Self Improvement: A Final Reflection

The course epigraph for English 101 is a quote from the notes of Beth McCoy during a question and answer session held by Dionne Brand, “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” This quote is the basis for successfully completing this class. Without being able to notice purposefully in the text and during in class discussions, there is only minimal acceptance and understanding of the material. Noticing can be applied to every piece of literature that comes into the class and is a constant wall present to bounce ideas and thoughts off of.

Specifically for me, the epigraph has helped me delve deeper into the studies and research that I learned throughout my biology degree process. Having the full ability to notice that medicine is rooted much deeper than the physical body is extremely useful information as I progress to dental school. I felt uneducated and ignorant about something I am otherwise very passionate about and this drove me to want to actively learn and become a better member of the dental community to spread awareness of the medical oppression I had been blinded from for so long. A better understanding and ability to notice throughout my career is what will hopefully distinguish me as being a great doctor instead of a good one. Noticing has also helped me push back on some of my initial assumptions about medicine and build ideas that I never would have constructed otherwise.

            In Kate Williams, Mary Wooliams, and Jane Spiro’s Reflective Writing, they list that a good reflection consists of being open, patient, honest, curious, transparent, and rigorous. These are the basis for being able to reflect on the course as a whole and were the key things I worked on to improve my writing and understanding. Without these pieces you cannot completely and thoughtfully reflect on all you’ve learned. Being open requires a circling back of past assumptions and ideas that have been altered from beginning to end of the semester as well as how views have been shifted throughout the process. Being patient means to read through the course material thoroughly and notice as much as possible in conjunction with the course epigraph to accurately reflect on revelations that occurred while reading. I packaged together honesty and transparency in that admitting to inaccurate assumptions and unpacking how you were wrong are not only relatable to others but create an understanding that learning is a process and trying to skip to the part where you know everything will prove unsuccessful. Taking the time to be honest will help grow the knowledge needed to make connections throughout the rest of the course. This was not only difficult for me as I have trouble being wrong, but once I accepted the fact that it’s part of a greater process of understanding I found that I was getting a lot more out of the course than I ever thought I would. Curiosity was my main source of questioning throughout my reading and acted as a basis for my various blog posts. Genuine curiosity was easily evoked throughout this course and helped formulate ideas that I didn’t think I was capable of forming. Rigor was found when writing the whopping ten blog posts throughout the semester which was a lot more writing then I am used to completing in my major of biology. The class setup pushed me to grow with the course and accept that my first few blog posts were not going to be my absolute best but, watching my growth has been inspiring and rewarding. It was awesome being a part of a classroom community that encouraged failure at first to reach a goal of improvement before the semester ends. Rereading my previous blog posts, I’ve realized that my noticing is most effectively applied when carried outside the classroom and the lessons I’ve learned here become a piece of a new and improved me as I navigate the world in the future. 

Although I’ve learned to notice things beyond the literature and examine the applicable ideas, the readings were the glue that held everything together and provided evidence for my claims. Percival Everett’s Zulus helped me identify myself with the main character Alice Achitophel. It was a relief to see myself in her because I was constantly searching for an identity throughout the semester as the literature slowly took what I thought I knew from me with each book. As the reading began, I had more questions than answers. Everett wrote various scenes that were abstract and hard to picture, “Her liver and spleen had expanded to twice their normal sizes, engorged with blood and yellowish with infection, pulsing in rhythm with her heart.” No human person could realistically expand to become the size of a room and break open so this made imagery challenging for me. Although this book would have been one I’d give up on in the past I cycled back to the themes I saw her display and made connections in myself. At multiple points throughout the book, Everett portrays Alice as feeling trapped, “The hollow-eyed faces in the bleachers watched the canisters, studied them with a kind of reverence and measured indifference. Alice Achitophel walked down to the level of the tanks and viewed them from about fifty feet, feeling at a distance closer to power, though she understood nothing about the containers, nothing about the stares cast upon them…She rested there, breathed slowly and found an easy rhythm, looking up and finding comfort in seeing the sky.” She felt trapped in her body and once she had broken free from that, she was yet again trapped on the court for her impending suicide. I connected with her on many levels as I’ve had to escape my many “trappings” and assumptions to push myself beyond my original thoughts. An assumption that I carried with me throughout the reading was that this book was meaningless and abstract and too complex for me to understand. This is where my assumptions became burdens on my ability to make connections with the text, but during the discussion of the end of the book I connected in a big way. Some made the connection that Alice Achitophel was “stuck in the book” viewing the people reading her story which was supported by Everett’s words, “The angular woman gave warm laughter and told Alice Achitophel to realx and let things happen as they would…” Looking back on this quote I noticed that my mind had corrected the misspelled word relax and it wasn’t until I reread it that I noticed the incorrect spelling. This got me thinking about how if Alice were writing the book herself, words would be misspelled as she is human and not perfect. I again broke through my assumptions that there was this overarching obvious theme or “Aha!” moment and interpreted her story from my perspective. I realized that each reader that delves into Everett’s Zulus will gain something new from it depending on their individual thoughts and experiences that connects them to the book in one way or another. I began to make connections that if Alice wrote this book chapters A-Z, she must want the reader to start again, as the infamous alphabet tune states, and use their new perspectives to gain something once again from each reread. I had to read over many different parts of the book a couple of times to try and grasp what was happening, and I confused my multiple connections with confusion when in fact it was just me creating different interpretations. Everett has taught me to trust my abilities of interpreting and admit when I’m lacking confidence so I can improve my growth mindset. 

