The Sisterhood

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—” 

“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. 

What is (Un)Informed Consent?

Adriana Straughter, Caitlin Morazzini, John Serbalik, Olivia Herring, Rachel Cohen, Semefa Agbokou

Informed consent is a challenge that the medical field faces every day. According to Harriet Washington, “Informed Consent is not a signed piece of paper but, rather, the fluid, continuous process by which a researcher informs the subject in detail of what he or she proposes to do, why it is being proposed, and what the possible consequences the experiment carries” (Washington 55). As a patient continues their treatment, so should the communication between the doctor and patient. This includes full disclosure of the risks and benefits associated with the treatment. Your doctor should always be giving you the facts. This shows a level of respect, the doctor respects you and wants to make sure you can choose what happens to your body. Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark addresses the conflict of consent among infected characters. The novel’s infectious disease influences the ambiguity in how the character’s view consent because the novel lacks a definition of consent. Rather, they grapple with this issue by the information received about the disease and other characters.  

Blake is a white male doctor; the majority of his life has been comfortable when it comes to being apart of society. With Blake’s lifestyle, there was no need for his consent because he had the authority to make his own decisions. Now Blake has been confronted with a disease; without his permission, he has been given the disease. When given the information, Blake struggles with the reality of how it changes a person, and the idea there is no cure. But being a doctor, his main goal is to help and figure out what the purpose of this disease is and how to control it. He tries to grasp this disease by doing testing and figuring out the origin of the disease. With no luck, Blake ends up having the full effect of the disease, which leads him to have extreme altercations. With the disease, compulsion takes over, this brings blake to be verbally and physically abusive towards his own daughters who he adored and wanted nothing but to keep them safe before this disease took over. Towards the end,  Blake scratches an unknown man and spreading the disease and creating an epidemic. “ I did it. Jesus!… I grabbed him, I couldn’t help it, couldn’t control it. He smelled so.. I couldn’t help it. God, I tore at him like an animal… Please, Go after him. Stop him.” (Butler,618). At this moment, Blakes’s struggle with the disease has come to an end. He understands the decisions he has to make, his compulsion is very real and too hard to control. 

Eli was one of the first to have the disease. He struggles with informed consent when he infects Meda’s mother. He infects her without telling her. He then informs Meda about what happened to her mother. However, the family on the ranch has the symptoms of the disease before he tells Meda about it. Eli internally struggles with the idea of infecting Kiera with the disease, but he really does not have a problem with infecting others. Eli infects Meda without thinking and without feeling bad, so she does not get a chance at informed consent. Meda had absolutely no choice and most people in the book do not have a choice because they are not even aware of this disease until it’s too late. Meda had no way of knowing that Eli is infected and so when he scratches her and gives her the disease, she does not know anything happened until it is too late. After this, when Meda has the disease and survives it, she does the same thing to other people. She has no problem infecting others without their consent, even though she knows it is not fair, considering what she went through. 

Kiera is Blake’s daughter, she is sixteen and dying of leukemia. After being kidnapped, she is the only one not immediately infected as Eli is unsure if it will kill her or not. This allows Keira to have a choice in being infected. Eli, instead of infecting her himself, Kiera takes his hand and makes the decision to accept the disease. She knows the risks, she knows she may die, but she still chooses to be infected by Eli. When it comes to anyone in Blake’s family, Kiera is the only one who comes closest to having informed consent. She, once more, knows she may die, she knows she could become sicker than she already is, and she knows if she does live, she will no longer be human. With all of this in mind, she makes the decision on her own, doing what she feels is right for herself. While her father or sister may see it as the wrong choice, this highlights the idea that each person should have control over their body and their choices. Instead of Blake, her father, making a choice he believes is the best for her, it is Kiera making the choice for herself. Consent means that you can make a choice based on the information provided to you and on your own values because it is your own body. Blake does not believe in the disease, he does not believe they can make a cure, and he believes he has to protect his daughters from horrible things, including this disease. But when Blake does this he ends up taking away Rane’s or Kiera’s ability to consent for themselves. Butler shows that consent also involves the making of a decision for yourself, through Kiera. 

