Tag Archives: Tuskegee experiments

Black History Myths for Black History Month

Black people demonstrating against Jim Crow laws

Debbie says:

So much of the Black History Month flood of information is about specific people — heroes in various arenas — and as much as they deserve acclaim, this coverage can also focus attention on individual achievement and away from the pattern of racist ideas.

Jessica Machado and Karen Turner, writing at Vox, invited six Black scholars and historians to select and debunk myths about Black history, invoking Nikole Hanna-Jones’ groundbreaking 1619 Project and the necessity of hearing stories of Black Americans as told by Black people. The results are — at least to me — surprising.

Here are all six:

  • Shennette Garrett-Scott focuses on the myth that no slaves had money.
  • LaGarrett King corrects the misconception of “Black Patriots” during the American Revolutionary War (and in doing so, works with one of the more controversial positions of the 1619 Project–how much slavery affected and directed the course of that war).
  • Sowande Mustakeem reminds us that the subjects of the shameful Tuskegee experiments were not actually infected with syphilis by the white scientists.  Of course, Mustakeem does this without prettifying the horror of those experiments. “Both [the infected men and the control group] were withheld from treatment of any kind for the 40 years they were observed. The men were subjected to humiliating and often painfully invasive tests and experiments including spinal taps.”
  • Douglas J. Flowe wants us to understand that Black Americans did fight back against early Jim Crow America
  • Jason Allen reminds us that crack cocaine in the ghetto was by no means the largest drug crisis of the 1980s, regardless of how it is often described.
  • Dale Allender calls out the fact that not all Black Americans were slaves before emancipation, linking back to Dr. Garrett-Scott’s first myth.

I like the way these span over 200 years of American history and vary from being about small groups of people to widespread social phenomena. With the awareness that I’m adding a White voice to an intentionally Black article, here are a couple of additional thoughts:

Dr. Allender’s concern that many people think all Blacks were enslaved until Abraham Lincoln freed (only) the slaves in the seceded states says a lot about how simplistic our concept of slavery is. He says “In reality, free Black and Black-white biracial communities existed in states such as Louisiana, Maryland, Virginia, and Ohio well before abolition. ” He doesn’t mention the phrase “free people of color”: especially in Louisiana (and some of the West Indies), thriving societies lived under this name. New Orleans even has a museum devoted to them.

Like Dr. Allender, Dr. Flowe is pushing against simplistic notions of history.

For New Negroes, the comparatively tame efforts of groups like the NAACP were not urgent enough. Most notably, they defended themselves fiercely nationwide during the bloodshed of the Red Summer of 1919 when whites attacked African Americans in multiple cities across the country. Whites may have initiated most race riots in the early Jim Crow era, but some also happened as Black people rejected the limitations placed on their life, leisure, and labor, and when they refused to fold under the weight of white supremacy. The magnitude of racial and state violence often came down upon Black people who defended themselves from police and citizens, but that did not stop some from sparking personal and collective insurrections.

My only complaint about the Vox article is that each segment is too short. I wish each of these historians had the space to write a full article about the myth they chose to explode, and I would also love to see what six — or 60 — more Black thinkers selected as other myths to undercut.



Links, Links, Links

Debbie says:

I wanted to post last night, but I had a cascade of computer and life issues, so you had to wait for today.

Laurie and I have seen a bunch of things floating around the blogosphere that we wanted to share. Read to the bottom; I’m saving a treat for last, but I’ll start with the infuriating:

I personally haven’t seen many claims that America under President Obama is “post-racial,” but I know people who have, and I sure understand how that kind of asininity can make a person hot under the collar. Here’s just one horrible example, as eviscerated by Sandy Szwarc at Junk Food Science.

A new experimental program at a nonconventional “lifestyle medicine” center is targeting pregnant women who are Black and Hispanic minority, poor and fat. These women are being enrolled into a free health program which tells them it will benefit them and their unborn babies and make their babies healthier.

No mention is made in the patient literature that, by the soundest clinical evidence to date, compared to the standard of care, the program’s alternative interventions have been shown to lead to poorer chances of survival for babies, higher rates of spontaneous preterm births, and to put babies at greater risk for serious physical and neurological health problems and learning disabilities. There is no indication that these underprivileged minority women are giving their informed consent or are aware they are participants in human experiments that could endanger their unborn babies.