On the other hand, Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid has validated my carrying of assumptions with more concrete tangible evidence. Her evidence has not only opened my eyes to the truth about the medical profession but has made me a more understanding biology major as I progress into the medical field as well. Washington’s subtitle, “Finding the Truth in Plain Sight” describes exactly how I felt while reading her work. All the information in her book is out for the public to read yet I had gone my life without knowing medicine’s racial past. In previous blog posts I discuss the Tuskegee Syphilis experiment where treatment was withheld from dying participants in search for good data as well as the dark and twisted history of P.T. Barnum, who until reading this book seemed to be a fun creative circus inventor. I wasn’t just wrong, but I was confused and embarrassed when others had known that he, in the words of Washington, had exploited “black bodies” for his own gain. I had walked into this class feeling confident and believing that I had a leg up with my interest in medicine and biology background. Again, my assumptions had been completely wrong. I had to accept that maybe I wasn’t one of the most knowledgeable people in the room and that literature and novels can maybe teach me more about myself and medicine then the textbooks I had trusted for so long. I had neglected to pick up books such as Washington’s Medical Apartheid until now because I couldn’t break this assumption and once again prevented myself from gaining more knowledge without even realizing it. I had to break away from facts that I made the basis for all my assumptions and dig deeper and be more open to being wrong and push myself. Washington ironically used more facts to help me achieve this and I used her book as a reference while reading the fiction-based works from the course. The only thing Washington mentions that is more shocking than Medicine’s dark past, is it’s dark present, she states, “Old measures of health not only have failed to improve significantly but have stayed the same: some have even worsened. Mainstream newspapers and magazines often report disease in an ethnocentric manner that shrouds the true cost among African Americans.” If it weren’t for Washington exposing this information, clearly it would have never been relayed to me in the media either. She continues with, “Three times as many African Americans were diagnosed with diabetes in 1993 as in 1963. This rate is nearly twice that of white Americans and is sorely underestimated. The real black diabetes rate is probably double that of whites. As with most chronic diseases, African Americans suffer more complications, including limb loss, blindness, kidney disease, and terminal heart disease. Cancer, the nation’s second greatest killer, is diagnosed later in blacks and carries off proportionately more African Americans than whites. African Americans suffer the nation’s highest rate of cancer and cancer deaths.” It’s sad that this is a statistic I will have to tackle entering the medical field in the twenty first century. Like many I had to break my previous assumption that everyone receives equal care, because those that don’t are too afraid to ask for it. This deep mistrust is rooted in so much evidence which Washington has compiled, and I’ve learned that it will become my duty to attempt to repair this. 

            I’m not only extremely grateful for English 101, but I am grateful for the person it has made me today. I started off arrogant and confident in my fast-approaching medical career and have truly been humbled. I am so excited to move forward in my studies having all this knowledge and continuing to work on being a more open minded and understanding person. I’m confident that this class has provided me with tools for my career that I would have never gained elsewhere. I will always keep in mind that even if I think I know it all, there will always be so much more I still haven’t learned. Thank you, Professor Beth McCoy for helping to open my eyes and my mind to the importance of this literature and teaching me that it’s okay to ask for help. I will always remember all that Washington’s Medical Apartheid has taught me and will keep it forever by my side throughout the rest of my studies.  

From Confusion to Appreciation: Growth from Beginning to End of the Semester

To wrap up my posts for the semester and expand my thoughts beyond the classroom I will highlight how Colson Whitehead’s Zone One spoke to me in a way I had never experienced before. His at times frustrating text evoked emotions in me that sparked connections to the many victims of racism shown in a video of  the African Burial Ground National Monument.

As I read through Whitehead’s Zone One I found myself feeling frustrated throughout the book and struggling to distinguish flashback moments from reality. For instance Whitehead writes, “He and his friend Kyle had spent a few nights in Atlantic City at one of the new boutique casinos, adrift among the dazzling surfaces. Inside the enclosure, they imagined themselves libertines at the trough, snout-deep and rooting.” It was moments like these where I would flip back through the pages to try and find a starting point and regain my sense of reality in the text. Having to constantly search for these answers and most of the time still remaining confused was extremely frustrating for me. I didn’t possess the complex skills required to grasp his words into understanding. This however, was not the only challenge I faced. The vocabulary at times was not only tough for me but having to stop and look up the words online left me having to pick up where I left off about 5 minutes after stopping and exacerbated my previous problem of distinguishing reality from flashback. Whitehead used words such as “sommelier,” “ennobled,” and “homunculi” which were only a few out of the many that left me feeling clueless. I started putting down the book in frustration and giving up because it was easier than reading one page every ten minutes. 

