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

katrina

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

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Second Photo: Keynote speaker’s bio

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Third Photo: Description of keynote’s talk

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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?

The San Antonio Contraceptive Study: Exploitation in Reproductive Rights

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3272525/

Briar Patch

These articles discuss a study that was conducted in 1970 on unknowing, poor Mexican American women that related human experimentation with reproductive rights.  The study was conducted in San Antonio and consisted of 86 women.  They were told that they were going to be receiving birth control pills and these women, many that came from Planned Parenthood, agreed.  What was unknown to them at the time was the fact that half way through the experiment, half of the women were going to be given a placebo pill with no hormones at all.  This change was without them knowing and without any of them consenting to this change.  This led to 10 of the women in this study ending up with unexpected children.

This study is reminiscent of many of the themes that are evident in the other sources we have discussed.  First, the fact that this experiment was done on poor Mexican American women.  This exploitation of the lower class and immigrants is clearly the doctors way of getting away with experimenting with such a thing like birth control.  This would never have been acceptable if it was performed on someone from the upper class.  By exploiting the fact that they were poor and needed to go somewhere like planned parenthood to receive their birth control, the doctor was able to satisfy his curiosity of what was going to happen when birth control was stopped. Second, this is evident on how many doctors did not view these women as their equals.  They saw as something to perform experiments on, nothing more.  It was even more shocking because it was clear what the outcome of this study was going to be, and it was still done with no thought on what effects it was going to have on the individuals who were wrongfully tricked into participating.

Many of the other sources discussed in the seminar have had horrific things done in the name of science and medicine.  Most of them benefited some person, mostly the people who did not have to undergo the procedure.  However, this experiment did not bring about any new information to science or medicine.  Rather, a doctor wanted to see what would happened in, in turn, led these unsuspecting and non consenting women to a future they could not have expected.

Tuskegee Syphilis Study: When Race and Medicine collide

http://www.cdc.gov/tuskegee/timeline.htm

http://www.tuskegee.edu/about_us/centers_of_excellence/bioethics_center/about_the_usphs_syphilis_study.aspx

Beginning in 1932 and continuing for another 40 years, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment was designed to see the effects of syphilis on black subjects.  For this study, 600 poor, illiterate men from Alabama were enrolled with incentives like free medical examinations, free food on days they were in the hospital and even burial insurance.  These men, however, were never told what the true purpose of the study was.  In fact, this study was to see how the disease played out, from infection till death of the patient.  When penicillin was discovered as a cure for syphilis this information and life saving medication was withheld from them, causing most of the participants to die from their curable illness.  It wasn’t until 1972 that the horrors of the experiments were released to the public and the surviving victims and their families were awarded 10 million dollars and free medical and burial services for survivors, widows and offspring.  This is a clear violation of many fundamental human rights, and a clear example of unethical human experimentation.  The public outcry was one of horror, and became another reason why African Americans feared medical professionals, because there was always the fear that they were not receiving the cures for illnesses they had, rather were part of a secret medical experiment that they were not informed about or consented to.

This situation led to a movie, entitled Ms. Evers’ Boys, that follows a black nurse that helps the white doctors facilitate this experiment and then is called in during the lawsuit to testify, which is shown in the clip above.  This clip shows what happens when medical professionals think that what they are doing is for the greater good.  The nurse thinks that this is experiment was to help both blacks and whites, even saying that the doctors were able to reach a conclusion from these experiments, that blacks and whites had no difference in the course of disease.  The nurse, although she is also black, shapes the experiment as though this is going to be a great help to the black community.

However, it is clear from the records and layout of this experiment that this was not actually the case.  The experiment went on 40 years and many people died, even after a cure for the disease was found.  If this experiment had been for the betterment of the whole community, the cure would have been used to see how the individuals would react.  Instead, the scientists watched the subjects suffer and die because of their own curiosity.  As said in the clip, this type of experimentation would never have happened to whites, as they were being considered the medical norm, rather than the medical anomaly.  The clip ends with the nurse saying that she and the doctors should not be blamed for their actions because it was for the betterment of medicine.  However, like many of the other examples of medical experimentation on subjects, the betterment was only for the white community, who got the benefit and the results of the experiments without having to go through the life ending syphilis experiments that all these African Americans had to go through.

“A New Departure from Eugenics” / “Eugenics and the practice of transgendering children”

Content warning for articles: There is derogatory language used against transgender/gender-nonconforming individuals and folks with mental disabilities. There are also descriptions of medical violence.

