Curiosity Public Essay_Luis Carrillo Rubio

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.

The Conditioning of Black People in the United States

The quote, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice” by Dionne Brand was introduced to me, along with the prompt to discuss it, and what it evokes thoughtfully within me. The problem is not with the quote, but rather with the question. I was asked what it made me curious about; I’ve never been given a question like that before, with so much freedom, no borders, and no directions. Even with previous projects where I would create my own thesis, there still was some direction I was given that allowed a sense of comfort. A question like this frightens me because it’s new. While struggling with this question, I asked my professor for help for any direction, and she took my perspective of fear and turned it into something that I could use. I understood that my problem was more tangible than I’d originally thought. With that change in perspective, I finally found an answer. What does the quote, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice” make me think about? It makes me think about teachers, and how they must be able to teach with all different kinds of thinkers. I didn’t have a clear answer looking at the prompt, and yet, my professor figured out a way to interpret my jumbled thoughts and find something within that I could work with. 

One thing I’ve realized is that this assistance I received from my professor is not something new to me. In high school, specifically my senior year, I had a lot of projects that I needed to create my own thesis for. My teachers were there to help guide me in a direction based on my strengths and jumbled thoughts. According to Professor Nwabara, “I’m learning alongside my students”. She teaches students and learns from them as well; she notices what students notice, and learns from that how to teach better. This assistance has been similar to an escape from the honors system I’ve been accustomed to. With this freedom from a prompt, I no longer have the limits of what I should specifically be doing, holding me back from my full potential.

Another thing I’ve realized is that this system I’ve grown up in is a great metaphor for the history of medicine in the United States and the abuse and torture faced by Black people during that history. I noticed how the direction I’m normally given is all that I’ve known for a long time. As an honors student, I was conditioned into a perfect student who is always looking ahead rather than on the two feet in front of me. I was given a prompt and told exactly how to write it so I could succeed; nevermind my own creative input. In English 203: African Lit Criticism, I read a poem by Langston Hughes, titled The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain, about the lives of Black people in the United States during the Harlem Renaissance. Black people were having a cultural revolution in Manhattan, and it was an explosion of Black arts like music, literature, and artwork. But, there were some Black people that chose to denounce Black culture its entirety. Hughes illustrates, “standing in the way of any true Negro art in America–this urge within the race toward whiteness, the desire to pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization”. Like how I was conditioned to be a perfect student, Black people were conditioned to be a “perfect” American. 

Black culture was squashed under White oppression through all of American history. So much of what Black people created within the country and brought over from Africa was unimportant because they were “inferior”. As Dionne Brand wrote, “When the Spanish arrived the thousands of years of the Inca collapsed into one earthen bowl. All of their lives collapsed into one life. A summary”. With this, as novelist Chimamanda Adichie calls, “single story”, and often a very tainted one, Black people were subjected to cruel lives and treatment. They were enslaved, experimented on, shown off like a kid at show-and-tell. In the book, Medical Apartheid, it states, 

Physicians and owners controlled and transformed the nature of the bodies they displayed by enhancing the distinctiveness of their appearances and by showcasing them in a propagandistic environment that emphasized freakishness, evolutionary inferiority, and beastiality. 

In the time this novel speaks of, there was so little freedom for Black people in the United States that they could be paraded around like explained in the quote, without any consideration for what they wanted. No one asked the enslaved man Fortune whether he cared about being dissected after his death. And yet, he was. There are graphic depictions of what the physician felt as he took apart Fortune’s body in the book. The author, Marilyn Nelson describes,  

Note well how death softens the human skin, making it almost transparent, so that under my reverent knife- the first cut takes my breath away; it feels like cutting the whole world- it falls open like bridal gossamer… standing on a new continent… In profound and awful intimacy, I enter Fortune, and he enters me. 

