Acknowledge the Past

We must acknowledge the past in order to regain trust and to seize the future.

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

HIV Children and Orphans are Defacto Test Subjects

Children with HIV are increasingly finding that their status is that of involuntary research subjects, not victims. In December 2004, for example, the journal Nature Medicine reported that since the early 1990s, HIV-positive orphans have been the subjects of “dozens of national clinical trials run by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center and other [New York City] area hospitals.” Mammoth pharmaceutical corporations such as GlaxoSmithKline, the manufacturer of zidovudine, have sponsored the testing of antiretroviral and other pharmaceuticals on scores of HIV-infected orphans housed in New York City’s Incarnation Children’s Center (ICC). This institution for the HIV-infected is run by Catholic Charities in Washington Heights…

Some of the candidate AIDS medications are being tested to determine their toxicity. Children as young as four were given cocktails of up to seven potent medications, although physicians are normally reluctant to give young children even approved powerful medications. Little if any benefit accrued to the infants from these risky exposures, because although some were HIV-positive, they were too young to have developed AIDS. One study is of “Stavudine…Alone or in Combination with Didanosine,” a combination that has killed adult women. An experimental vaccine administered to children as young as twelve months utilizes “live chicken pox virus,” even though it can trigger the disease itself. A study titled “HIV Levels in Cerebrospinal Fluid” required that infants undergo a spinal tap, a risky, invasive, and painful procedure. There was even a study on HIV-negative children that used an experimental HIV vaccine. By law, such a nontherapeutic study on healthy children can convey only minimal risk, but the vaccine’s risks are unknown.

Also, some of the experiments did not involve HIV therapeutics: One drug trial tested a herpes medication “for tolerance, safety and pharmacokinetic” information; another investigated reactions to a doubled dose of measles vaccine—in six-month-old infants.

For its part, Columbia University released a statement denying that the drugs’ side effects were serious enough to warrant discontinuing treatment. However, this should have been the parents’ call, not the university’s or the ICC’s. But guardians and parents who adopted HIV-infected children have found the ICC, ACS, and researchers arrayed against them when they have tried to take children off medications they found to be harmful.

In explaining her take on this struggle, Dr. Painter has said, “We’re having an increase in referrals over the last years to deal with medication adherence. There are a fair number of children whose HIV illness may be well controlled but whose families are experiencing difficulty complying with the child’s medication regimen.” By “referrals,” Painter means children who are torn from parents and returned to the various agencies when these parents and guardians balk at dispensing the investigational drugs.

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

People Cheaper Than Cats

…the array of electrodes that Bailey and Heath devised and then implanted into the brains of black subjects for as long as three years each. The team used the electrodes to deliver charges to the limbic system of the brain. This group of related brain structures includes the amygdala, the hippocampus, and the septum, which are key to emotions and judgment. By stimulating these areas, Bailey evoked pleasure, pain, joy, anger, sexual arousal, and other powerful emotions in his black subjects at will. The electrodes were designed to facilitate stimulation of the brain’s “pleasure centers” either by a remote operator or by the subject himself, using a transistorized “self-stimulator” unit worn on the patient’s belt. Bailey did some of these experiments on black prisoners in New Orleans’s Louisiana State Penitentiary but made no mention of how he gained access to other hospitalized patients for such experiments or whether any sort of consent had been sought. Neither he nor Heath ever mentioned what they told the patients. But Bailey reminisced about his methods at Tulane when speaking to a group of nurses in Chelmsford, back in his native Australia, twenty years later,

“I was working in America in New Orleans, there was experimental work being done there on cats, where they found that if you put electrodes down on the anterior part of the brain, in the septal region between the two hemispheres and down, right deep down, sort of here, put electrodes in here, that you struck a [inaudible] which had something to do with screwing and orgasm and pleasure and satisfaction. And if they put a wire in this and took it out and put it on to a push button, the cat would very quickly know that if it pressed the button, it got a little “chop,” and this was a sort of a little orgasm. And so the cat would go “pop” again, and get the taste of it, and the cat would go “pop, pop, pop, pop.” Here was something important. What did you make of it? So, in New Orleans, where it was cheaper to use niggers than cats, because they were everywhere and cheap experimental animals—there wasn’t much working there, the people we have been picking for the operation has [sic] really been at the bottom of the can. Nothing is going to help them—shoot them is the only thing—so they started to use them, Negroes—patients in hospitals—and so, the same area, little box, was put on their paws with a button. They just went around, “pop, pop, pop,” all the time, continuous orgasms…”