It wasn’t until I watched a walkthrough video of the African Burial Ground National Monument that I realized how important Whitehead’s Zone One really was as I navigated this class. During the video, the descriptions of the various people who were buried there was listed in a circular pattern on the ground. All that could be included were the ages, genders, and cultural background of the bodies laid to rest. The absence of names and life stories left me feeling frustrated for the families of these people. Not only did racism ultimately force these bodies to reside here, unknown to their loved ones, but now it was impossible to identify their lineage. How frustrated those family members must feel that they can’t trace back their family line because someone decided their life wasn’t worth remembering. I quickly realized how selfish I was to feel such frustration over not being able to track the story line in Whitehead’s Zone One when I had the opportunity to trace back my entire bloodline.  

I had taken for granted something that contributed so much to my identity growing up. In my family we have access to a whole bookshelf full of photos and memories and stories tracing back my family bloodline almost 400 years. Reading these books as a kid were some of my fondest memories that I share with my grandparents who used them to teach me our values and the hard work that went into immigrating from Italy to the United States. I can’t imagine not having access to this type of information and how devastating to have a loved one potentially buried at this site without even being aware of it. I realized that racism can never truly diminish and the damage that has been done will leave lasting effects for generations. These names can never be uncovered, and their families must carry on without their memory or being able to contribute their respective burial practices. 

Whitehead has not only made me appreciate all that I have, but has helped me empathize with those who can never have access to this luxury I grew up learning from. I hope to teach my children the importance and value of our family tree and how many don’t have this abundance of access to it as we do.  This class has taught me more about myself sometimes, than the actual history of racism and medicine and I am eternally grateful for the person I am walking away from it as. 

Inform Yourself or Be Left Responsible

Denial or ignorance? That’s the question. Whether people leave out information when teaching purposefully because they don’t want to accept it, or if it’s because they never learned it themselves. There has been a huge gap in all my biology classes that I have neglected to realize until Washington’s Medical Apartheid began to fill it. A gap full of neglect, suffering, and oppression that has left people without their lives so the rest of us could have the knowledge gained from their mistreatment. 

Washington highlights the gruesome past of medicine and how the basis of human anatomy that is taught in classrooms today was first explored. Washington states, “Treatment was administered to blacks on the charity wards, but care was always secondary to practice, because the main purpose of the clinic was instruction, training, and experimentation for the physicians and students. Treatment took place without consent, often via unpleasant draconian measures.” Most of the information in my textbooks, I quickly realized, was based off cruel practices like this and I had no idea. Had my teachers purposefully left it out to be able to finish all the other material necessary for the course or had their professors never taught them about this history as well. Either way somewhere along the timeline people made the decisions to keep this out of the curriculum leaving biology majors like myself in absolute awe upon its discovery and with a new responsibility to make it right. Washington goes on to say, “the surgeon told his students flatly that the decision to amputate should be weighed differently according to the person’s race and class… although such an extreme remedy is a horrid deformity that should be the last resort for a white man, amputating the limb of a slave was a matter of comparatively little importance.” This was for me, the scariest history Washington brought to light because it can still be easily done today based upon how the doctor views his patient and decides what types of procedures they deserve. This statement made real for me what many people may be feeling before going to the doctor, and the genuine fear of them being a victim of this dehumanization.   

Upon entering my English 101 class we went through the extensively long syllabus that quite frankly struggled to keep my attention. It was not until my professor Beth McCoy had stressed the importance of complete informed consent that I began to appreciate the length of the syllabus. This moment had always remained in the back of my head as she gave us the option to remove ourselves from the class if we so please. Although I always knew this was an option in my other classes as well, my other professors had never encouraged it before. I felt free in my decision to remain in the class and accept the responsibilities that came along with it. As the semester moved along and Washington’s words revealed the long, dark, and twisted path that trailed behind in the history of the medical profession I began to question my identity. Is this something I would be promoting as a dentist? Am I contributing to the problem by entering this field and participating in the biology major? I was scared and wondered why I was never given a long extensive consent form for this major before I agreed to do it. I wasn’t given complete consent as Beth McCoy had provided to our class and it was too late. I had agreed to something I didn’t bother to look into and now I have to pay for it (literally). 

