening in the contemporary United States. Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan’s Washington Post article “The Painful Truth about Teeth” illustrates how the widening divide in wealth in the U.S. has led to the inability of working-class Americans to afford much needed dental care. Despite the clear dental health repercussions of being economically disadvantaged, the Washington Post journalists reveal that there are also social ramifications of the income gap in the United States. This dichotomization of the rich and the poor has contributed to the development of prejudice aimed at the economically less fortunate. In response, the economically disadvantaged despise the affluent for their avariciousness and condescending attitude. Comparably, Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One demonstrates how economic divisions result in the formation of an “us” vs. “them” mindset among both the rich and poor. Although American society disintegrates in Zone One as a consequence of a zombie apocalypse, memories of economic disparity from life before the plague causes socioeconomic tensions to endure. Thus, Jordan and Sullivan’s article and Whitehead’s novel similarly exemplify the social tensions in American society induced by economic inequality.Continue reading “The Pressing Problem of American Income Inequality: An Analysis of Zone One and the Washington Post”
In class we discussed how words can be said differently, or have different definitions. Some people may have seen those posts on social media that say things like “Read and read, and you just read those differently” or something close. These memes are popular because it shows us that language is strange, we can read words that are spelled the same way in two different ways. We also can go back to the internet debate on how to say the word “gif”, with a hard or soft “G” sound. There are many words like this in the English language.
In the book Zone One by Colson Whitehead, there are many words that one may not know how to say, such as “defenestration”, the act of throwing something or someone out of a window, or “enamored”, having a liking or admiration. There are also many words throughout the book that many people just did not know what they meant, and therefore struggle to say. An example of this is “Ronkonkoma”, which is actually a place located on Long Island, but the book uses the word to mean some sort of STI. “Ronkonkoma? he asked, holding one of the HR ladies’ licenses. “Had a lump of that on our crotch once”(Whitehead 69). The book takes some words and creates new definitions for them that fit the context of the book.
Words also can be differently said because of geography. We know that in the United States alone there are many different accents that make words sound different, and they are still evolving to this day. Words like “caramel”, “egg”, “tournament”, and “elementary”, as well as many others have different pronunciations. They all have the same meaning, but depending on where you live, you may say them differently than another person from somewhere else. There are many accents throughout the United States, as well as many more across the globe. Many words have the same definition, but different ways of saying them as you travel the world.
In conclusion, words are complex. We may not always know what they mean, or how to say them, and sometimes they even are made up or have made up definitions. Words also can be pronounced differently depending on region. Words will always be a complex thing in our world, as they are necessary to communication. Words are needed in a functioning society, even if they are pictures, it is still a means of communication.
While I usually prefer to write blog posts in the third person, I’ve decided that, given the immense relevance of this post’s topic to my life, it would be best to convey my thoughts directly through my voice. I was similarly intrigued by the epilogue of Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present and Irmgard Bauer’s article “More harm than good? The questionable ethics of medical volunteering and international student placements.” My personal interest in these texts was due to my intention of enlisting in Doctors Without Borders after graduating from medical school. This has been a dream of mine since transitioning from an adolescent education major to premed about two years ago. Even prior to beginning on the premed track, I aspired to work in the international aid/development sector, most likely for the United States Agency for International Development. However, after reading the epilogue Medical Apartheid, I no longer have any desire to work for a government that permits research firms and pharmaceutical companies to exploit Africans as test subjects. Despite assertions of philanthropy from research and medical-volunteering corporations, the texts indicate that these companies are capitalistic and commercialized. Thus, Washington and Bauer provide insight on the condemnable activities of avaricious companies that profit off citizens of the developing world with immunity from U.S. governmental intervention.Continue reading “Changing Perceptions: An Examination of the Commercialized Structures of Pharmaceutical and Medical Volunteer Companies”
Group projects have always been my biggest nightmare. In my experience, in college and in high school, one person is always left doing all the work, while everyone else just gets to put their name on it. In almost every group project, I have always been the one stuck doing all the work.
My senior year of high school we had to do a project in government class where we had to come up with a make-belief island and choose a form of government to rule that island. It was a fun project, we got to draw up the island, make up a flag and a name and choose our imports and exports. I was excited about this until I got my group. They notoriously did not help in group projects and just rode the wave while someone else did all the work. As we started working we were given in-class time to complete this so we had a time when everyone could meet up and there was no excuse to not help. HOWEVER, I received no help on this project, even with the in-class meeting time! It put me in a hard spot because I did all the work and I didn’t know whether I should let the teacher know or if I should just let it go. I chose to let it go but after that group projects had a bad taste in my mouth, and I had yet to have a group project prove me otherwise.
So naturally, when I found out we were doing a group blog post I was dreading it. Right in the thick of my semester with all my papers being due, I was going to be stuck doing a group blog post alone and letting other people ride the wave that is the grade.
I was wrong. The group that I was in for our group blog post was amazing. There was no one person doing all the work, but instead, we all split up the work and did our own part. We spent one day coming up with ideas and supporting quotes, all getting on the same page. The next day we all wrote our own paragraphs while still consulting and running things by each other and helping to edit for each other. We often bounced ideas off of each other so we were able to have one cohesive blog post where each paragraph flowed into the next. Everything worked nicely together. The last day we met we all edited the blog post TOGETHER. There were times when we all didn’t agree on what was being proposed, and we often didn’t agree on the wording of things. However, we still managed to stay respectful, even when we disagreed on things. We were able to compromise without hurting our blog post. It was a nice switch up from what I was used to with group projects.
This project has taught me something very valuable that I plan to bring with me to future projects and future jobs. This has taught and showed me that even if you have a big group with different views, the assignment can get done in a timely manner. It is a whole new level of respect and teamwork that due to previous experiences I had never experienced. I feel as though this is something I can write on my resume for future employers to illustrate to them that I can respectively work in groups with people who have different views from me.
Our Alondra Nelson reading made me want to revisit Home due to the fact that both texts deal with burial. The one thing that was left unanswered for me at the ending of Home is the significance of the line that caught my attention the most: “And they stood like men” (Morrison 5). Frank narrates this in the opening chapter when he speaks about his memory of watching horses in a field with his sister, Ycidra (Cee). Frank says that, although he and Cee also witnessed a violent burial, all he remembers from the field that day were the horses: “I really forgot the burial. I only remembered the horses. They were so beautiful. So brutal. And they stood like men” (Morrison 5). When I read it, I knew that the description of the horses held some type of significance; I just didn’t know how or what. After our Nelson reading, I think I’ve managed to put things into perspective.Continue reading “Humanity in Morrison’s Home”