A Wrenching Decision Where Black History and Floods Interwine


The town of Princeville, North Carolina is known as one of the oldest towns charted by freed slaves and continues to be a predominantly black community (96% of the population is African American). The town has been historically prone to floods with the most devastating flood to date being Hurricane Floyd back in 1999 until this past October when Hurricane Matthew hit. Now many town residents are considering selling their homes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency even though doing so threatens to end their community. At the same time, many residents feel a deep sense of pride for their community for what it stands for historically as being one first established by free slaves.

In class we’ve discussed this idea of Afrofuturism as a comparison of events in the past and taking them in context with the present or even events of the future.  Princeville reminds me of Afrofuturism through the experience that its residents are having as a result of the recurring flood issues that have plagued the town since its beginning. Many residents reject relocation not only because of the sense of home that they have for their current location but also out of fear of losing the community itself as many historically freed slave charted communities have in the past. It’s amazing to think that this community has survived as long as it has even against likely the doubts of the slave holders who provided them with this distressed and pollution inclined land.

If anything I wonder why communities like these haven’t been held by the government as historical sites and protected as such. I am especially astonished that even with the knowledge that communities of similar historical background have ended up dying away as a result of removal and relocation, Princeville is still under threat of perishing like the others.

Toxic stress of poverty, violence, pain alter kids’ brains


I came upon this article while completing an assignment for my freshman seminar this semester on the social determinants of health. The article discusses the effects that excessive stress has on children as a result of violence, poverty, trauma, and other forms of “prolonged adversity”. The article names this form of stress as “toxic stress syndrome” and describes how it continues to plague children across communities and affect their health and well being over time. This article specifically discusses the toxic stress experienced by children of lower socioeconomic backgrounds and how their health overall compares to that of children of high social standing.

While reading this article I couldn’t help but think back to a major theme of our class discussions these past few weeks which concerns the notion of race as a political construct.  During my read of this article, I found myself  asking whether racism would be considered to be one of the listed traumas that results in the formation of toxic stress syndrome in children? Not only can racism instigate deeply traumatic experiences, but it is also a persisting trauma into adulthood that unfortunately doesn’t end. I believe it would be interesting to explore the effects that racism has on children of color from all socioeconomic backgrounds and then compare the stress levels to see if there is a relationship between racial trauma and “toxic stress syndrome” that develops in children.

Another detail I found important consider that the article itself doesn’t delve deeply into is the question of who is being directly being affected by this toxic stress the most? Who lives in these communities where “prolonged adversity” is a lifestyle due to unequal distribution and access to resources? For most, the answer would be and is consistently people of color. I believe that we can see here how inequality not only distresses people of color through their economic status, but through their health status as well.

Mothers in Prison

Earlier this month, the New York Times posted an article about incarcerated women in the United States and the detrimental effects that their imprisonment has on their families. The article specifically speaks out on the effects that female incarceration has on the children of those imprisoned. According to a study conducted by the Russel Sage Foundation, there appears to be a clear connection in America between the 64% decline in household resources and the incarceration of a family member. In turn, this 64% decline appears to only further increase the poverty and racial gap that exists here in America.

This article reminds me of our class’s conversation about birth control and sterilization in history with regard to women of color. I found this article to be most relevant with regard to understanding the different forms of birth control that are utilized today including incarceration. Taking into context both the history of forced sterilization and ineffective forms of birth control that targeted women of color and the fact that women of color are more likely to be incarcerated than white women, it’s possible to visualize modern day incarceration itself as a new form of sterilization. What I find to be most important to remember while reading this article are the differences that exist between the rates of prosecution of women of color compared to that of white women. Through further research into the topic, I learned that black women are 3 times more likely to be incarcerated than white women and Hispanic women are 2 times more likely to be incarcerated that white women. By keeping these incarceration rates in mind, we are able to paint a clear racial picture of what classes of families are being predominantly affected by these detrimental effects discussed in the article. Women of color’s imprisonments immediately inhibit both their ability to reproduce children as well foster the children that they already have. This thereby increases the mortality rates of the children of these women and in turn steadily decreases the population rates of people of color.

How US torture left a legacy of damaged minds

How U.S. Torture Left a Legacy of Damaged Minds – The New York Times

When I first came across this article I thought it would be a great example of a living laboratory, but after reviewing the information that we had gone over in class (such as Medical Apartheid and Working Cures), I had difficulty in drawing comparisons that would equate our class’s understanding and the article’s view of Living Laboratories. What initially caught my eye about this article was its comment on the long term effects of torture and how tortured prisoners’ pasts have affected their present interactions and health. This reminded me of the rooted distrust that African-Americans had towards western doctors due to the scientific racism and non-consensual experiments African-Americans have been subjected to in the past. Where the difference appears to lie however is between the environments from which the two originate. While the African-American distrust of doctors stems from the non-consensual experiments their people have been subjected to by western medical professionals, the tortured prisoner’s psychological effects stem the non-consensual procedures that prisoners have been subjected to by American torturers.

