Governmental Deception and Exacerbation of Income Inequality: The Parallel between the American Phoenix Government of Zone One and the Trump Administration

As explained in a previous blog post, Colson Whitehead’s Zone One and Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan’s Washington Post article “The Painful Truth about Teeth” similarly illustrate the severity and endurance of social divisions produced through income inequality. In addition to demonstrating the link between economic disparity and social fragmentation, Zone One and the Washington Post article also consider the causes of wealth inequity. One of the primary factors that directly generates economic inequality, or exacerbates it through discriminatory policies, is the United States federal government. By examining Jordan and Sullivan’s article, it is evident that the Trump Administration has betrayed its promise to improve the quality of life for the working-class. Instead the administration has facilitated the implementation of Republican policies that favor the affluent through tax cuts and harm economically disadvantaged Americans as a result of reductions in spending for education and healthcare. Analogously, in Zone One there is a revived federal government, the American Phoenix based in Buffalo, New York, that privileges the political and intellectual elite over the surviving masses. In this way, the Americans Phoenix resembles the Trump administration and Republican controlled congress discussed in the Washington Post article. Thus, both the Trump administration and the American Phoenix government manipulate the public to acquire support, yet then proceed to increase America’s wealth gap by enriching the elite at the expense of ordinary people.

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The Pressing Problem of American Income Inequality: An Analysis of Zone One and the Washington Post

Income inequality is a dire problem that is exponentially worsening in the contemporary United States. Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan’s Washington Post article “The Painful Truth about Teeth” illustrates how the widening divide in wealth in the U.S. has led to the inability of working-class Americans to afford much needed dental care. Despite the clear dental health repercussions of being economically disadvantaged, the Washington Post journalists reveal that there are also social ramifications of the income gap in the United States. This dichotomization of the rich and the poor has contributed to the development of prejudice aimed at the economically less fortunate. In response, the economically disadvantaged despise the affluent for their avariciousness and condescending attitude. Comparably, Colson Whitehead’s novel Zone One demonstrates how economic divisions result in the formation of an “us” vs. “them” mindset among both the rich and poor. Although American society disintegrates in Zone One as a consequence of a zombie apocalypse, memories of economic disparity from life before the plague causes socioeconomic tensions to endure. Thus, Jordan and Sullivan’s article and Whitehead’s novel similarly exemplify the social tensions in American society induced by economic inequality.

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Changing Perceptions: An Examination of the Commercialized Structures of Pharmaceutical and Medical Volunteer Companies

While I usually prefer to write blog posts in the third person, I’ve decided that, given the immense relevance of this post’s topic to my life, it would be best to convey my thoughts directly through my voice. I was similarly intrigued by the epilogue of Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present and Irmgard Bauer’s article “More harm than good? The questionable ethics of medical volunteering and international student placements.” My personal interest in these texts was due to my intention of enlisting in Doctors Without Borders after graduating from medical school. This has been a dream of mine since transitioning from an adolescent education major to premed about two years ago. Even prior to beginning on the premed track, I aspired to work in the international aid/development sector, most likely for the United States Agency for International Development. However, after reading the epilogue Medical Apartheid, I no longer have any desire to work for a government that permits research firms and pharmaceutical companies to exploit Africans as test subjects. Despite assertions of philanthropy from research and medical-volunteering corporations, the texts indicate that these companies are capitalistic and commercialized. Thus, Washington and Bauer provide insight on the condemnable activities of avaricious companies that profit off citizens of the developing world with immunity from U.S. governmental intervention.

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The Complexities of Informed Consent: Drawing Parallels between Clay’s Ark, Medical Apartheid, and Dr. Chapman’s Deception Study

Written by Aliyah Frederick, Anna Johnston, Jack McKeown, Freddie Yopp, Victoria Page, and Ashley Boccio

Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present illustrates how the idea of informed consent has historically been a hotly debated topic within the medical field. Prior to the mid-twentieth century numerous abuses were committed by medical researchers in which subjects provided no consent to experimentation or were not fully informed on what experiments entailed. Much of this research was dangerous and had the potential to, and did, cause bodily harm and even death. To protect patients from abuses such as these, in 1947 the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) issued an informed consent policy. This policy legally mandated that patients provide informed consent before they could participate in any research. Washington quotes the 1947 AEC policy that in order for an experiment to qualify as protecting subjects’ right to informed consent, “…a reasonable hope exists that the administration of such a substance will improve the condition of the patient,…the patient gives his complete and informed consent in writing, and that the responsible next of kin give in writing a similarly complete and informed consent, revocable at any time during the course of treatment.” Informed consent was not always guaranteed after the implementation of the policy. Nevertheless, the AEC 1947 policy was the first legal document that both defined informed consent and required researchers to certify that subjects had provided informed consent before submitting to a research study. 

