The course epigraph is “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”–Dionne Brand, from notes that Beth took during the question-and-answer session following Brand’s March 2, 2013 reading at the Northeast Modern Language Association in Toronto”. Throughout the course so far, there have been many readings that represent this quote, including “Medical Apartheid” and “Fortune’s Bones”. After the readings, and discussions with classmates, I realized all of these things that I didn’t notice until I read about it and discussed it. Discussing with classmates also helps to notice ideas or topics that may not have been as obvious to me. The epigraph has got me thinking about noticing other classmates’ perspectives, and understanding that it will be different than my own. I look forward to taking this class so that I can gain different perspectives and discuss these crucial topics with my peers.
One of the books we have begun reading is “ Medical Apartheid” by Harriet Washington. After reading a few chapters of “Medical Apartheid”, it got me thinking about how unnoticed, past and present, racism in the United States has been. An example in the book that really stuck with me was P.T. Barnum. I had really only heard good things about him until I read this book. He caused harm to many people and one of them was Joice Heth who was an elderly black woman who was blind and almost fully paralyzed. Because of her condition, he claimed Joice was 161 years old. Also, in order to make her look even older than she was, he forcefully pulled all of her teeth out. He wanted to take advantage of her and used alcohol in order to do this because he knew that was her weakness. This was very shocking to me especially because many people, including myself, have idolized P.T Barnum. I had this idea in my head that he was a good person, and just wanted to help these people. However, I was completely misguided. There even is a movie about him, showing that he is a wonderful person. In “The Greatest Showman” they portrayed him in a different light and did not show the true story of his life. This movie was really popular, and I know many people who say it is their favorite. Thinking about this now, I am shocked that producers made this movie and most likely were aware of the things he had done to people of color. Until I read this book, I had no idea about the things that Barnum did, and I’m sure many other people feel the same way. It made me question: Why are people portraying him as such a good person, and not showing how harmful he actually was? This portrayal of P.T. Barnum also got me thinking about how many other important figures have been portrayed in this good light as well. “Medical Apartheid” does a great job showing how prevalent racism is and has been, and how people have been glorified even though they have done terrible things.
In “Medical Apartheid” it is also shown how black patients were abused by doctors and used just for medical research. Doctors thought that black people had high pain tolerances, so they were put through procedures without numbing or anesthesia and were forced into excruciating pain. They were humiliated in front of people and were tortured for research that we still use today. Yet, as Harriet Washington points out, none of this was documented in the doctor’s notes. As someone who wants to go into the medical field, I think this is important to know and everyone should be made aware of this history. I knew that there was a lack of representation in medicine, but did not know that it had gone to this extent. It is disheartening to see that people who claim to want to help other people (doctors) are willing to put someone through this. Since reading this, it really has made me think about our healthcare system overall and how harmful it has been to so many people when it is supposed to be a system that helps everyone. I hope to learn more about this throughout the course in order to gain a better understanding.
We also read “Fortune’s Bones” by Marilyn Nelson. On page 13, the first line is “Fortune was born; he died.” We discussed this line in class, and many people had differing opinions on what it meant. To me, it means that he lived his life, and then died. What was between these two events was seemingly not important enough to share. It’s almost as if the author just overlooked his entire life. He just lived to die. However, there are many other interpretations that could be applied to this one line. This just shows how even one small sentence can bring all these different perspectives together. When I first read this line, I didn’t really think it could be interpreted in another way, until the class began talking. It made me realize that different perspectives are so important in understanding the material and topics. This ties back to the “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”
During class, a passage by Geraldine Heng was read in order to effectively define the definition of race. Heng states that “race is a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content.” By saying this, Heng is explaining that race is solely based on structure, and was created for society to deal with the differences between humans. As a society, race has been used to exploit and harm people of color. Although the United States has come a long way, racism is still very prevalent today and is a systemic issue. Learning this definition of race will be very useful as we go further on in this class. As a biology major, in many of my classes, we learn that race is a distinct evolutionary lineage within a species. I am glad I was able to see it from a different perspective, and even learn a new definition that makes more sense. But so far, this class has taught me a lot and I have begun to see things in a different way which I am grateful for. I am looking forward to continuing learning and challenging myself in this course because it is very different from other courses that I have taken. I hope that discussing these topics with my classmates will help to broaden my understanding and help me in my future endeavors.