Together as a class, we came up with lists of what an unsound living laboratory looks like compared to what a living laboratory should look like. I compared the list of values that we came up with to the values that were not involved within the US’s torture procedures. In doing so I found various similarities that convinced me that torture victims face a similar form of victimization that those subjected to unregulated livings laboratories do. At the same time, I still find myself plagued with various questions about said similarities that remain unanswered:

Firstly the idea of “non-consent”: Prisoners do not appear to have consent. The article articulates that consent from prisoners within the parameters of the subject’s torture is minuscule to almost nonexistent. The question that this concept begs is what rights are guaranteed to prisoners of war and how do these rights come into play when subjecting said prisoners to torture? Secondly, the idea of the “unequal power dynamic”: Being that prisoners are prisoners and that they have no power in the environments in which they are held, any experiments or procedures that they are subjected to are completely out of the realms of their control. This feeds into the idea of consent as well. With little to no power, prisoners would appear face the same unbalance of power as would victims of an unregulated living laboratory. And thirdly, the idea of having a “regulated/ controlled environment”: What does a regulated/ controlled environment look like when it comes to torture? Do regulations come into play when torturing a person? How are said regulations decided and executed? What guarantees are there to make sure that the torturer is meeting said regulations?

Matt Wuerker’s “Flint Michigan Water Crisis”


The following cartoon was drawn by politico cartoonist Matt Wuerker following the Flint Michigan Water crisis this past year. The picture features two water fountains with one labeled “white” and the other labeled “colored” referencing to the segregation that plagued America until the formation of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. The water coming from the “white” water fountain is clean and clear whereas the water coming from the “colored” water fountain is murky and filthy; thereby suggesting the differences in water are designated solely to the races that drink from them.
One of the major themes in class that we discussed was the perpetuated interchangeability between race and disease. In John Duffy’s The Sanitarians: A History of American Public Health, the author examines this idea through observation of the interactions between the medical world and people of color throughout history. He goes into detail on the experiences of immigrants who were forced to be “sterilized” with harsh and demeaning treatments upon entrance to America and how such actions perpetuated this association between people of color and disease.
The Flint Michigan Water Crisis that Matt Wuerker’s cartoon illustrates reminded me of how this idea of interchangeability between race and disease could still be perpetuated today. The Flint Water Crisis poisoned over 100,000 residents in the Flint Michigan community with 57% of these residents being black. Therefore the majority of patients coming in with illnesses as a result of the infected waters were patients of color. With the sudden influx of sick people of color, one might easily have assumed that the illnesses were associated with the race rather than with the community that the people lived in. This might explain why it took Flint Michigan the amount of time that it did to address the water poisoning and even acknowledge the infected water as an issue in the first place.

Being Black is Bad for Your Health



Earlier in April, U.S. News printed an article about the racial disparities that can be found in healthcare.  This article was suitably titled “Being Black is bad for Your Health.” In the article, the authors compared two communities; one being an affluent white neighborhood and the other being a primarily poor black neighborhood. The comparison revealed that the community that was primarily affluent and white on average had a life expectancy rate around 10 years higher than that of the community that was primarily poor and black. The differences revealed between the communities did not stop at just the mortality rates, but were also exhibited through rates of obesity, asthma, and teen pregnancy. Some of the major points that were highlighted throughout the article were the differences in healthcare between people of color and their white counterparts. Specifically, the article talked about the comparison between the treatments that white people received from physicians and the treatments that people of color received from physicians. Alexander Green, an assistant professor at Harvard and director of the Disparities Solution Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, studied with other researchers the racial disparities in health and discovered an “unconscious bias” that existed in physician behavior towards their patients. Such behavior seemed to extend as far as physicians suggesting more aggressive medications for ailments such as chest pain to a white patient than they would to a patient who is black.

I came across this article as a part of reading assignment that was assigned to me and my classmates in my Freshman Seminar “Is Your Zip Code Your Destiny? Exploring the Social Determinants of Health.” What I found most interesting when reviewing this article was the parallel between the issues that exist in modern day medicine and the issues in historical living laboratories that we have discussed in our Race and Living Laboratories class. What caught my eye in particular, was the noted difference between the recommended treatments provided to black patients and the more aggressive recommended treatments provided to white patients  according to Alexander Green and his fellow researchers’ study. This reminded me of the discussion that we had in class about the historical perspective of physicians neglecting to provide blacks with necessary treatments throughout time and in particular when conducting human experimentation on black people throughout history. In an attempt to reason why physicians might not be inclined to recommend aggressive treatments to patients of color, I recalled what we had talked about in class about the acclaimed “scientifically proven” idea in history that blacks have a much higher tolerance to pain that their white counterparts. As we’ve learned in class, this idea was accepted in science as fact and in turn allowed for many scientists, including the notoriously known Dr. Marion Sims, to subject blacks to cruel scientific treatments and experiments. I found it supremely interesting that there might be a connection or perhaps even a paralleled way of thinking between this archaic notion of higher racial pain tolerance and the medical distribution of lesser aggressive treatments based on race.

Additionally, I thought about the discussion my classmates and I had in class about Ellis Island and how new immigrants would be turned away from America’s doorstep because they fell under the Class C bloc of access denial. The Class C block was designated for those who, although not sick now, were liable to needing healthcare resources in their future years from the American government. In class we discussed that the idea of rejection based on the probability that one will need support later in life stems from the American perception that there are not enough resources for us all with “us” being defined as American born citizens. Taking this view into context, I can picture how the “unconscious behavior” of the physicians in Alexander Green’s research could be under the influence of this notion when recommending the treatments.