This happens more often than we realize. Some common examples for me consist of quickly filling out forms at the doctors, signing up for gym memberships, or signing a lease for an off-campus property at college. All things I have done without reading them over because I trusted that if others were doing it, I’d be safe as well. I without knowing it, now have a responsibility to spread the knowledge that this class and Washington’s Medical Apartheid has provided me in order to inform others of the field they are entering and give them the same understanding I now have of patient’s unwillingness to be treated. The medical community has a huge responsibility to provide trust back with its patients who fear being mistreated, and for good reason. When the lives and humanity of some groups have been consistently valued more than others, those undervalued groups are not going to put their lives in the hands of others unless absolutely necessary. This is a huge boundary to overcome to provide access to healthcare to all patients and should be a topic of discussion upon entering any type of medical profession. Without this knowledge the problem will never be repaired, and people will neglect medicine when they need it most out of fear.

Consent is the foundation of ethicality but at what point is it our responsibility to go out and inform ourselves versus someone handing us a lengthy consent form before everything we do? If you don’t take the time to completely inform yourself whether it’s through research or reading a pre-made consent form, you must be ready to accept the types of responsibilities you will be left with as a result. So, doctors, now that we’ve all given consent, where do we start?  

When You Think You’ve Noticed It All: Transparency To Better Your Understanding

Being present in the moment is becoming increasing harder these days with the rise of technology drawing us away from reality and into our phones. It provides an easy and entertaining excuse to ignore what’s happening around us. I’m nowhere near innocent of this and it truly hit me during my English 101 class. We were discussing the location an African burial site that was uncovered and transformed into a beautiful memorial in New York City. The google maps of the location was pulled up on every laptop during class time and that’s when I noticed. I had passed by the location numerous times on my trips to New York City and neglected to appreciate its beauty. I decided not to speak up about this realization in class because quite frankly I was embarrassed. The discussion revolved around the horrific neglect and disrespect that the bodies endured and although I agreed with the many claims that they deserved better, I neglected to do so myself. I once again was a hypocrite without even realizing it, and it immediately got me thinking about the course epigraph quote from Dionne Brand that Professor Beth McCoy’s notes highlight, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” So as every good hypocrite does I will try to explain myself in an attempt to feel less guilty about my actions.

Just as I myself had done, this burial site was ignored for far too long and its history is discussed in Alondra Nelson’s, The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation After the Genome. “In 1991, archeologists uncovered several graves on a plot in lower Manhattan.” This discovery is extremely recent only being 28 years ago considering some bodies dated back to the 1600’s Nelson highlights. What is most shocking about the supposed discovery of the bodies is that the government already knew they were there as Nelson details, “While both government officials and the New Jersey-based archeological salvage company Historic Conservation and Interpretation the company conducting the land survey were aware of the presence of the graveyard, the uncovering of hundreds of intact burials at the site was nevertheless surprising because archeologists hypothesized that most remains would have been destroyed long ago.” This initially gave me peace because something as large as the government didn’t even take the time to notice the burial ground. This peace quickly turned to unsettlement that after all these years they had done nothing about the grave site. I began to question whether there were more sites like this one. Maybe ones that have also not received my attention. What else have I neglected to notice? 

What I’ve learned throughout this semester is a lack of notice is a lack of willingness to appreciate and understand. Both of which are really important in connecting with others, which happens frequently throughout class time in my English 101 class, as well as with the text which can reveal some really important lessons when considered thoughtfully. While watching a video in class of the African Burial Ground National Monument, I was able to give the site my full attention and saw many things that got me thinkING. The caskets were slightly risen above the ground causing a large bump to stick out covered in grass which I had never seen before. I found this particularly interesting because it sent chills up my spine when I saw it. Whether intentionally done or not, physically seeing them poking out of the ground helped me to immediately connect that a person was buried there as opposed to seeing a gravestone, which I’m used to seeing in my burial practices, and to which I’ve become desensitized to as a coping mechanism. After the bodies were ignored for so long, being risen above the ground made sure they wouldn’t be overlooked. The indoor museum piece of the monument spoke to me as well. This gave a sense of voice to the dead who no longer had one but wanted to share their story. It highlighted the oppression faced by the people buried at the site and helped tell a story silenced and covered up so long ago. 

Noticing this monument the second time around is representative of my experience in English 101 giving me a second chance to really notice medicine in its entirety. It taught me that it’s okay to have made mistakes while noticing in the past as long as they can be admitted to and change is initiated. So I encourage all to take a second look. Notice anything new?

A New Responsibility: The Dental Community Spreading Care to ALL

There has been a long running stigma around dentistry that has prevented those in need from having access to care. I’m aware that this is a heavily discussed topic in the dental community as I am finishing up my undergrad and preparing to enter it. 