Note words such as “gossamer”, “continent”, and “profound”. This is written in a grotesque manner that reminds me of Frankenstein, and it’s gothic and monstrous descriptions of Victor Fankenstein’s feelings with his god complex in creating life. It’s uncomfortable. On top of this objectification of Black people were inequalities that spanned for decades, such as legalized segregation from Plessy V Feguson in 1896 that wasn’t overturned until Brown V Board of Education in 1954, Jim Crows laws, and Literacy tests that prevented African Americans from voting, even though the fifteenth amendment made it a law. There was an entire movement for civil rights in the 1960s, and continuous public outcry since such as the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020. 

Geraldine Heng once described race as, “a structural relationship for the articulation and management of human differences, rather than a substantive content”. In other words, race is a relatively unimportant aspect of a person or their character that has been blown out of proportions to mean something much more significant in society. Race shouldn’t affect people, and yet, we have centuries of history to prove that it has done just that. In every field of study, there has been racial inequality. In literature, Black people often don’t get as many or as correct representations given of them. In medicine, Black people were used as subjects for experimentation, sometimes because of the preconceived notion that they had a higher pain tolerance than White people. This was false. And yet, this was a system that persisted from back then until today. Some groups such as the Republican party in the United States choose to ignore that this is an issue, while the Democratic party sees it as very paramount. The truth is that it is a systemic issue that has been around for centuries, shaping our history and beliefs. Just as I was raised and molded into a system that required me to be perfect and think a certain way, our entire culture and society in the United States is a mold of systemic racism that is so prominent that it can go unnoticed because of its commonness. It’s in our schools, politics, and communities. It is up to us to break that mold and free ourselves from the beliefs we were given. 


Adichie, Chimamanda. 2009. “The Danger of a Single Story.”

Brand, Dionne. 2018. The Blue Clerk: Ars Poetica in 59 Versos. N.p.: Duke University Press.

Heng, Geraldine. 2018. The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages. N.p.: Cambridge University Press.

Hughes, Langston. 1926. The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain. N.p.: The Nation.

Nelson, Marilyn. 2004. Fortune’s bones: the manumission requiem. N.p.: Astra Publishing House.

Nwabara, Olaocha. 2023.

Washington, Harriet A. 2008. Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. N.p.: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.=

The Interconnections of Race and Medical Research

There are certain things in life that I have just accepted, as simple facts. The sky is blue, the world is round, and so on. However, as I grew older I started to question things. Well, why is the sky blue? Why is the world round? Some of these questions have simple answers, others do not. When I decided to take this course I was ready to not receive answers right away and ready to not have some questions answered. However, what I wasn’t ready for was just how much history of the medical field that I was completely unaware of. As we have been shown time and time again, when things go unnoticed they are allowed to continue until someone does notice and puts a stop to it. 

The epigraph for this course is “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice” -Dionne Brand. This got me thinking, throughout time many horrible things have happened, wars, violence, discrimination, and many more. However, while learning about this I always asked myself one simple question, why was this allowed to happen? Why didn’t someone put a stop to it or speak out against it? Why were these things allowed to continue? What I’ve come to realize is that people did say something, it just went unnoticed because other people didn’t want to notice. If it wasn’t affecting them and they are benefitting from that why bother? It has been shown time and time again that if people ignore wrongful behavior that allows it to continue. It becomes normalized, take what happened in Fortune’s Bone for example. Fortune was a man who was enslaved and died on the grounds of his enslaver in the late 1700s. Fortune’s enslaver was a doctor, Dr. Porter. Instead of burying Fortune’s body, Dr. Porter decided that he would preserve his skeleton to further the study of human anatomy. Dr. Porter didn’t just keep Fortune’s bone for himself and later bury him. As stated in Fortune’s Bones by Marilyn Nelson, “Four more generations of Porters became physicians, and the skeleton stayed in the family. Porter’s children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren used it to learn the names of the bones. This was their earliest medical training.” What Dr. Porter did to Fortune by today’s standards is not only incredibly disturbing but, illegal. However, not only were they no laws against it, it was also seen as acceptable and normal. Not only did Dr. Porter himself see no problem with using Fortune’s skeleton, but neither did his family and it just became normal. It is important to not only be able to take notice of harmful behavior but to also speak up about it because, as we’ve seen time and time again it will continue if not stopped. However, what happened to Fortune is not an isolated incident. So, it leaves me to wonder, who else has been harmed in the face of medical research? And was it only in the United States?

