The Criminalization of Survival Strategies in Black and Brown Communities


I tend to bookmark articles that I find interesting and want to read later on at some point, but almost always I end up forgetting about them. Matthew’s post on Hurricane Katrina, however, reminded me of this article that I had come across a few weeks ago while scrolling through Facebook. The article talks about how the deaths of Eric Garner and Alton Sterling while trying to sell cigarettes and cd’s, respectively, are part of a larger phenomenon where “the hustle” is essentially criminalized by our current criminal justice system. Individuals, specifically black and brown folk, are shut out from the formal economy for a variety of reasons ranging from a criminal past to a lack of documentation, which leads them to then participate in the underground market. While out hustling in order to literally survive, these men and women are left “vulnerable to arrest and police violence.” Pushed out of the formal economy by US policies and our criminal justice system, black and brown folk are forced to pursue alternative methods of survival and then are re-victimized by the same system that drove them to these practices in the first place.

The idea of the criminal justice system as a living laboratory from my last post has been on my mind lately, especially now that I’m back home in Harlem and I’m actually seeing again on a daily basis how black and brown bodies are hyper-policed within their own communities. Once again, we see how the criminal justice system literally extends its power over the human body by criminalizing methods of survival. Instead of asking why these people are turning to hustling in the first place, the criminal justice system’s first instinct is to have them arrested for their actions, not even taking into consideration that these men and women are doing it in order to put food on the table. 

In the article, the author mentions how our modern prisons and criminal justice system were created specifically to deal with Black folk who had been shut out from formal jobs. This specific argument took me back to Marc Lamont Hill’s quote “Instead of saying, ‘The system is broke let’s fix it,’ we should be saying, ‘the system is working, let’s break it.’” Both men essentially acknowledge that the criminal justice system was never created to protect the people it serves. With this in mind, I’m left wondering how do we best go about effectively and realistically overhauling this system knowing what we know about the origins and intended purpose of it?

Lawyer Demands that Eric Garner’s Children Take a DNA Test Before Distributing the $7 Million Dollar Settlement

I came across this article while I was scrolling aimlessly through my Facebook newsfeed a few weeks ago. I was instantly captivated by the caption because after all that this family has been put through, I couldn’t fathom to think of what else our criminal justice system was forcing them to endure. The article talks about how the lawyer representing Legacy Miller (Eric Garner’s 2 year old love child) is demanding that Garner’s four other children undergo a DNA test before the $7 million dollar settlement is divided up amongst them. Even though Esaw Garner (widow of Eric Garner) has explained multiple times why Eric Garner’s name does not appear on her children’s birth certificates, the lawyer is continuing to press for the DNA test. The money has yet to be distributed to the children even though the $7 million dollar settlement was reached months ago.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the criminal justice system as a living laboratory and how officials in this system tend to go beyond their powers and abuse and violate the human body under the guise of “doing their job.” From the way police officers conduct searches to the way lawyers require victims to undergo humiliating medical procedures during trials, officials are constantly finding new ways to expand their authority over the body, specifically black and brown bodies. In the case of Esaw Garner, her testimony on the birth of her children is completely discarded in court. It doesn’t matter that her children knew Eric Garner as their father their entire lives. In the eyes of the lawyer, her testimony was viewed as unconvincing and thus merited medical intervention through a DNA test.

This article also brought me back to the chapters we read in Medical Apartheid a few weeks ago. In the book, Washington actually highlights how medical personnel continued to perform experiments on slaves even after they died. Not even in death were slaves able to finally be free from the oppressive systems that held them captive throughout their lives. In the case of Eric Garner and many others like him, his body and that of his family is continuously violated by officials who represent the criminal justice system. Even in death, there is no peace that is afforded to him or his family.

A New Olympic Sport: City Cleansing

A New Olympic Sport: City Cleansing

I encountered this article while I was researching the performance of the Bulgarian athletes during the Rio Olympic games this summer and what I found amusing is the confrontation with reality of the splendor and glory of short-lived major sports events and the prolonged process of preparation for hosting them and the way communities are transformed or completely erased while doing so. The sense of exclusion and community cleansing that it presented resonated with me and our discussions on unit two.

