“My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”
As the semester comes to an end, we look back on all that has been discussed throughout the class and discover what we hadn’t noticed before. Whether it was due to the ambiguity of the events taking place before our eyes, or just lack of searching we have failed to notice much of anything as a society. Racism is prevalent. Yes, we notice the Black Lives Matter movement and we have witnessed the Civil Rights movements in our history classes, but we as a society have continuously failed to adjust and fix what has been done. However, what I have noticed is how much I have grown as a reader and writer to interpret these works and analyze their context to help reprimand what our society has done to African Americans. Through these connections, I can begin to acknowledge what I can begin to do to enforce the understanding of these victims’ stories to share who we have to thank for our practices today.
Interpreting the readings we can only begin to understand that the major advancements of our country’s medical practices ride on the backs of Black people, Their struggles were ignored and never brought to light in the past, as they were brushed off as a necessary sacrifice for the evolution of medicine. As we have known the study of the Human body was a necessity to advance such practices however there was no care in the experiments placed onto these unwilling participants. Their lives forever changed, or forgotten even. Fannie Lou Hammer was a victim stolen from the story she could have created, Washington’s opening reveals how blatant her disappearance was, “ She might easily have endured the life of quiet desperation dictated by her birth, then vanished without a ripple”(Washington,189). Her fertility was stolen, a life to live and possibly create more was ripped away while unconscious and unconsenting. A child who had merely gone into a Doctor’s to have her stomach fixed was destroyed in more than one way, and then tossed to the side. Much like Doctor Sims’ experiments to explore gynecology, where he is revered for the medical knowledge he had obtained there is little to no acknowledgment for the girls he had practiced on.
Novels like Home give us a vantage point of what it was like to be stripped away of your dignity as we have seen happen to Cee. Cee was a simple woman, who hadn’t had a doubt about the kindness she was presented with when she came to work for the Doctor. In fact, she trusted him to do her no harm once she had begun her job in the comfort of the home. After the doctor had taken her ability to have children and she had healed Miss Ethel broke the news to Cee. Cee had no real reaction, “Cee didn’t know then what to feel about that news, no more than what she felt about Doctor Beau. Anger wasn’t available to her- she had been so stupid, so eager to please”(Morrison,128). Cee was taken advantage of by a well-educated white man that would face no consequences for his actions. It seemed like a part of life in this world where African American women will be taken advantage of then cast off to the side without much of a glance from the civilization around them. If you fell victim to it, that was your own fault plain and simple. Yet they don’t receive the recognition they deserve for furthering our understanding of the human body.
These experiments are not new to our medical history. Many other victims were silenced because of their status in society to increase our medical knowledge. The steps we have taken are not enough to begin to reverse what was done, nor can we truly do so. As a society, we must take accountability and be held for our mistakes, our actions, and face the consequences. How should such debt be paid from us? The blood we have drained and studied cannot simply be returned. Many may ask how we begin our journey to atonement. Through Novels like Home, we may contextualize the feelings that were so ignored by those inflicting these experiments. If we as a society would begin to discuss what has happened and give credit to medical advancement to those subjected to these miserable conditions we may begin to forgive ourselves for all that we have done.
The only way for us to atone for our historical medical mistreatment of African Americans is by giving them a name and recognition for their sacrifices. Unwilling maybe but they were led to the slaughter and forgotten without regard to who they were. We have at least begun to go through the process of our discoveries. Fortune’s bones were a great example of our beginning to give credit where it is due. Fortune was a slave his skeleton used by generations of doctors to examine and yet Nelson uncovers a part of his story throughout her requiem, “His bones say only that he served and died, that he was useful, even into death, stripped of his name, his story, and his flesh”(Nelson,13). Even though we do not know Fortune’s life, we know how his skeleton was used to train young medical professionals the locations of bones and help study the human body. This may not be good enough but it’s a start to a man who had lost his name and became Larry. Giving him his identity can give his soul peace and his descendants a chance to know who he really was.
As a society, we have a long way to go to give the victims of our past the recognition they deserve. No amount of reparations will undo the forgotten legacies we have destroyed. The only way we can repay those that are gone is to give them their names on the works they helped develop. Every surgery that was performed on slaves that couldn’t give consent or poor people that were ignored by the law to make their lives easier should be recognized as victims, and their captors as villains, not heroes. The conscience that these horrific acts took place should be known by society and shared so we never try this again.