        The short answer is, many and not all of them were done in the United States. Unfortunately, the medical field is filled with research conducted by extremely harmful practices and as a result, a majority of them were done on African Americans. While some were done out of good faith most of the time the overall result did more harm than good. As shown in the book Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington, Washington tells many horrific stories of how African Americans and Africans were used at the expense of furthering medical research. Including one about Sarah Baartmen, who was a woman used in freak shows in London, who drew a large attraction due to her large buttocks. It fascinated many European men at the time, who had never seen those features on a woman before. Which made her a constant target for not just harassment but also sexual abuse. However it was not only in life that she was exploited, it was also in death. As stated in Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington, “Cuvier cast Baartman’s body in plaster in 1817, preserved her brain, vulva, and anus in glass jars, then stripped the flesh from her skeleton and hung it on display in Paris’s Musée de l’Homme.” Showing how little regard if any for her body or for her as a human being. Barrtman was just one of many women who were exploited and abused for medical research. As we continue during the course of this semester I would like to uncover, What sort of long-lasting effects did these sorts of practices have on the medical community? Also on the African American community?

We have been so far in class have been uncovering the past and how much the medical community has abused and mistreated African Americans. I would like to uncover how that plays a role in today’s world. How the long-term effects of racism in the medical field have affected African Americans or people of color in general. Through the books and articles, we will continue to read, how those long-term effects begin to play a role in modern times. How we will be able to make connections from the examples in Fortune’s Bones and Medical Aparthied to Today. Throughout the beginning of this course, we have seen countless examples of mistreatment and abuse done by doctors to non-consenting patients. We have also seen just how much race can play a factor in that mistreatment. I hope throughout and by the end of this course, I can begin to answer these questions.

In literature, I am constantly asking myself why. Why did this author do this? Why did they decide to put a comma here instead of there? What does it mean exactly? Why does it mean that? It is a subject full of whys, and in research, it is the same. Constantly asking questions. Always looking for more answers or new answers. However, a big part of asking and trying to answer these questions is that you do so without hurting other people or yourself. Many doctors over time disrespected that and have violated that rule. Throughout this course, I have seen countless examples of it and it has made me more aware of how much mistreatment has gone into medical research. At the expense of countless African Americans and their remains. I know by the end of this course I will not know everything about how much medicine and racism are interconnected. However, I know by the end of this course my understanding of just how interconnected they are will be increased greatly. As it already has just in the few weeks I have been a part of this course. I hope to come up with more questions and more answers along the way. Not only for my own understanding but in the hopes that maybe, I can begin to make others understand as well.

The Interconnectedness of Literature, Medicine, and Racism: Stereotypes, Consent, and the Separation of the Mind and Body

Within my college course entitled “DPP in American Lit: Lit, Medicine, & Racism,” we have started to examine the connections between the disciplines of literature and medicine as well as the pervasiveness of racism within both fields. In reading Marilyn Nelson’s Fortune’s Bones and select chapters from Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid, I have acquired a greater understanding regarding the origins of racism within the medical field and how this discrimination was simultaneously extended to the appalling societal treatment of Black people throughout history. Washington’s novel provides the reader with an account of the egregious medical wrongdoings committed against Black people across several centuries while Nelson’s poem centers around the life of an enslaved man named Fortune of whom only scant details can be gleaned from the historical record. However, I am still curious to learn more about the inherent relationship between literature and medicine and how these disparate fields have collaborated over the centuries to reinforce harmful stereotypes, lack of consent, and the separation of the body from the mind.

