Curiosity of the Both/And

My biggest interest in this course so far is the idea of the both/and. I believe the healthiest and most thoughtful approach to any new subject is not to assume information, and starting with the capabilities of the both/and in this class has begun to shift my learning style to something more accepting than it was before, and I’ve begun to incorporate it into other classes as well. I think that the versatility of both/and thinking is the reason it can be so helpful. It expands the idea that most things in life are not straightforward, and don’t deserve straightforward thinking. The both/and is very beneficial in comprehending the topics we’ve talked about so far, and even just the aspect of medicine in the course name itself. I had an understanding of some of the dangers of certain ideologies in the medical field, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment that Harriet Washington touches on in the introduction of Medical Apartheid. I also knew that experiments like that manifested in modern-day Black Americans not trusting the American Healthcare system, and I had no reason to doubt that there were traces of racism in the practice, but I had known of no other examples. 

Reading Medical Apartheid was my first experience learning about Black people’s sacrifices in an educational setting, which I find to be surprising because my education was usually very liberal, and in later high school years, the history curriculum was detailed about some of the hidden history in America. Learning about Dr. James Marion Sims was the first time I was able to apply the both/and on my own. In the introduction of Medical Apartheid, Sims is called a “selfless benefactor of women” (Washington 1), and Washington explains how he was the president of the American Medical Association, and that he opened the first hospital for women in the U.S. Despite this, Sims performed his experimental surgeries on his Black female slaves. Before learning about the both/and, I would have likely denounced anything having to do with Marion Sims out of my morality and solidarity for the women who suffered for his benefit. I know now that I can acknowledge the good and bad of a situation or person, and I also understand this does not serve as an excuse for that person. J. Marion Sims is widely referred to as “the father of gynecology”, and while his time in the medical field progressed gynecology greatly, he shouldn’t be revered because of the nonconsensual torture he performed on his slaves. 

There are many other examples of both/and in the early chapters of Medical Apartheid. Medical professionals in the 1850s put Black bodies on display so they could identify the perceived similarities between Black people and animals, while abolitionists and Black researchers used those same bodies to demonstrate the parallels and humanity that Black and White people shared (Washington 79). The both/and of the display and studies of Black people is that they were being used for both attempting to separate and attempting to bring together different races. Another example is Dr. Benjamin Rush, who is considered to be the “father of American psychiatry” in the American medical field and was also a devoted abolitionist. However, he also “believed that black skin was the manifestation of a type of leprosy…believed that blacks were diseased but that they could be cured” (Washington 80). Rush, despite his educational background and contributions to medicine in the nation, was very ignorant in his views concerning Blackness. When I see examples of well-educated people perpetuating ignorance and racism in society, it makes me consider what biases they may hold, or what biases were present in their education that they were taught to be acceptable. 

Fortune’s Bones was another eye-opening read for me. I appreciated the change in pace of learning with it being poetry rather than a novel or book. I think the shorter reading gave me more room to absorb and interpret what Marilyn Nelson was trying to portray. The acknowledgment that Fortune and his family were enslaved in Connecticut was jarring and disappointing to read because it seemed that often when I learned about slavery in the United States, it seemed very distant from where I lived. There’s a both/and in the negative and positive sides of Fortune’s story, even if the positive side is also sad. Fortune’s bones being handed down generations in the Porter family (Nelson 20) was a terrible tale of a man being robbed of his identity for the benefit of those who used him in life as well. However, if Fortune’s body hadn’t been nonconsensually used and studied and eventually donated to science, his story may have never been told when people eventually realized that the use of his bones was wrong. The story of Fortune is one of a family being stripped of their humanity, while simultaneously declaring their place in history as their unfortunate story is told. 

Understanding and using the idea of the both/and has already been very powerful in this course and other aspects of my life. So far, it has given me deeper insight into the texts we’ve already discussed, and I anticipate that I will continue to use this tool throughout the class. It’s a very effective way to begin thinking about new or past information. The area of the both/and and its role in this course that piques my curiosity the most thus far is wondering if some cases call for a more elaborate interpretation of both/and thinking, especially as we get deeper into readings like Medical Apartheid, where the relationship of iatrophobia and Black culture will become more complicated as it becomes more modern. 

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