Be Informed

Our course epigraph ““My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.”–Dionne Brand, from notes that Beth during the question-and-answer session following Brand’s March 2, 2013 reading at the Northeast Modern Language Association in Toronto” (course syllabus), makes me think about all the things that I have never noticed and been blind to. I feel as though it is better to know than to not know, and I feel as though it is your job to be an informed citizen wherever you are. My whole life I have been blind to the fact that our modern medicine has gone through experimentation with the use of slaves without their consent. So many people have never questioned the history of our medicine and therefore have never known the horrors of how it came to be. This makes me truly upset, and one goal I have for this semester in this class is to learn as much as I can about how our modern day medicine has come about so I can be more informed and inform others. In the first few chapters of Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington I have learned so much more than I feel I would have learned about this matter in my whole life. I never knew that gynecological instruments were tried involuntarily on slaves. I also learned that there are many accounts of people of color going missing, and when they pass away their bodies are awarded or sold to medical schools for students to run experiments on. There was a man named Ota Benga, who was taken from his country and awarded to Samuel Phillips Vernon after finding that his family and tribe had been slaughtered. Benga was locked in the monkey habitat at the zoo and put on display for everyone to see. They locked Benga up so that they could show the theory of evolution. After attacking people they released Benga and the African American people of the community raised money so they could send Benga to college. He ended up committing suicide years later. Stories like this would never have been told if it were not for Harriet A. Washington writing this book. We learned in class that iatrophobia is the fear of medicine, and many people of color have this fear because of the horrendous history of how modern medicine came to be. I mean who can blame them? I find myself getting upset reading about all these things that have happened in our history that no one has talked about, none of this is common knowledge. Another goal I have for this class is to become informed, and inform other people. While there is not much we can do about the past now, knowing about all these things can keep from having history repeat itself.

Noticing

Upon reading the course epigraph, I begin to think about in class, noticing each other talking. In every class period, there is tons of conversation about the reading we completed for class. But these conversations are about noticing things from the text, and noticing what others are noticing.

In the book Medical Apartheid, by Harriet Washington, there is so much to notice. We can notice that there are so many horrible things happening to innocent people through out history. Many of these horrible things include using unclaimed bodies for scientific work, being used for medical experiments without consent, being exploited for having medical deformities, that many other humans have, just because your skin is different, and many other things. In class, we can notice these things and learn about them, but the real learning comes when we notice what others are noticing.

When we notice what others are noticing, we can learn their perception on the topic. Not only do we learn what we think about and understand, we learn about what others think. I can use this knowledge to set a goal for myself. This goal being that I want to notice what others see more often. I want to learn not just my own noticing, but what other classmates notice. Having more discussions about the text and really thinking about what others are saying, talking more and including my own thoughts to help others learn as well.

Noticing what others notice is how you learn more things. The course epigraph really gets me thinking about learning new things from my classmates.

Where Our Power Comes From

The gains of society which have made based on abhorrent evils are significant. I find it deeply unsettling, just how much of modern medicine is based on human experimentation and non-consensual research. Entire fields of medical study being based on research which violated the human rights of so many leads to questions about how mankind has benefitted from its capacity for evil. The accounts read on Dr. Sims and his use of enslaved women for practice before utilizing what he learned to cure Caucasian women is a story which to me, encapsulates the disturbing long term moral dilemma of unethical medical research. When research can benefit all women for generations to come and save countless lives, are we right to benefit and prosper off of them so long as we recognize their evil origins? The answer is not so simple.

No doubt we have all benefited from the evil deeds of medical practitioners like Dr. Sims. Whether directly or indirectly, a large part of male and female population alive today can chalk up their high odds of survival to the knowledge gained by Sims. I think ultimately what is important is to not excuse the horrors perpetrated in this way by lauding the men behind the knowledge. While it is important to acknowledge the sources of our knowledge and the individuals who brought about their development, we should always keep fresh in our minds the evils done by those we learn from. We should celebrate the life saving techniques we have today and use them, but vow never again to utilize the sordid methods which lead to their realization. Professor McCoy’s acknowledgment of this was something which caused me to think a great deal about ends justifying means and how this is never a mindset which we should fall into. Fortune’s bones has had me thinking of just how important it is to be intimate and not to look away from the horrors done in the name of progress.

I sincerely hope that when Doctor Porter dissected Fortune and had to look upon the damage done to his body, that he came to terms with what he did, and understood the full extent of the wrongs he had committed. When he wrote “I enter Fortune and he enters me.” I believe that the Doctor did come to understand that he had hurt a person, a father, a son, and a brother, tortured him for a lifetime and done a truly horrible thing. I believe that this kind of intimacy is important, not only for those who committed the horrible crime of slavery, but for us in the modern world for whom slavery can easily and dangerously become a distant memory bound to history books. It is important for Fortune’s Bones and the deep scars they bare to be visible in a museum. Despite being dead, Fortune’s body is a living reminder of what mankind is capable of when we abandon morality for the possibility of knowledge. We should never forget where our foundation has come from. We must always remember the evils done in the past so that we do not repeat them.

The most important thing to remember is that the legacy of harm which left its marks on Fortune’s bones is not limited to them. The legacy of racism and the racial complexities of our time are things we must always work to overcome in our personal lives. We can do this by recognizing where our power has come from and treating others with kindness and empathy.

More Than Just Myself

Because I’m a small picture type of person, I tend to break statements, concepts, or facts down in an effort to better understand them. Thus, when I read the course epigraph, I broke it down into 2 parts: “job is to notice” and “to notice that you can notice.” Interestingly enough, after analyzing each part and trying to make connections to our readings or discussions, I found that the interpretation of the epigraph changes depending on which text you associate with it.

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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.           

Pseudoscience and Medicine: The Spread of False Information via Public Forums

When I first enrolled in a class called Literature, Medicine, and Racism, I fully expected to be shocked by the material and situations we would encounter. I quickly found that I was not wrong in this assumption, and upon reading the introduction of Medical Apartheid, I was already taken aback at the nature of the novel. When reading about scenes of experimental, non consensual surgeries being performed it is very easy to get caught up in graphic imagery of the situation and fail to notice the forces that caused it in the first place. Therefore, it should be noted that the epigraph for this class is: “My job is to notice…and to notice that you can notice.” – Dionne Brand. I began to remind myself of this statement prior to reading passages in order to challenge myself to examine them more closely. Upon doing this, I have been able to note many subtleties in the readings that could easily be overlooked.  I hope to use this newfound insight in the rest of the readings and discussions that we will encounter this semester.

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