I could not help but feel a little exasperated because of the marginalization which occurs every time an economic incentive to ‘’cleanse’’ a district is underway, as I find the idea to not ruin the image of a site in the public eye while covering up but not solving its problems contemptible. It is logical to acknowledge that major sports events are a source of financial influx and they stabilize the economy, and that no tourist would like to feel unsafe and uncomfortable while enjoying themselves, but at the same time, Brazil is one of the countries with the highest GINI indices (an economic index that determines the income inequality in a nation, where a value above 50 is considered high) according to the World Bank, with a 51% index rate in 2014. This speaks of how unevenly wealth is spread and alludes to the idea that Brazil is an economically segregated nation. Therefore, these cleansing policies certainly deepen the income gap between lower and upper-class men, so that we end in a well-known living laboratory situation: thousands of people are dislocated from the place they live (sometimes 80 km away!), to make room for privileged visitors from all over the world to gape at the events for 19 days. The newly erected buildings are seldom used after the event in question is over. Hence we can identify a new aspect of a living laboratory, and that is the displacement from home and the psychological implications it has for the mental well-being of the homeless citizens and the people living in favelas, as they lose a part of their identity and the security of being accustomed to one’s surroundings, a sense built through devoting years to one’s home. We should also note that the displaced people do not have the financial assets to oppose the banishment from their homes, as lawyers are expensive.

Then should we really allow for the building of grand constructions to accommodate events generating enormous turnover for the economy, when the people who need this extra income benefit the least? How important is the partial loss of one’s identity as a determinant of a living lab and should we generate living labs when trying to appeal to foreign countries and their cultures, while trimming the uniqueness of our own? And lastly, how important a factor is money in government decision-making when the happy lives of people who constitute a significant portion of the electorate are at stake?

No Más Bebés Documents the Sterilization of Mexican-American Women During the 1970s

Rene Tajima-Pena latest documentary No Mas Bebes brings to light the non consensual, sterilization of Mexican-American women in the 1970s. The film follows just four of the many women who were unknowingly subjected to sterilization at a Los Angeles hospital. While in labor, the four women were told that they had to undergo an emergency c section operation in order to save their child’s life. At the same time that the women were being rushed to the operating room, nurses pressured the four women to sign release papers that the women were under the impression were related to their c section, but in reality that granted the doctor permission to sterilize them. None of the nurses fully explained the papers to the four women and translation was never provided to any of the victims, all of whom spoke only Spanish. It took many of the women in the film months, some even years, before they found out what had been done to them. It wasn’t until Dr. Bernard Rosenfeld, a white doctor, started drawing attention to the sterilizations that the case starts receiving attention and ultimately makes its way into the courts.

While we will be covering the topics of Eugenics within the next few weeks, we have already been exposed to some of its major tenets already. From Toni Morrison’s Home to Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid, people of color, especially women, have historically been sterilized at the hands of medical personnel who have abused their powers by performing non consensual procedures on unwilling participants. In this specific film, we learn that during this time there was a large fear of overpopulation which led to these non consensual sterilizations. Unsurprisingly, we also learn that these procedures were mainly performed on women of color, even though white women were also having large families during this time. The film highlights how sterilization was not only a gendered experience, but a racialized one as well.

When I finished watching the film, I was left with many questions and thoughts of “what could have happened.” I think the film does an excellent job of dispelling the idea that we are far removed from the Eugenics movement and that it was simply something that happened in the past. These women are alive and well today and their mere existence actively challenges this narrative. Still, I’m left wondering what would have happened had a white doctor not called out the abuses. Would the women’s stories have gone untold? Or would have someone else spoken up eventually? The film still has me dwelling on the topic of white privilege and how this privilege, although its unfair, can be used to draw attention to these types of abuses.


Living Laboratories as Emotional Sites


I found this image while I endlessly scrolled through Tumblr, immediately stopping to take a closer look. The image was taken by Ian Berry, a British photojournalist, in South Africa in 1969 and was captioned “A young black girl looks after a baby girl for a white family.” This image, coupled with its caption, strikes me as a reflection of the emotional turmoil and/or emotional imbalance within a living laboratory.

At first, I was simply focused on the expression of the young black girl’s face; her expression is one of discomfort, resignation, and detachment. I couldn’t help but feel an extreme amount of sympathy for the girl, who looks like she feels everything but comfort. Her physical position in the car also reflects a sense of discomfort; she’s leaning forward onto the structure in front of her, which can be indicative of her need for physical support or exit from the car. While her expression is one that captivates and intrigues, the juxtaposition created between the young black girl and the white baby is intensely effective in relaying a message. This message is one that speaks volumes on the dynamic between black and white bodies; while the young black girl feels discomfort, as expressed by both her facial expression and position in the car, the baby behind her is sleeping. The contrasts are extremely direct; the young girl is awake; the baby is sleeping; the young girl is uncomfortable and distressed; the baby has a space to rest and looks relaxed.