Many of the depictions of Black people within literature are fueled by stereotypes that originated within the medical profession. Harriet Washington enumerates several of these stereotypes within her novel Medical Apartheid, as she mentions in chapter 3 that a prominent 19th century physiologist named Baron Georges Cuvier described Black people as having “their hair crimped, their heads squashed and their noses flat. Their protruding mouths and thick lips are strikingly similar to those of the apes. The peoples which compose this race have always been savages.” This direct comparison of Black people to animals suggests that Cuvier and many of his contemporaries considered people of color to be somehow less than human. In other words, Black people were deemed by many as being unworthy of fundamental human rights and dignity based on the erroneous belief that they were inherently inferior to white people. Such conjectures by individuals within the medical community likely contributed to harmful portrayals of Black people within popular literature which may have encouraged the repugnant treatment of Black people by most of society well into the 20th century.

Another stereotype perpetuated by the medical community is illustrated within chapter 4 of Medical Apartheid as Washington notes that “Blacks were believed to sleep more, feel pain less, endure heat better and cold worse, and be more prone to fevers, tetanus, syphilis, yaws, and tuberculosis but resistant to yellow fever and malaria. Their skins were thought thicker, their brains smaller; they were characterized as sexually precocious and intellectually retarded.” Such propaganda undoubtedly encouraged doctors to conduct callous experiments on people of color that they wouldn’t have dared to carry out upon white people. It also effectively gave medical professionals the “permission” to dismiss the opinions of anybody who dissented to these practices on the basis of moral grounds. The doctors could simply claim that the medical journals confirmed that Black people were more physically expendable than white people as a justification for their actions.

Until recent decades, there has been a pervasive lack of consent within the medical realm especially in regard to Black people. This disconcerting notion has been well-documented in medical journals and personal accounts as evidenced throughout chapters 3 and 4 of Medical Apartheid. In particular, Harriet Washington notes in chapter 4 of her novel that Black people were often the unwitting subjects of harmful procedures during the 1800s such as gratuitous amputations performed without the use of anesthesia. Such operations appear to have been especially routine for enslaved people as they were viewed by doctors as being even more subhuman than their free counterparts. In fact, most doctors during this period would have been unperturbed by an enslaved patient who was staunchly opposed to these experimental surgeries. Denying Black people the opportunity of informed consent likely reinforced the idea that their opinions were irrelevant because they were subservient to white people. This notion could easily have been passed down to successive generations of doctors through anecdotes, medical journals, and even popular literature. The repercussions of such malevolent thoughts were felt not just within the medical community but also within society as a whole, with the general public viewing Black people in a similarly degrading manner and consequently refusing to allow them equitable treatment under the law.

Marilyn Nelson explores the topic of consent as well as the separation of the mind from the body within Fortune’s Bones as she laments the fate of an enslaved man named Fortune who was forced to devote his entire life to serving his enslaver, Dr. Preserved Porter. Fortune endured a lifetime of difficult manual labor and even in death he remained within Porter’s control as Porter decided to dissect Fortune’s body under the guise of scientific advancements. This deliberate separation of Fortune’s mind from his body arguably enabled Porter to view Fortune as merely an object rather than a sentient human being. It is likely this thought process that allowed Porter to both enslave Fortune and to dissect his body without any sort of moral quandaries or a basic regard for Fortune’s humanity.

The idea of separating Black peoples’ minds from their bodies is referenced within chapter 3 of Medical Apartheid as Washington recalls the story of a man named Ota Benga who was captured from his home and taken to America where he was displayed as a public spectacle in a zoo and characterized as being nothing more than a braindead savage. While there were many dissenters to Benga’s inhumane treatment, it is highly disturbing to think that anybody would willingly gawk at a human being trapped in a cage and think that he somehow deserved to be in that position. Perhaps this general acceptance of Benga’s situation was based on the deeply misguided assumption that Black people lacked the presence of an inner life. In other words, Black people could simply be reduced to their bodies and nothing more. It seems apparent that any display of intellectual prowess on the part of a Black individual had to be disregarded in order to maintain the illusion that White people alone possessed a superior intellect.