I came across the following articles while searching for information about gender transition on Google. I decided to combine two brief articles into one blog post showing two different takes on “genocide” against transgender individuals. The first article is titled “A New Departure from Eugenics” is written by lynneauraniastuart on Transpire. Transpire is a blog “examining the details of the trans experience.” The second article is titled “Eugenics and the practice of transgendering children” by Shelia Jeffreys on The Conversation. The Conversation is a blog that seeks to offer “independent, high quality, authenticated, explanatory journalism (that) underpins a functioning democracy.”

“A New Departure from Eugenics” discusses how most countries once required sterilization as a requirement for transgender folks that wanted to transition or receive medical care. Although the United States wrote the sterilization requirement out, France and several parts of Europe still have sterilization requirements for transgender individuals. The article argues that this is a form of present-day eugenics that is not discussed often enough. The author also states that eugenics is often thought of only in terms of race and psychological ability, even though transgender individuals have historically been victims of eugenics.

“Eugenics and the practice of transgendering children” questions whether hormone therapies are “the answer” for transgender children. The author argues that eugenics is returning to Australia through medical processes transgender children often experience at the consent of their parents. Although the author has an interesting point in questioning transition and biological/cultural alignment as a point of reference for transness, I question why they do not mention the violent “gender-reassignment” surgeries performed on children with “ambiguous genitalia” at birth. I am also wary of the author treating transness as a problem without a solution.

There were several points that I thought were inconsistent in the articles I read. Both articles relate in their binaristic view of gender, or in thinking that individuals are either man or woman. They also both assume that physical transition and gender dysphoria are inherent parts of transness. It would have been interesting to see both bloggers complicate their arguments by including nonbinary individuals and a greater range of (non)transition, in addition to considering experiences outside the “stuck in the wrong body” narrative.

However, these articles do align well with several of our questions around consent within living laboratories. One of the reasons I wrote about both articles is that each presents a genocide against transgender people but in very different ways. “A New Departure . . .” deals with transgender adults within the legal-medical system with the lens of human right, while “Eugenics and the practice of transgendering children” talks about transgender children within a more fluid moral-political-medical (?) system. I found the latter much harder to pin down and process.

I wrote several questions about genocide that might seem similar to questions we have already asked ourselves:

How is genocide defined today along gender lines?

Is it based on the limits of personal bodily autonomy?

If so, can children make that choice?

How does age change consent in medical processes?

Do the terms “genocide” and “gendercide” resonate differently for you? When should we use each term?

 

Links:

https://lynneauraniastuart.wordpress.com/2016/10/21/a-new-departure-from-eugenics/

http://theconversation.com/eugenics-and-the-practice-of-transgendering-children-3838

 

“To be white is to be racist, period.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/10/19/to-be-white-is-to-be-racist-period-a-high-school-teacher-told-his-class/

I stumbled upon this article, which appears to be causing a huge public outcry, while I was scrolling down my news feed page on Facebook. Naturally, being a person who identifies as white and who hails from Bulgaria, a country where the population is almost 100% white has no experience with racism whatsoever, I opened it just to regret doing so.

What struck me is the perpetual generalization that seems to be an inseparable part of racial disputes, a trend we see in all our readings for class. While it is true that genocide and the categorization of humankind is predominantly linked to the white race and this is a shame that should be exposed and continually reminded of, I do not believe in the notion that having fair skin makes me racist and that, more or less, white people today are monsters. I would therefore say that trying to extrapolate historical themes into the matters of a century in which people are transgressing racial and ethnic boundaries in order to help and be helped is a legacy of racism and a sure way to downgrade once again to it and all of its linked misconceptions.  Maybe what might have been meant was that being white means being considered racist, but not necessarily meaning that a white person is racist at heart.

I guess that the concept of implicit bias that the article mentions could be read the other way round with respect to that statement. Namely, we do not inherently think of diversity in a racist frame, but ourselves trigger conflict in our efforts to appease it without paying attention to the versatility our audience has. We are living in an era where we paradoxically create laboratories of our own – schools and law enforcement – by mispresenting or not giving the whole piece of information we intend to and by excluding diversity by leaving room for conflict through subtle opinions presented as legitimacy. This way “impressionable youths’’ are agitated and the gap between races and ethnicities starts to expand at a mind-blowing rate, so that mankind gets stuck in quicksand – we erase our own social accomplishments by trying to secure and promote them through a well-learned but not updated mindset, which I believe is the living laboratory of today: a school system which invests its resources into a bright future but in this deed does not account for the consent of students unconsciously being influenced by authoritative opinions for life, nor for the impact it has on its defendants and the way they and others think of them.