After his return to Australia, Bailey opened a “deep sleep therapy” clinic for depression and a wide variety of other psychiatric complaints at Chelmsford Hospital in Sydney, which he operated between 1963 and 1979. The deep sleep therapy technique is a misnomer for patient abuse that Bailey practiced by placing thousands of patients with a wide variety of psychiatric symptoms into a barbiturate-induced coma for two weeks, during which time he administered repeated electroshock therapy and implanted electrodes and even metal plates into many of their brains, without their knowledge or consent. Many patients deteriorated dramatically, but they learned only years later from news accounts what their doctor had done to them. He sexually abused some of the women patients. Scores of patients died, although Bailey concealed the true number by arranging for many worsening patients to be shipped off to other hospitals, where they died without ever regaining consciousness.

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

Brain Surgery for Docility

From the 1960s through the early 1970s, disenchantment with the widespread use of tranquilizers fostered interest in brain surgery as an alternative to “quiet” patients. University of Mississippi neurosurgeon Orlando J. Andy, M.D., capitalized on this trend, performing many types of brain ablations, including thalamotomies (destruction of the thalamus, which controls emotions and analyzes sensations), on African American children as young as six who, he decided, were “aggressive” and “hyperactive”…Today, Andy is revered as a neurosurgical pioneer, one whose work was never challenged in his lifetime and who never suffered any disciplinary action…brain destruction was employed not only for misbehaving black boys but to ensure the docility of prisoners and, in the 1960s, as a government-funded cure for urban rioters. Three American physicians proposed that such urban uprisings were caused by men who could be cured by psychosurgery. Dr. Vernon Mark, director of neurosurgery at Boston City Hospital, and his colleagues Drs. Frank Ervin and William Sweet swept aside social factors such as poverty, slum housing, and poor education in a 1967 proposal in the Journal of the American Medical Association: The obviousness of these causes may have blinded us to the more subtle role of other possible factors, including brain dysfunction…The National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH) and the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration granted the three surgeons $600,000 for brain research on urban rioters.

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

Magic Makeup

Sookie’s mother tried to think of something stranger, something that would stump us. “Miguks can’t see us,” she said. “Korean faces blind them.”

Aha!” said Sookie. “That can’t be true.”

I thought about it for a moment. It could be true Americans didn’t see like Koreans did; they had overly large, odd-colored ball-eyes. “What do you mean?” I asked.

“Just that it’s possible to be invisible to them.” Sookie’s mother pushed away from the table and held her hands out to us. “Come,” she said, “I’ll show you what I mean.”

Duk Hee led us to the back room where she and sometimes her boyfriends slept. Sookie and I perched on the edge of the bare mattress while she searched through her drawers of makeup. When we saw her filling her cosmetics bag, looking over her shoulder once in a while to consider our faces, we started wriggling like market dogs for sale.

“For some reason,” she explained, “American Joes cannot see our faces clearly. Especially when we use the eye shadows, lipsticks, powder, blush-i they give us, we confuse them…I’ll tell you what I think. I think that this makeup is magic—a disguise that lets us move through their world safely.”

Fox Girl by Nora Okja Keller

Radioactive Experiments on Orphans

Vanderbilt University physicians administered radioactive cocktails to pregnant women in Nashville. The University of Chicago fed the radioactive elements strontium and cesium to 102 unwitting patients at state schools. One Dickensian institution, the Fernald School in Waltham, Massachusetts, added radioactive oatmeal to the menus of thirty orphans in a program sponsored by the AEC with the support of the Quaker Oats Company. Old videotapes reveal that some of these Fernald boys were African American, but no records with racial identifiers were ever released. When victims died, government scientists obtained their bodies and autopsied them carefully, measuring the levels of radioactivity and biological damage. To enable large numbers of these grim assessments, at least fifteen thousand bodies were exposed and collected for one project alone: Operation Sunshine. Until the mid-1980s and without the knowledge of patients or their next of kin, this program shipped the bodies and body parts of radiation experiment victims to be dissected at headquarters in Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present by Harriet A. Washington

Is Looking Down Worth It?