Informed consent in the book is important, but not acknowledged. The characters struggle both individually and collectively with the idea of informed consent. We see each character’s individual struggle, as shown above, as well as a collective struggle to inform those who were kidnapped, of the disease. The Clay’s Ark community, as a whole, does not give informed consent to anyone who is new to the community. They do not explain the disease, how it is contracted, or what it can do to the person who is infected. They only explain after the fact, when they already have the disease and it is too late to back out. If they had given informed consent, there would have been an option to back out from getting the disease. However, because informed consent or any consent was not given, there was no option to opt-out. The idea of consent within the Clay’s Ark community is also shown to be based on who has information and what they do with it.  This is shown in how Meda only gives Blake some information, and only after he has been infected. The same thing happened when Eli infected Meda. Becoming informed of what may happen to you only comes after one is given the disease, and in turn, their ability to consent is taken away. If you are not informed of something until after it has been done to you then you are stuck with it. All these people are stuck with this horrible disease and they try to justify it by telling them afterward. There is no justification in this because there was no consent.

Slave vs. Enslaved Person?

Without a doubt, the topic of slavery is a hard pill to swallow. It is the sad truth to not only American history but to world history. One can also say when the topic of slavery comes up, two words are frequently used slave and enslaved. A slave is being a person who is the legal property of another and is forced to obey the owner. Enslave, or enslaved person is making someone a slave. Those words to the untrained eye may be used in a similar connotation. The idea never really occurred to me, that those two words are actually entirely different. In class, Doctor McCoy stated her views on enslaved person vs. slave. She expressed that she preferred to use the word enslaved person over a slave, suggesting that saying or calling one a slave is demeaning and strips away their humanity. In other words, Doctor McCoy believes saying enslaved person gives back the idea of humanity, how that person is a human being and not property. Although I agree with Doctor McCoy up to a point, I cannot accept her overall conclusion that we should use enslaved person exclusively over the word slave. This idea may look small and simple, but it’s not a simple black and white context. Overall, to truly understand history, we should not replace but re-use and become innovative.

If the idea is using the word enslaved person over a slave. My next question would be what happens to the textual evidence and biographies with such vulgar language? How will others respond? Are they ready to acknowledge the truth? Using censorship against the original language causes people to erase a part of their history. In the book, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present, the author speaks on the abuse of black slaves in the medical field. “Each naked, unanesthetized slave women had to be forcibly restrained by the other physicians through her shrieks of agony as Sims, determinedly sliced, then sutured her genitalia” (Washington, 2006,p. 2). Within this quote, you see the hard and truthful language being used. Censoring information such as this leads to discrediting every account of the act(s) from that time, which will make it less believable for skeptics. We can not as a society, try to substitute the fact African American were slaves and endured a lot throughout that time.

In the article “The Language of Enslavement”, the author Lucy Ferris says “But I doubt the film title Twelve Years a Slave would be changed substantially had it been Twelve Years Enslaved.” I think Ferris is mistaken because she overlooks the concept of the title. The slight change in the title softens the story, it diminishes the true story of a slave. I want to elaborate on the fact of changing or using substitution only discredits the real story. In the movie Twelve Years a Slave, there are multiple occasions of someone calling or saying the word “nigger.” What if that word was censored? Not acknowledge. Substantially that is a larger difference. That is a pure example of watering down. Not showing the truth of what white southerners said about black slaves is demeaning and disrespectful to the black community. So why change slave to enslave? Changing the title of the story is like not acknowledging such a powerful and hurtful word such as “nigger.” Furthermore, not censoring history will lead to an understanding of our past. As well as grasping the realization that slaves were people held against their will.

But as I said before, I partly agree with Doctor McCoy when using the term enslaved person in the context of a conversation or in literature. We are no longer in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, language has changed and continues to. In the latest post, “Slaves vs Enslaved People-The Subtle, Strong Powers of Words” the author Andi says “By changing from the use of a name – slaves – to an adjective – enslaved– we grant these individuals an identity as people and use a term to describe their position in society rather than reducing them to that position. In a small but important way, we carry them forward as people, not the property that they were in that time. This is not a minor thing, this change of language.” Andi is right because when we use the word enslaved, we are acknowledging these individuals are humans and not someone’s property. In short, there is a need to use the term enslaved person to give back their human qualities, but it shouldn’t be the only option to describe these individuals.

All in all, when facing the discussion between using the terms slave or enslaved person, an enslaved person should not be exclusively used over the word slave. We need to continue the use of the word slave to keep the original language, censoring may only lead to disbelief. But on the other hand, we need to maintain the term of an enslaved person to identify these individuals as humans, not property. We need both terms in our vocabulary, we should know our history, while still giving respect to the ones before us.