What I’m trying to convey is that a living laboratory has physical components, as seen through the weaponization of medicine on black bodies, but it also has psychological and emotional components as well. This image has nothing to do with physical harm or violence, yet, as seen in my analysis, I believe that it has all to do with the emotional impact of a living lab and its oppressive dynamics. I do believe that when discussing and viewing a living laboratory we should focus on the physical harm or violence imposed on people of color, but I think it’s also just as important to openly discuss the different ways violence and oppression manifests itself. What do you all think is an effective, or the most effective, way in dismantling and reframing a living lab?

The Belgian Congo: The Living Laboratory Of 20th Century Africa And The Origins Of AIDS

poliwho002  1-hiv

I watched this video 2 or so years ago (I love viruses) and thought that it really connects to our recent unit and the idea of vaccination against disease without consent and the medical experimentation on a readily available – unprivileged – population.

In short, the documentary links the production and research of the second wave poliomyelitis vaccine (after a lot of the original Salk vaccine was found to be faulty)  in the 1950s, and the competition between two doctors to create a new effective vaccine, one of whom is the man considered the pioneer of the fight against polio, Dr Hilary Koprowski, who allegedly tested and developed the vaccine in monkey tissue cells and potentially used chimpanzee kidney cells. The ostensible use of the latter, as argued by the movie, is linked to the emergence of AIDS and the isolation of the first ever seropositive HIV sample, coming from Leopoldville (contemporary Kinshasa). I believe that the connection to the living laboratories issues that the movie points out is the following: the Oral Polio Vaccine developed by Koprowski was delivered to 1 million citizens of the Belgian Congo, as it had to be tested before delivery into the US. This was problematic as 90 million Americans have already been vaccinated with the original Salk vaccine, so a ‘’fresh’’ population was needed. Eventually, the Belgian Congo government forced its citizens to undergo polio vaccination, as refusal to do so was illegal. Soon after the end of the campaign, the first cases of HIV-infected patients emerged, so that after the Rolling Stone published an article claiming Koprowski’s involvement into the emergence of HIV but later apologized to Koprowski due to a certain mistake that disproved their argument – the correct species infected by SIV.As some answers were missing,  journalist Edward Hooper started researching the link between the polio vaccination campaign and the potential use of chimpanzee cells for growing the vaccine (chimpanzees are infected by HIV-1 cousin virus, SIV, standing for simian immunodeficiency virus, so that it could have mutated into HIV, as human and chimpanzee genomes are 98-99% identical, creating potential zoonosis; SIV does not infect green macaque monkeys who are routinely used as sources of cells, hence the error of the Rolling Stone) and the first seropositive HIV samples. He found witnesses in the Camp Lindi Laboratory in Stanleyville  (where the vaccine was developed) whose testimonies were in favor of the fact that chimpanzee tissues were harvested for growing the vaccine.

I find the connection to our class in the way people were subjected to a subtle kind of experimentation: being vaccinated with lots that might have been contaminated with potentially deadly germs without checking for any issues of liability, namely contaminating people with a disease which ended up infecting more than 70 million people worldwide, of whom 35 million died by the end of 2015. In a way, this documentary is a continuation to our class experience from the times of Medical Apartheid, with translating results from the immunization in Africa to the subsequent immunization in the United States, and with our current unit, as the sanctuary of the body was forever ‘’branded’’ with disease, and what is worse is that this is ‘’a disease of  young people’’, as pathologist Dr Cecil Fox points out in the movie. This would mean that there is an ongoing legacy of scientific racism, as HIV is prenatally and sexually transmitted.

I think that we should pose the question whether the rush to find a novel vaccine to cure a terrific disease like polio (which in the 1950s killed and paralyzed 500, 000 people annually) should be justifiable as it might have caused the health crisis of the 21st century and left the continent of Africa devastated, and what is the ‘’lesser evil’’ when it comes to medicine: is it instantaneous dwindling of mortality rates of poliomyelitis (which today is almost eradicated), or is it the ongoing agency of infecting, killing and economically demolishing, and socially stigmatizing whole continents with AIDS?