The experiences I had working in an oral surgeon’s office as a surgical assistant were the most amazing I have ever had, yet also put many things into perspective for me. Growing up in Massapequa is similar to, well, living in a bubble. Except no one in this bubble has any financial problems or social struggles for the most part. The school parking lot consisted of the finest jeeps, range rovers, and audi’s. Massapequa had many luxuries that I took for granted everyday, but the oral surgeon’s office takes patients from all over Long Island. I learned that everyone has pain whether they can afford it or not. During my time working in the office, there were many patients walking in hoping for a discount and pleading for someone to relieve their pain. In one instance the surgeon walked into the exam room to prepare for an extraction by locally numbing the area so the patient wouldn’t feel a thing. It’s worth noting that the surgeons did not charge for this part of the procedure. Then after a few minutes when the doctor walked out, the patient stood up, grabbed the forceps, and pulled out his own tooth to avoid the $700 bill I had prepared for him in his chart. People are having trouble getting the care they need and have to resort to these types of solutions to help themselves. If that isn’t proof enough that dentistry is necessary and not just cosmetic I don’t know what else is. Unfortunately these situations are all too common.

 Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan’s article titled “The Painful Truth About Teeth” is just as it sounds. Teeth can be painful yet many struggle to get treatment. The article discusses the experience of a patient named Dee Matello. She waited at a pro bono clinic in an underserved area for 10 hours before being told she needed to leave and come back the next day, “You have to be kidding!” yelled a frustrated woman behind Matello. “I have to do this all over again? Matello’s eyes filled with tears. She had been waiting 10 hours. A volunteer gave her a wristband that would put her at the head of the line the next day. So she drove home in her 18-year-old Jeep, ate dinner chewing only on the right side yet again, and set her alarm.” Not being able to see a dentist when needed is not only physically painful but emotionally taxing as well. This is sadly another example of the government prioritizing other forms of medicine over dentistry leaving people without insurance to fend for themselves. The reality is that this is not a purely cosmetic profession and watching this for myself for three months made their struggles real for me. Disconnecting the stigma associated with dentistry is imperative to the people who need it most.  

This lack of access is similar to that seen in Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid where participants in a study weren’t given the treatment they needed to stay alive because the researchers valued their data collection more than their lives. Washington investigated, “In 1932, the U.S. Public Health Service inaugurated its Study of the Syphilis in the Untreated Negro Male(“tuskegee Syphilis Study”), which promised free medical care to about six hundred sick, desperately poor sharecroppers in Mason County, Alabama.” What Jordan and Sullivan’s article lacks is this side of pro-bono work. Washington continues to explain that the study was designed to observe the disease in Black men as they believed that it progressed differently for them. To accomplish this the scientists, “decided to document this by finding a pool of infected Black men, withholding treatment from them, and then charting the progression of symptoms and disorders.” There is a whole other obstacle that Medical Apartheid has helped me to realize that is not being recognized by the dental community as a problem worth addressing. How can people even trust these kind acts of free dental care and how can the medical profession prove themselves as allies after such a dark history? This was something that the office could never teach me. Mostly due to the fact that the people who know of this history and are of it repeating are clearly not going to walk into an office. This is the extremely important side of lack of access that involves years of oppression and having to build a trust with patients that are rightly scared of the doctor. 

This knowledge, in my opinion should be shared throughout the dental community in an effort to not only confront the government about their part in providing more opportunity to care, but also the dental community’s part in being knowledgeable about the history of the medical profession. If this responsibility of making patients feel safe is not acted upon this leaves a hurdle that government reforms won’t be able to fix.

EveryBODY Has a Story

Unfortunately, throughout history the mistreatment of human bodies after they have died appears many times. This mistreatment of course depends on how the person discarding the body views its life even if they weren’t apart of it. This theme runs rampant in Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. The main character Mark Spitz, and the rest of the group almost seem to discard bodies as if it were an instinct. Outside of fiction, finding discarded bodies is a reality in our society today which is unpacked in Nina Golgowski’s article titled “Up to 7,000 Bodies Found Buried Beneath University of Mississippi Medical Center.”

Throughout Whitehead’s Zone one the killing of infected people and the disposal of their bodies is constant. I found myself detaching the humanity from the victims with the disease in an attempt to get through the book and avoid the emotions associated with all of the death. This is exactly what the characters in the book are experiencing as well so they can get through Zone One and finish their assigned task. Whitehead trapped me in the exact thing I resented the characters for, and I had to self-reflect on the innate human mechanisms that I share as well. “Gary gripped the fortune-teller’s hand again. Don’t you want to know when you meet Mr. Right?” Gary is pretending to be the fortune-teller and not only mocks her previous profession, but touches her body without valid reason or consent, just for the simple fact that he can because she’s dead. He puts on a show for everyone in the room but then, “He lifted his fingers from the fortune-teller’s hand and in the instant he broke contact she grabbed his hand and chomped deep into the meat between the index finger and the thumb.”  After infection the person dies but is then brought back to life in a zombie -like state. I think Whitehead was cleverly trying to show that if dead people could come back to life, like in the book, and their bodies were being mistreated, they would do something about it as this fortune-teller did when she bit Gary. Whitehead challenges the assumption that once someone is dead that their body can be used without consent or care. 