An additional example of separating the mind from the body is found within chapter 4 of Medical Apartheid as Washington discusses the fact that doctors viewed Black people solely as “‘clinical material’-human bodies upon which they could practice diagnosis, treatment, and, finally, autopsy and dissection.” Such doctors likely rationalized their abhorrent treatment of Black patients by considering Black people as nothing more than their bodies. As Black people were purportedly devoid of the intellectual and emotional faculties present within white people, medical professionals were not concerned with the well-being of their Black patients. These ideas of Black people being inferior to white people were explicitly and implicitly contained within medical literature and were thus continuously engrained in the minds of white practitioners. Perhaps such notions are what allowed both doctors and enslavers to avoid culpability for their reprehensible treatment of Black people.

It is very apparent that medicine and racism have been intertwined since antiquity and that this connection has been maintained through literature. Analyzing the parallels between Medical Apartheid and Fortune’s Bones in terms of their explorations of a Black experience centered around stereotypes, lack of consent, and a separation of the body from the mind was an illuminating experience. I look forward to discovering how such topics are depicted within the upcoming works associated with this course (namely, Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark, and Toni Morrison’s Home) as well as how these portrayals differ from those contained within Medical Apartheid and Fortune’s Bones.

Curiosity Essay

Curiosity Essay

“My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” Our course epigraph really brings out the theme of this course. When I read this quotation, it reminded me a lot of what our class time consists of. Even if we don’t realize it, we are all constantly noticing and observing different things whether that be in our readings, or class discussions. When we all come together to discuss anything we have observed, we are collectively understanding other pieces of information that someone else has noticed that perhaps you did not, and that exemplifies the “notice that you can notice” in our course epigraph. 

Based on what we have done so far in class, the course epigraph gets me thinking about just really understanding the perspectives of others. It is very important to understand different perspectives of your peers when it comes to this class because it can help you to understand something in a different fashion and can give you some new approaches to take when working with certain material. For example, I never really realized how racism and medicine would be able to tie into each other, but after reading some of Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington and having class discussions about the reading, it gave me more insight about how these two topics can relate to one another. One quote from the introduction of the book that stood out to me is “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 13). This quote alone gives a perfect illustration of how medicine had certain impacts on racism which is something I had never realized or thought about beforehand. 

Another book we read together in class is Fortunes Bones by Marilyn Nelson. We would all collectively read the book in parts, and then all discuss our own perspectives about what we had just read which again directly relates to our course epigraph. “Fortune was born; he died.” (Nelson 13). Although this specific quote is extremely short, we were able to discuss our thoughts and what we thought the meaning behind it was. It does come off as a very direct quote, but you can get so much more out of it when really thinking about it and discussing it with your peers. We focused on the use of the semicolon and how it affected the sentence. The use of the semicolon was essentially a “summary” regarding Fortune’s life without the actual synopsis of his life events. I personally took it as almost a disregard for Fortune’s life as the only parts that were highlighted in this sentence was his birth and death. We all got the different ideas and views of one another, which is us “noticing that you can notice.” It really is fascinating to be able to take a sentence as short as that one, and be able to hear all different interpretations of why we think it was put that way. 

As we continue to read Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington, something I would like to continue to learn about and figure out via this course is really how these issues were “solved” over time. As far as racism goes, America is clearly not 100% out of racist habits and thoughts, but there has been a significant amount of progress made throughout time. I would like to learn more about how this progress is made. When were significant changes starting to be noticed? What individuals had large impacts on these changes? I would like to figure out when this turning point in history was, and how we got to the point we are at today. Reading about these atrocities that would occur has made me even more curious about how we have evolved, and that is something I would like to learn more about through this course.

This course has been truly fascinating so far. I really enjoy hearing the perspectives and views of others when working on the material as it opens up new viewpoints that can be beneficial to our work. Our course epigraph, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice” truly sets the tone of this course. It is all about discussing your own opinions while actively and respectfully listening to my peers’ opinions and perspectives. I am looking forward to continuing this course and learning more through readings, discussions, and writing. 

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.