The Havasupai Indians and the Mistreatment of Their Blood

In my Junior Seminar, we had Professor Ruha Benjamin as a guest speaker to provide us insights into how to effectively carry out in-depth interviews. Professor Benjamin started off her talk by showing us a New York Times video clip on the story of the Havasupai Indians, who donated samples of their blood for diabetes research that was conducted at Arizona State University. This incident was briefly mentioned in Genetics and the Unsettled Past, but it is worth expanding on because the Havasupai’s story is an important and powerful one that is directly related to our final class unit.

The Havasupai is a community with high rates of Type II diabetes, so members were eager to find out the cause. However, university researches would end up using their blood for other forms of research outside of what they donated their blood for, which would lead the Havasupai to retrieve back their blood. In addition, the University would provide them with a $700,000 compensation.

This video shines a light on the desire for groups to understand their communities past. As we learned from our readings, such desires were and still are extremely common. Different stakeholders use this public interest in genetic understanding to exploit marginalized communities and to use their genes for their own purposes.

Moreover, culture plays a huge role in this instance. As mentioned in the video, blood is extremely sacred to the Havasupai. At the end, we see the Havasupai perform a type of prayer as they retrieve the blood from the University’s lab, and one of the Havasupai women is in tears when she is in the room where the blood was held.

I was curious to hear people’s thoughts on this story. I’m especially curious about people’s thoughts on the role of culture in these types of instances. In addition, I would like to hear people’s thoughts on the $700,000 compensation. In a sense, I am glad to hear that they received compensation at all, because exploited communities have historically been deprived of reparations. However, I’m also disturbed by the gesture because it seems to suggest that money is all that it takes to repair the damage created.

Looking forward to hearing people’s thoughts!

“Sick and Tired: A Historicized Deconstruction of Misogynoir within Anti-Choice Rhetoric”

Link to Facebook event:

Today, there was a teach-in called “Sick and Tired: A Historicized Deconstruction of Misogynoir within Anti-Choice Rhetoric.” (I just realized that I should’ve shared the event with the class. Sorry about that!) The event was hosted by undergraduates Destiny Crockett ’17 and Trust Kupupika ’17. They provided a historicized breakdown of how anti-choice arguments regarding abortion have historically targeted black women and lead to impacts that ranged from the sterilization of Black women without their consent, to the surveillance of poor Black women who used social services to take care of their children. This breakdown was build through the framework of Dorothy Roberts’ Killing the Black Body and other essential scholarly and literary works that influence a nuanced understanding of reproductive liberty and race and gender justice.

This event is directly pertinent to our course, especially to our unit on reproductive rights. I know that my previous blog post on Sophia Vergara was on a similar topic, but I think it’s interesting to put these two events next to each other because one is in the context of pop-culture, and the other is in the context of academia. It is important to realize how different platforms can be used to develop different frameworks of understanding around the same issues and that all these frameworks are valuable.

In regards to the “Sick and Tired” event, I appreciated Crockett and Kupupika’s introduction to the word “misogynoir” because it hones in on the violence that black women specifically experience at the hands of anti-choice ideology. To me, their use of this word shines a light on the importance of language in discussing systems of oppression against particular groups of people because it makes articulating these systems easier and more tangible.

Additionally, this teach-in was especially important in light of a previous event that happened on campus that essentially discussed how black women should adhere to pro-life ideology. I was proud to see that Crockett and Trupupika were able to go against the blatant transmisogynoir rhetoric that was tied to that event.

I wanted to hear people’s thoughts on either of the two events that I mentioned (to the capacity of your knowledge about them). Moreover, I would like to hear more about how we can have critical conversations around these types of issues on college campuses that utilize not just academic framework, but also others.

Sofia Vergara’s Ex Sues Her for the Right to Her Frozen Embryos

According to an article from Attn, actress Sophia Vergara has been in a legal battle with her ex Nick Loeb over her frozen embryos since fall 2014, when he sued her for wanting to keep them “frozen indefinitely.” Although the court ruled in Vergara’s favor, Loeb has brought up another lawsuit in regards to the matter, saying that “the embryos will not receive the trust fund that he has granted for them if they are not brought to term.”

The article states how this issue is “disturbing” and “all too real,” which we know is true from what we have learned in class during our unit on reproductive rights. Loeb’s claims that he is being “denied the right to fatherhood,” which only works to further the oppression of women in regards to their reproductive rights. Furthermore, this oppression is complicated by the fact Vergara is a women of color. According to the article, “Vergara told Howard Stern in May 2015 that she doesn’t want to ‘bring kids to the world where it’s already set against them.'” Vergara’s logic is similar to the logic of the women of color we have read about in class. These women were afraid of having their children be subjected to the systems of oppression that would target them because of their race and class.

I was wondering if anyone else has been following this story (I just found out about it by scrolling through my Facebook feed). If so, what are your thoughts on the issue, especially in regards to the fact that Vergara is famous and that this issue is happening in the circle of modern pop-culture media?

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?