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Judging by Appearances: Similarities in the Treatment of African Americans and the Clay’s Ark Community

Octavia Butler’s Clay’s Ark describes the plight of a father and his two daughters who are kidnapped by a community infected with a complicated extraterrestrial symbiont. A simple description of Butler’s book may suggest that its nothing more than a science-fiction story. Yet in reality, the novel confronts many pressing social issues present in American society. One of these issues that is significant both historically and in contemporary times is discrimination experienced by people who appear differently than those who possess hegemony in society. Harriet Washington’s book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present illustrates how African Americans have been persecuted based on the color of their skin and whites in power have justified that persecution by fabricating science. While fictitious science was historically sufficient in preserving white dominance, its fallacies are now widely known and thus are no longer considered valid by the vast majority of American society. Instead, the fabricated science of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries have been replaced in modern times by myths regarding the cultural inferiority of African Americans. There are striking similarities between these myths and the prejudice that the father and one of the daughters in Clay’s Ark, Blake and Rane respectively, exhibit toward members of the infected community. One primary difference between the community and African Americans is that the infection does contain some negative features, whereas African Americans have no undesirable afflictions that are not shared by the rest of humanity. Nonetheless, the bigotries displayed by whites in American society and Blake and Rane in Clay’s Ark are similarly unjustified and based solely on false preconceptions rather than any evidence of actual flaws.  

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Commonalities in Percival Everett’s Zulus and Radiation Experiments on African Americans: The Issue of Informed Consent

Percival Everett’s Zulus follows the journey of Alice Achitophel as she confronts the hopelessness and cruelty of a postapocalyptic world devastated by the choices of humanity. While the narrative itself is largely surreal, the novel provides insight on very real and pressing issues that have beset American society from the nation’s earliest days to contemporary times.  One of these perplexing themes is the issue of informed consent. Throughout the course of the novel, Alice is subject to procedures and decisions without her permission. Many of the decisions that were made regarding Alice without her informed consent were related to her health. In this way, Zulus reflects on the radiation experiments performed on African Americans in the twentieth century. Harriet Washington’s book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present illustrates how experiments such as these were administered by white scientists who failed to fully explain the entirety of the studies to African American test subjects so they could provide informed consent. The denial of informed consent to African Americans is not directly discussed in Zulus. In fact, with the exception of Alice’s lover Kevin Peters being identified by his African American heritage, the concept of race itself is never mentioned in the novel. Nevertheless, as an African American, Everett is likely familiar with the mistreatment of black test subjects by white scientists. His knowledge of discriminatory experiments using African American subjects could be inferred as the reason he chose to emphasize the issue of informed consent in Zulus.

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Segregation and Experimentation on African Americans: Lessons from Toni Morrison’s Home

Toni Morrison’s novel Home provides an emotional story of a man who grapples with a dark past, yet still strives to protect his beloved sister. While the characters and narrative itself may be fictional, the book illustrates the overt and institutionalized racism that pervaded American society in the mid-twentieth century. Ezelle Sanford III’s article “Civil Rights and Healthcare: Remembering Simkins v. Cone (1963)” explains how in the 1950s Southern Hospitals were segregated, while the documentary Race-The Power of an Illusion demonstrates how real estate in both the American South and North was segregated by race. Home likewise shows how African Americans were confronted with de facto segregation in the North, yet also describes the exploitation of blacks’ bodies in both regions. The long history of involuntary experimentation on African Americans and selling of black bodies to white medical schools included in Morrison’s narrative is validated by evidence utilized by Harriet Washington in her book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present. Thus, both literature and nonfiction works collectively signify the violence and hardships imposed by racist whites on African Americans in the American North and South. This was done to maintain a social hierarchy based on the artificial construct of race and to improve white American lives at the expense of African Americans’ wellbeing.

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Noticing Racism

The course epigraph, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice,” as stated by Dionne Brand, illustrates the importance of actively engaging with and questioning ideas that society has typically accepted as truths. One prominent example, that is both historical and relevant in contemporary times, is the concept of race. This division of human populations into subcategories by their outward physical characteristics has been a heavily studied subject in anthropological and ostensibly scientific research for centuries. Despite the obsession with race among people in general, and intellectuals in particular, race has no scientific basis and is merely a social construct. It has been created by certain groups, historically Europeans and those of European descent, to justify their enslavement and mistreatment of other humans.

With the development of Social Darwinism, race began to be perceived by whites as being grounded in scientific evidence. Thus, in the field of medicine, American physicians strove to use science to confirm their preconceived notions of African Americans as being physically and intellectually inferior to whites. By employing the authority of medical science to buttress their racism against blacks, white doctors believed they could argue African Americans were deserving of their subordinate position in society and use them as targets of experimentation. Hence, noticing the fictional nature of the idea of race and realizing the necessity of showing others its falsehood is a social responsibility of paramount importance.

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