Reading DeMonaco’s “The Purge” as a Reflection of Living Laboratories

To get into the Halloween spirit, I have taken it upon myself to go through with my made-up tradition of watching as many scary films as I can before the actual Halloween day, despite it being midterm season. As usual, I fell into the temptation of procrastination last night, this time by watching The Purge. Directed by James DeMonaco, the film was released in 2013 and tells a story of a society in which there is one day every year when the rules of government are voided and people are free to do whatever they want without legal repercussions. The reasoning behind the creation of this holiday, despite its sounding absurdity, was to lower the rates of crime that happen throughout each year. This, in turn, is supported by the drastically low rates of crime that have resulted since the holiday’s inception. Many choose to use this day to kill others, steal, and engage in other violent activities. Others choose to sit quietly and safely in their homes, waiting for the day to pass so that they could get back to their peaceful and “normal” lives.

Throughout the film, we follow the Sandin family as they go through the annual Purge. They are a white family of noticeable wealth, as drawn from the high-tech security system that barricades their house from “outside threats.” At one point in the film, a black man is seen wounded outside the Sandins’ household, crying and screaming for help. Charlie, the youngest of the Sandin family, watches the security cameras outside their home and sees the man, eventually responding to his cries by unlocking the barriers to his house and calling to the man to come inside. Consequently, a group of people who are masked, but all of whom seem to be white based on the skin color of their arms, as well as the fact that their masks are also of white people, show up to the Sandin household to kill not only the black man, but also the Sandin family for helping him.

As I watched this movie, I couldn’t help but read it as an interpretation of actual living laboratories that we have encountered both in and out of class. As we have learned, living laboratories thrive off the idea of an “inferior” race needing to be expelled in order to preserve the purity of a “superior” race. In our reality, this self-proclaimed “superior” race is white people, whereas the supposed “inferior” race is people of color. In the second unit of our class, we learned how race and disease have been historically conflated in order to expel or sanitize bodies that were deemed “other” in the standards of white supremacy. In The Purge, it seems pretty non-coincidental that the man that the people are after and that “infects” the Sandins and their household is black. Instead, it seems to be a very deliberate reinterpretation of living laboratories that have existed and that continue to exist. It seems to reflect eugenic philosophies, that there is a race worthy of preserving over others due to contrived beliefs around superiority and inferiority of traits based on race.

Perhaps I’m being too analytical here, and my literary backings and love for films are coming up too strongly, but I was wondering if there is any validity behind the reading of The Purge as a living laboratory, as well as the reflection of living laboratories in films and other forms of art. If so, what makes these media important, and how should we go about engaging with and sharing them?

Hurricane Katrina and the Hyper-Policing and Criminalization of Black Bodies


I wanted to make this post partly in response to Atarah’s post on the political cartoon of the Flint water crisis because, in the comments, there were some links drawn to Hurricane Katrina, which I see and understand as well. As a short introduction to those who are not familiar with Hurricane Katrina: this hurricane struck New Orleans, as well as other parts of Louisiana, the Bahamas, Florida, South Florida, Cuba, Mississippi, Alabama, Panhandle, and most of Eastern North America, in 2005 and dealt around $108 billion worth of damage. New Orleans has never fully recovered from the hurricane, with poor black communities suffering the most from the damage. A source that I recommend in learning more about Hurricane Katrina, specifically about the ways in which racism and classism fuse together in order to continually marginalize poor black communities in New Orleans after the disaster, is the documentary Trouble the Water directed by Tia Lessin and Carl Deal.

In the photographs above that are from news outlets that covered the damage the hurricane did in New Orleans and how people were dealing with it, we can see how racism is perpetuated in the media, and how marginalized communities experience hyper-policing and criminalization in the face of disasters because of the identities that they possess and the backgrounds that they come from, or, as Professor Khanmalek put it in her comment to Atarah’s post, the “carceral aspects of living laboratories.” The fact that these news outlets labeled black individuals looking for food in the face of the disaster as “looters,” while they labeled white individuals doing the same as residents simply “finding bread and soda from a local grocery store,” shows how Hurricane Katrina and the ways in which people had to deal with its aftermath created a living laboratory in which poor black communities were hyper-policed and criminalized, even though the disaster not only struck and devastated the homes of white individuals as well, but also caused these individuals to engage in the very acts of “looting” that the media prescribed black people were doing. From this, we can show how the aftermaths of the disaster were exacerbated for poor black communities because of the ways in which institutionalize racism worked in order to maintain and even augment the state of oppression that they were in even before the hurricane.

