As the class went on I started questioning multiple facets of the class itself. As a biochemistry major I’m not used to having no clear structure about a class, but rather mostly an interpretative one. I had taken a sociology class and even INTD, but even such classes had multiple set timelines and goals, notes to write down exams about the literature that we were supposed to have read. This month itself has been an adjustment period. Now, as for the main topics of the class I had what has stuck out to me a lot about the both/and are race, the talking about people throughout history judging them by current standard, and the idea of multiple events throughout history being an “isolated incident”. Firstly, the concept of race being a concept made up by people in which they defined certain characteristics as inferior or undesirable was something that wasn’t new to me. As I had said, I had previously taken a sociology class and that was heavily emphasized by my teacher, Dr. Amy Ivers. What that course did not go into as much detail, which understandably so given the material that had to be covered, was specific examples as to how this concept works.
When I first saw the title Fortune’s bones, I wasn’t sure what to expect out of a book that sounds like it’d be about some treasure hunter. Little did I expect that it was about the recollection of a slave, used and abused against their will without ever being recognized. What encapsulates this the most is as fortune’s enslaver first starts using fortune’s cadaver, “Herewith 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.”(Nelson) This quote goes to show how fortune has already been dehumanized right after death. He’s only referred to as a slave that served a purpose when he was alive, and is serving another purpose after his death. This really goes to show how they thought of them as expendable tools; this being just one of the many examples of this happening.
Another topic that I thought I had mostly made up my mind about was the judging of historical figures based on current standards. I’ve always thought that that was a dubious conversation, as what you were taught during a time period. Of course, there are some major exceptions to this line of thinking, Hitler having existed and all the horrible things that preceded his existence, However, a lot of arguments I really could not get behind. One of the ones I heard floating around was, “Abraham Lincoln owned slaves, he wasn’t a hero, just a racist.” Which, honestly, is a fair criticism about a historical figure. I don’t believe in condoning owning other human beings as some form of just mishap of history, however, what I do believe is that that’s just how things were. As Lincoln was someone a white male highly recognized and in power the norm for people back then was to have slaves. If it wasn’t president Lincoln, it would’ve been some other white man with slaves. At least, his morals and character alloted for the foundation of the future of democracy. As Dr. Beth has said multiple times during class, “Sometimes it really was a different time,” and to me that sometimes just felt most of the time.
As this class progresses, however, my views on it being a “different time” has changed considerably. What I hadn’t heavily considered before was looking at history through the lens of good faith and bad faith practice. My sole belief used to be that most people just acted in good faith. They were taught to think less of certain groups of people and since segregation was heavily enforced, and the history of racism in schooling being what it is, to those kids it made sense to look at other races through a derogatory lens. As we delve deeper into the curriculum I come to realize my mistake in thinking that it was a different time or that everyone acted in good faith. A lot of the time people were genuinely acting in bad faith. One of the most horrible examples I found of this bad faith practice came from chapter 3 of medical apartheid on the popular displays of black bodies. We get to the story of Ota Benga, an African male brought from the Congo to be displayed along with monkeys at an exhibit in Louisiana. 40 or so years had passed since slavery had been abolished, which means that it was acknowledged as a mistake and something that shouldn’t be done to another human being. And still, black people were treated as mere objects for fascination. This wasn’t only because it was a different time either, as the book goes on to explain. Many opposed this idea with a minister going so far as to tell the New York Times, “ Our race…is depressed enough without exhibiting one of us with the apes. We think we are worthy of being considered human beings, with souls.”(Washington) This reverend shows how within this time period, a man of the Lord, which is held in high regard, was against such a horrible act; and it wasn’t only this black reverend as multiple white voices of dissent came forth. This act continued on with Benga attracting multiple visitors that would howl, jeer and yell at benga. Eventually, the display was shut down. This small incident serves as a reminder that people could be acting in bad faith and that history should be analyzed through context rather than just assuming it was just a “different time.”
Another narrative that is also pushed a lot is the “isolated incident” narrative. That this was just a stand alone event without any relevant connections to past events. This is clearly seen with police brutality, or gun violence, racism and disenfranchisement. To the people that aren’t usually in the marginalized groups, it sometimes may be difficult to see through if it isn’t happening to you. This is constantly highlighted as medical apartheid brings to light a plethora of stories about how African Americans were used in medical experiments and exploited without any form of scientific relevance as to why they should teh only ones going through such trials.
Thus, this course has helped me develop a more conscious mind when it comes to the issues of race and how it affects how you’re treated as a person. As well as made me a lot more conscious about the type of racism that is found within medicine, sometimes something that is not even as clear as just abusing certain groups for experimentation; but in more subtle ways such as discreditation and abuse that comes with said discreditation. And how not telling those stories will impact how future generations think about past advances without really looking at what was done to achieve them. Therefore, it is always right to look back on the past and examine whether people were really acting in good faith, or whether they pretended that it was for the best when it really just was for personal gain or marginalization of groups.
1.Nelson, Marilyn. Fortune’s Bones. Boyds Mills Press, 1 Aug. 2016, p. 20.
2. Washington, Harriet A. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Paw Prints, 2010.