Nina Golgowski highlights the more present reality that’s being uncovered at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. Unlike the comfort provided in being able to detach from Zone One as it’s a fictional novel, what Golgowski writes about is as real as it gets. The medical center used to be the site of the Mississippi State Lunatic Asylum that left behind a mass grave site of its patients. Many loved ones of the patients still wonder why they were never informed when the patients died, “Those people buried in the asylum’s cemetery likely had relatives who couldn’t come and claim them or weren’t notified of their deaths in time, she said. People consistently want to know; can you find my ancestors in the records? she said. Overall, it’s just tremendous sadness and curiosity.” The facility clearly believed that its patients weren’t worth the effort of tracking down loved ones after their passing. Just as Mark Spitz from Whitehead’s Zone One believed that the sick people were no longer human, so did the Asylum. Creating a mass grave site was easier than dealing with families and asking for consent. An especially touching case was highlighted by Golgowski, “Clark discovered that one patient was her great-great-great grandfather, Isham Earnest, who fought in the War of 1812, a conflict between the U.S. and the United Kingdom. Earnest is believed to have died at the facility some time between 1857 and 1859. It followed Earnest being ruled insane.” One can assume that Earnest probably had post-traumatic stress disorder from his time spent fighting in the war yet although he risked his life for his country, he was labeled insane and was discarded with the thousands of other patients. How could a brave man who deserved peace and care be discarded so senselessly? It’s a human responsibility to treat others as if they were your own family member because if it were you would want them to be treated with respect. A fundamental lesson many learn in kindergarten yet seem to struggle with in adulthood?  

Imperfect Assumptions

Assumptions are a part of everyday life. They transform and mold our decisions, interactions, and views of people and the world. In Butler’s Clay’s Ark, these judgements are made in what seems to be every aspect of the book. To start superficially, Blake, Rane, and Kerry were chosen as spreadable subjects for the sometimes-lethal disease. Why? Well the society of infected people made assumptions about Blake being a doctor with wealth and “knowledge” and decided that he would be a better carrier than someone from what Butler calls the “sewers.” An assumption that he would be a perfect subject to spread the disease because he could handle it better. How can one assume that because he went to school longer to be a doctor and was white that he would be a better carrier? Butler pushes not only the reader’s assumptions but the characters’ assumptions from the book as well. A stereotype that even caught me on the first read even though it’s proven that the virus shows no prejudice in it’s victims.

At the beginning of Clay’s Ark Rane and Kerry were almost immediately identified in their race, half black, and in conjunction readers assumed Blake wasn’t a racist man. I mean he couldn’t be right? How could a father of two black children possibly be racist? As easy as that assumption was, we must not exclude to notice that the disease carriers were racist in their choosing of the girls, waiting to test out different people to see who fared better after infection. Using their race as an excuse to further their knowledge of the disease was prevalent from the first chapter. This also appears in Washington’s Medical Apartheid, where black people, usually slaves, at the time of slavery were being used and abused to extract medical knowledge. Washington also notes that doctors even displayed their bodies being surgically operated on in front of an audience of people. Once black lives being unwillingly chosen to benefit the “greater” knowledge of others. 

In Butler’s Clay’s Ark, it seems Blake is just starting to get a taste of what black people might be facing in society’s judgmental eye when he is chosen by the infected people in connection with his daughters. He may have thought he knew what they were facing beforehand but when he is captured, Blake is most certainly learning what it feels like to be judged on his superficial appearance and he is clearly resentful of the infected people for it. The girls are asked about their race multiples times in the book as if they couldn’t possibly be Blake’s daughters. Butler states, “What kind of cradles have you been robbing, Doc?” The demeaning tone of this quote is undeniably racist and so is the infected man Eli. The subtle detail of Eli calling him Doc attempts to place him on a social pedestal above his daughters as if they couldn’t possibly have a father that’s a doctor. 

            I think the irony in this racism and particular choosing of people to infect is that those infected with the organism came together to combat the assumptions that others might make about them. Especially how others might view their children where Butler states, “What in hell was going to happen to a kid who ran around on all fours? A freak who could not hide his strangeness.” This is a hypocritical way of thinking since they attempt to convince others to give the infected people a chance and get defensive when questioned about their physical appearance, yet Eli clearly struggles accepting his own son Jacob. The infected people also contradict themselves by picking Blake to be infected because they believed he would be the best carrier possible based on socially constructed opinions of more education equaling a better life and overall better person. A strange judgement for people who want to delve past the physical appearance and be accepted for the people they are. Not only does Butler do her job to push the reader’s character building passed the superficial, but the reader must also do their job in identifying the assumptions they made and realize they may be just as imperfect as the characters in the book.

Who is allowed to consent?