Dr. Alan Peaceman, M.D., co-director of the program, told the media that “obesity in pregnancy may be contributing to the epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes that we are seeing today.” An appropriate weight gain for some women who are overweight is no weight gain at all, he said.

In 1989, I was pregnant (and fat). With no weight gain, I can’t even imagine how I could have gotten through the pregnancy. This would be nonsense if it wasn’t costing babies health, and lives. Read the rest if you can stand it. Am I the only person who thinks “Tuskegee” when I read this shit?

Not only are we continuing to exploit poor black people in the name of “science,” apparently someone in Massachusetts has decided that the age of consent ends at 60 (and never starts if you’re disabled). (If I stay able-bodied, I could be three years away from losing my rights. Or it could happen tomorrow.)

The law (in Massachusetts) would make it a very serious crime — tantamount to child pornography — to make, and distribute “with lascivious intent,” “any visual material that contains a representation or reproduction of any posture or exhibition in a state of nudity” involving anyone age 60 or over, or anyone who has “a permanent or long-term physical or mental impairment that prevents or restricts the individual’s ability to provide for his or her own care or protection.”

The law is not limited to people who are mentally handicapped and thus unable to consent, or who are photographed against their will by their caretakers (the justification discussed in this story). The operative provisions cover people over 60 and the disabled whether or not they are incompetent.

Likewise, the law is not limited to hard-core pornography that would constitute unprotected “obscenity.” It would apply to any pictures of nudes, so long as the defendant is acting with lascivious intent.” Hard to see how this would be constitutional, or why it would make much sense.

In other words, if you are (like the co-owner of this blog) a photographer who takes nude photographs of older and disabled people, you’re in danger of being in jail or worse. Laurie’s photographs are not taken with lascivious intent, but … prove it. What’s more, if you happen to be interested in photographs like that, you’re participating in criminality and, worst of all, if you’re a member of a targeted group and you want to pose naked, or reclaim your body: how would you know what’s good for you?

Frankly, it makes me want to pass a law forbidding legislators in Massachusetts to pass laws.

We don’t usually blog it when people say nice things about us, but this is such a beautiful post about learning to love your body that I wanted to share:

Something really interesting happens when you clear away an immediate problem: you find things underneath it that you didn’t know were related. I discovered that some of my shame around being big was actually a fear of taking up space and having a voice. This was also related to my mom — being bigger than her actually made me physically intimidating to her in a way, and her body language expressed a quiet and subtle discomfort about it, which I absorbed. This was also something we could talk about eventually, and once it was visible it was a lot easier to heal. When I finally rearranged my self-image to include more confidence and leadership (see also: breaking gender boundaries), my size felt a whole lot more comfortable.

That post also has a link to Stacy Bias’s site, a place where I could instantly fall in love. I’m not sure how I managed to miss Bias for so long. Although the site has not been recently updated, here’s a taste of who she is:

Stacy Bias is an activist, college speaker and entrepreneur located in the Pacific Northwest. Stacy is a queer activist and a fat activist, though lately she prefers the term “Anti-Shame Advocate.”

At the heart of Stacy’s activism is the idea that all beings are worthy of love, from self and others, and that shame is a sinister and lucrative tool employed to ensure a steady stream of faithful and desperate consumers.

Finally, these are possibly the best body image cartoon videos for young teenagers that I could ever imagine!

Sadly, they aren’t YouTube-type videos and I can’t embed them. In fact, they’re from the BBC of all places. Let’s just say that the five for girls are called: Funny Flaps, Hairy Mary, First Blood, Breast Friends, and Zit Happens. The five for “lads” are Willy Wonky, Hard Times, Virgin Record, Rank Frank, and Stubble Trouble. I think I like Funny Flaps best, but I change my mind every time I watch them. Turn your sound on.

Junk Food Science is regular reading material around here; Stef found the piece on Massachusetts law; Sarah sent us a link to her post; and Laurie’s daughter Shayin found the BBC videos.