There was a certain discontentment among people who had once owned motorcars and bathrooms and eaten meat twice daily, at having to walk ten or twenty miles a day, bathe once a week, along with fifty others, in a long trough, get meat only twice a week—when they got it—and sleep in bunks, a hundred in a room. Yet there was less rebellion than a mere rationalist like Walt Trowbridge, Windrip’s ludicrously defeated rival, would have expected, for every evening the loudspeaker brought to the workers the precious voices of Windrip and Sarason, Vice-President Beecroft, Secretary of War Luthorne, Secretary of Education and Propaganda Macgoblin, General Coon, or some other genius, and these Olympians, talking to the dirtiest and tiredest mudsills as warm friend to friend, told them that they were the honored foundation stones of a New Civilization, the advance guards of the conquest of the whole world.

They took it, too, like Napoleon’s soldiers. And they had the Jews and the Negroes to look down on, more and more. The M.M.’s saw to that.

Every man is a king so long as he has someone to look down on.

It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

  • Biography from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

 

Radical Attorney

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Ahead of the crowd a lady with twists stands on top of a police car, holding a bullhorn. She turns toward us, her fist raised for black power. Khalil smiles on the front of her T-shirt.

“Ain’t that your attorney, Starr?” Seven asks.

“Yeah.”

Now I knew Ms. Ofrah was about that radical life, but when you think “attorney” you don’t really think “person standing on a police car with a bullhorn,” you know?

 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

 

Passing

I didn’t want to lie about who I was anymore, but I’d learn people wouldn’t accept a simple one- or two-word answer about who I was, either. Not talking about race isn’t an option any person of color in this country has ever had, in particular if it’s not clear what race you are. If it’s clear what race you are, you just get skipped an interrogation level. It’s always your responsibility to address your race’s stereotypes to ensure whoever’s asking that you aren’t like what they’ve heard. Be assured whatever they’ve heard is bad and you’ll be asked to answer for it. Political correctness? Not in my reality. Political correctness never kept a racist from calling me a racist name. It’s never kept anyone at a bar from dehumanizing me because I’m not their nostalgic ideal of an “American.” It’s never saved me from being reminded I’m an “Other.” Political correctness isn’t about depriving someone of their freedom. It’s about giving someone the same inalienable rights that all “real Americans” have—the right to not be hassled, insulted, or assaulted because someone thinks they’re different. In other words, it’s about protecting an American’s most cherished freedom: the right to be left alone.

Drink more than two beers in a bar and you’ll hear PC sound its bugle retreat: I don’t mean to be racist, but . . .

…If it’s unclear to someone what race I am, I’m treated to a series of interrogative questions, each more invasive, until it’s clear what stereotype best suits them. Every month or so, when I don’t immediately explain my name and reveal my ethnic background—the POC version of name, rank, serial number—I have some version of this conversation. Here’s this month’s latest variation:

“So, where are you from?” he asks.
“I live here in town.”
“No, I mean, where are you from before here?”
“Vermont.”
Vermont? No, where are your parents from?”
“Los Angeles.”
“I mean, before Los Angeles?”
“They always lived there.”
“Why are you being so difficult? What are you?!?

Assumed identities: A personal history of passing, UU World, March 1, 2018, Brando Skyhorse

More Than A Hashtag

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Something’s bugging me. I wanted to ask Uncle Carlos, but I couldn’t for some reason. Daddy’s different though. While Uncle Carlos somehow keeps impossible promises, Daddy keeps it real with me. “You think the cops want Khalil to have justice?” I ask. Thump-thump-thump. Thump . . . thump . . . thump. The truth casts a shadow over the kitchen—people like us in situations like this become hashtags, but they rarely get justice. I think we all wait for that one time though, that one time when it ends right.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

February is Black History Month