Consent is a heavily discussed topic in today’s society. There are stories almost everyday in the news concerning topics involved with consent from medical surgery mishaps, to rape. The definition of consent, to put it briefly, is the agreement or confirmation to do or have something done. It can be withdrawn at anytime and is a requirement not only for legal purposes, but also to accomplish day to day life activities. Consent is not always verbal, as most people probably picture it to be, but can come from friends and family closest to the person if they are not able to provide it themselves. Who decides who is capable of providing such permission? 

In Medical Apartheid by Harriet Washington, she discusses what she titled chapter four, “The Surgical Theater.” Washington discusses the life of Sam and how he was a slave that suffered from severe jaw pain that was beginning to affect his ability to work. Many slaves during this time were immediately struck with fear when experiencing health related issues and for good reason! Sterile technique during this time was minuscule and surgery predated modern anesthesia. In Medical Apartheid, Sam refused surgical treatment for what was determined as cancer in his jaw because he was afraid of the pain. Unfortunately, it wasn’t up to Sam to make these kinds of decisions, and his owner decided to go through with the surgery so that he would be able to work as well as he used to in his prime. Sam should have been able to refuse the surgery without question since he didn’t give his permission to do so. Yet technically, one could say that this was acceptable consent at the time because Sam wasn’t considered “a person” and his owner gave the doctor permission to do so.

This is where the line between the definition that the United States has created for consent and what we individually feel is morally correct begins to blur. Sam by today’s standard, as long as he was over the age of 18, could make his own decisions about medical procedures without the input of anyone else. Where did this standardized age come from if these standards are constantly changing throughout the years? How do we know that 18 is the “golden age” where someone can make their own educated decisions when scientifically speaking, the brain isn’t fully developed until the mid twenties? These standards that are set for giving consent in the United States today are no longer based on freedom but on age. If our government couldn’t label black and white people as equals, as in the previous situation with Sam in Washington’s Medical Apartheid, than how can we put trust in their “opinion” that consent can be made at the age of 18 without any parental input? If a child under 18 years of age wants to refuse cancer radiation treatment but their parents disagree, how do we distinguish who’s right? Consent is also prevalent throughout Fortune’s Bones by Merilyn Nelson.

Nelson’s book delves into the life, more so after life, of a slave named Fortune. Fortune’s body was used for various purposes and started out as an avenue for “advancing” medicine. Nelson states, “The striated and smooth muscles, the beautiful integuments, the genius strokes of thumb and knee. In profound and awful intimacy, I enter Fortune and he enters me.” The skeleton of Fortune was manipulated by his owners when he was alive and continues to be manipulated after his death. Fortune’s consent to this simply doesn’t exist. No one thought to ask and certainly not to contact any of his family for permission. Nelson goes on to describe how Fortune’s narrative was lost and regained throughout the exchange of his bones, much like the policy and definition of consent throughout history. 

In a way Sam from Medical Apartheid, today’s not legally consenting under 18 year olds, and Fortune are being dehumanized. Sam was seen as less than human because he was a slave and was needed to work, today’s minors are seen as an age and not a competent being, and Fortune was seen as bones without thought or feeling.  So who calls the shots on consent?

Zendaya as the Beautiful Face of a Harsh Reality

Most people today would hear the question, “Have you seen the movie The Greatest Showman?” and think of a heartfelt movie of triumph in the face of adversity. The movie even received an eighty-six percent audience rating on rotten tomatoes. The movie introduces its main character as the previous P.T. Barnum and follows his journey of creating the first ever circus. He starts off as a poor man living with his wife and kids when he unfortunately losses his job. Sympathy for his character is immediately built especially with today’s economy grabbing the audience’s sympathy and they are rooting for him and his circus to succeed. He gathers up what he calls in the movie as “a collection of oddities” or his “freak show,” and he exploits them for their uniqueness. Some of the members of his circus included beautiful actresses such as Zendaya and Keala Settle who are taken advantage of by P.T. Barnum in the movie as well as the others.  Barnum’s family moves into an opulent mansion as he starts to make money off of his shows and the members of the circus feel empowered and happy to be apart of it. Barnum’s greed overpowers his moral code and he begins to mistreat the “freaks” that gave him the power and fame in the first place and they band together against him. P.T. Barnum eventually makes his reparations with the crew and everyone lives happily ever after, right? Wrong.