Some questions that I have in light of this conversation: How do we, as consumers of media, go about ensuring that we catch the ways in which the media is perpetuating intersectional systems of oppression? Additionally, how do we go about effectively calling out these oppressive forces present in the media so that others could see how they exist as well?

The Origins of the SAT

In this video by BuzzFeed, we learn that the SAT was created in 1920 by a eugenicist named Carl Brigham. Brigham believed that some races had traits that were superior to those of other races. He made the SAT to reinforce the belief that Jewish people, mediterranean people, and people of color were less intelligent than white people. One of the people being interviewed in the video says, “Science: being used to back up racism since forever,” which, despite her ironic tone, is a claim that we know is very real from taking the class. Additionally, we can see how the intersections of race and class come into play in the SAT’s effort to perpetuate intersectional systems of oppression. The video includes a graph of the average SAT scores in 2013 based upon the household income of the students who took it. From the graph, it is clear that students that come from households with lower incomes scored much lower than those that come from households with higher incomes, which shows how not only race, but also class impacts the performance on these tests due to the accessibility to test prep material.

This video is important in light of the discussions we have been having in class because it expands our ideas of what a living laboratory is. It makes us realize that we, as students, can be participating in living laboratories, whether we are cognizant of it or not. In a sense, we have had to “pass through” living laboratories in order to get here to Princeton by taking tests such as the SAT. In a sense, we were part of the very experiment that Brigham has created, and, depending upon our intersecting identities, we were either proving him right or wrong. This shows how living laboratories can take on various forms and how they can persist over long periods of time.

Some personal questions that I have come up with after watching the video are the following: Before taking tests like the SAT, were any of you cognizant of the ways in which you were disadvantaged due to the identities that you possessed? Were you cognizant of the other types of people taking the test when you took it? When I took the SAT in high school, I quickly noticed that I was one of the few public schoolers there. Also, I noticed that most of the test takers were Korean, majority of whose population is upper middle class in Guam. Finally, do you believe that, if students were exposed to videos like these before they took these tests, would perform differently, knowing that they were made in order to prove that some people were smarter than others because of who they are and where they come from?

Healing from Trauma in the 21st Century

“Hurt people don’t need more isolation.”

  • Michael O’Bryan, “Healing from Trauma in the 21st Century”, 4th Annual Social Justice and Cultural Competence, Rowan University (October 2016)


This weekend, I attended Rowan University’s 4th Annual Social Justice and Cultural Competence organized by their Office of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution. The conference theme was “Communicating Across Differences: Dialogues to Heal Our Communities.” Their keynote presentation resonated with me, so I decided that I would write about it in relation to our class. I was not able to get a hold of a transcript or video for the keynote presentation, so I attached three photos to this post to provide context.

Michael O’Bryan talked about trauma-based care for disadvantaged populations in the 21st Century. He began his presentation with the concept of “militant utopism,” or an imagined world that is both peaceful and strict with issues of equity. O’Bryan presented that most activists will have images of militant utopism in our hearts and aim to move closer to such a reality. O’Bryan also presented that to do so we must consider health beyond the physical to include psychosocial health. We must shift our health practices to ask “what happened to you” instead of “what is wrong with you.”

The following are tips offered to make more inclusive health practices that take into account patients’ history with trauma:

(1) be intentional in the all aspects of your practice, from how you interact with folks on the everyday level to the broader institutional aspects

(2) be compassionate and lower the stakes of risk for all individuals– “keep standards high but expectations low.”

O’Bryan’s presentation relates to our discussion of inherited or generational trauma within groups of people. Throughout the presentation our discussions during the first unit “Historical Antecedents” were in the back of mind, especially in relation to how African American populations feel the effects of slavery and medical disparities presently. His presentation also made me rethink how to engage with social justice to be more compassionate and inclusive. This is something that came up during the conference introduction, my workshop, and the keynote presentation. What baggage do we carry in calling people out on problematic practices? How do we engage with inequitable structures without reproducing a another inequitable structure?


First Photo: Description of the conference


Second Photo: Keynote speaker’s bio


Third Photo: Description of keynote’s talk