 The truth of P.T. Barnum is much deeper and darker than this movie ever attempts to expose. In Medical Apartheid, Harriet Washington reveals the horrific details of the first “circus.” Zendaya, in today’s society, is a fashion and beauty icon. Not only is she a beautiful model but is highly respected in her discipline of acting as well. She represents the opposite of P.T. Barnum’s motives that are seen in history. One of the atrocities that Washington details in her book is about a slave named Joice Heth. Barnum purchases her from her previous owner R.W. Lindsay and decides to display her and make money off the ticket purchases. Washington lists the reasons he chose her, “Her eyes were gone, the legacy of some unknown ailment, she was toothless, and her uncut horny nails curved like talons.” To compare the icon that is Zendaya who not only a model in looks but whose character in the movie is not a slave with the reality of Joice Heth is disrespectful to the oppression she faced under Barnum’s ownership. Not only were none of the characters in the movies slaves, but Zendaya was the only Black actor that held a main role in the circus. As Washington mentions in the book, the Barnum that we see in history exploited slaves who had disabilities as a result from injuries they received from previous owners and most of her ailments were a results of others brutalities that he paraded around. From the description above of Joice, not many would picture Zendaya to fill such an important and powerful role. The Greatest Showman gives a fictional narrative to the sad story of Joice Heth’s abuse and oppression. In Medical Apartheid, Washington mentions that even after Joice passed away, Barnum once again stripped her humanity in a large viewing of her autopsy in an attempt to prove outrageous claims he made about her age and false medical diagnoses. It’s a shame that the public remains largely uninformed about the true history of P.T Barnum and his exploitative actions. How can one truly know about the sad truth when authentic histories in the media and cinema are directing society to avoid the harsh reality. Barnum, as stated by Washington, focused on the exploitation of black bodies and fueled the racist atmosphere of the time. It’s important for Hollywood and the actors taking part in these movies to think of the real people that these narratives affected. Joice was never given a voice throughout her struggles and Zendaya’s voice lacked the overwhelming strength and courage that Joice and many other victims deserved. Instead of remembering Zendaya’s beautiful face when thinking of P.T. Barnum, remember Heth’s beautiful courage in the face of so much abuse.

Heng and I Notice, Will You?

The definition of notice is “ the fact of observing or paying attention to something.”While reading “The Invention of Race in the European Middle Ages: Inventions/Reinventions” by Geraldine Heng, I’ve used this ability to absorb all she has to offer in this powerful text. While reading this work, one can immediately grasp the many historical instances of race profiling from the 1200’s. Jews and muslims were to be set apart apart from Christians by dress, or Jews were to wear badges to be able to be identified amongst a crowd of people. Her definition of race pertains to the lasting impacts our “pre modern” acts of racism have left on today’s society without ignoring the events of the past. The events that occurred in a time where no definition of race was present doesn’t exclude them from pertaining to the definition that we have today. They were “legal” acts of violence and could be considered a form of terrorism by more modern standards. Heng talks about how race merges with a kind of hierarchy system that includes class, gender, and sexuality. It is no longer epidermal, it morphed into a bigger monster that is even harder to unravel and beat down.

Race has become a type of, as Heng puts it, “empty vacuum” that can change figure in every instance engulfing other ways of categorizing people and raising the white privilege pedestal influenced by all ranges of past pressures and occasions in history. There is no singular point in time where the origin of race emerged and that contributes to it’s successful succession through time. One instance in recent history, the 9/11 attacks of the twin towers of New York City, Muslims were further alienated as an inferior “race” following this day. This shows the development of an ethnoracial categorization, one made out of ignorance and fear. This category can be compared to others present in today’s society such as “Middle Easterners” and “Arabs.” These labels simply group very different people into one large group that continues to culturalize race and its definition. Muslims reside in a range of, in Heng’s terms, “ethno-races” and national origins that after the 9/11 attacks, have been put together into one people. In the 1200’s “pre modern” times, Muslims were ostracized and grouped with the Jews. This formed the foundation of where we validated them being a homogeneous group once more after the attacks. Heng argues that people must recognize the medieval past and that it will always exist as a basis for modern acts of racism, even though the vocabulary didn’t exist.

A quote from Dionne Brand, written down in Professor Beth McCoy’s notes reads, “My job is to notice… and to notice that you can notice.” Although many would think in the previous analysis that a lot was noticed during this close read, most would neglect to notice what Heng has noticed as well. The key to gaining the most from any interaction you have with a text, is you must notice each other. Although the ability to meet Geraldine Heng as a student reader of her work is slim to none, one must notice her notice on a deeper level. What stood out was this quote, “Current masks of race are now overwhelmingly cultural.” The obvious meaning of this is where race and culture mesh and force otherwise unlikely people into a single inferior group. While coming back to this quote in my notes I “noticed” the word mask in a different light than previously before. After gaining all of Heng’s knowledge by the end of this paper the word mask spoke volumes. It embodied everything in the paper in one single word. This interwoven beast called race that we as people have created is all based on each other’s “masks.” Superficial characteristics have shaped the entire dynamic of race as we know it today. All people are born the same with the same innocence, ready to start life, and then you are given your “mask.” One that decides how you will be treated and viewed before you’ve had the chance to create your own. Black is damned, white is saved. Black as cowards and white as brave, the hero. Until we learn to delve beneath the mask made of skin color, culture, sexuality, and experience and realize underneath we are all the same, history will continue to repeat itself.