Every so often, I will write a review or report on a book that I have read that that had a profound effect on me, that I think is highly impactful for Black people, and/or is a “must read” for Black people who are serious about the grand goal of Black liberation, and eliminating white supremacy. For this 21CRM Classic Book review, I choose Harriet A. Washington’s harrowing, thoroughly researched and extremely informative book, Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present
Doctors and medical professionals hold a special place in the minds and hearts of many people. The fact that they appear to work so hard to achieve accreditation in a field that on the surface and in theory is perhaps the most noble of professions, and have acquired such knowledge in order to attain their status which is the field of caring for and healing bodies and minds, affords doctors a certain reverence that in the view of many is unquestioned and unquestionable. But as is the case for most things under the system of racism/white supremacy, the benefits that everyone else enjoys that come from the innovation in the medical and scientific fields often come at the expense of Black people, in brutal, troubling and disturbing ways. Harriet A. Washington’s Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present thoroughly and meticulously documents a vast array of medical atrocities that were perpetrated at the hands of the medical and scientific fields against Black people from the beginning of the chattel enslavement era of Amerikkka, all the way up to the current century.
But it also doesn’t just stop at Amerikkkan atrocities, as horrible medical and scientific experimentation and malfeasance throughout the diaspora, on the Continent and in Europe is also explored and highlighted. If there was ever a book that demonstrates the complete sadistic savagery and blatant disregard for non-white life of whites who practice, perpetuate, maintain and refine systematic white supremacy (essentially all of them), then this book is the book. The book tells of the chattel enslavement era practices of noted and revered physician, James Marion Sims, the so-called father of modern gynecology, who made a practice of butchering and mutilating the genitalia of enslaved Black/Afrikan women and girls in the name of “medical research” for the innovations that he is credited with. It is worth noting that anesthesia was not used at all in these ghastly, excruciatingly painful experiments, because the scientific racists of the day had postulated that Black people do not feel pain, at least in the same way as whites (and even if they did, “so what?” is the thinking). It also tells the story of how white physicians and medical professionals used physical ailments, sicknesses and diseases that afflicted enslaved Afrikans that were directly caused by the wretched, filthy, animal like living conditions that were brutally imposed upon them to justify our perceived inferiority and to justify keeping us in those conditions.
It also tells the story of how physicians such as Samuel Cartwright used made up, nonsensical mental ailments, such as drapetomania, a ridiculous supposed ailment that stigmatizes Black people running away from enslavement as mentally ill, and hebitude, a conjured ailment whose symptoms include “shiftlessness and laziness that caused (enslaved Afrikans) to mishandle and abuse the owners property”. His prescribed cure for these “illnesses”? Beatings, of course. As much as I’ve studied racism/white supremacy, and think I understand the depths of depravity of the enemy, it’s still very difficult for me to wrap my head around the amount of narcissistic psychopathology that it takes to ascribe such “conditions” in such sinister ways. The writer Harriet Washington also seemed to struggle coming to grips with this and the nature of the people who did this. But, as Gus T. Renegade, host of the Context of White Supremacy (C.O.W.S.) radio program (who had a phenomenal 12 part reading and study of this book) often says, that (narcissistic psychopathology) is what it means to be white.
The book also spends considerable time detailing the Tuskegee experiment, a notorious experiment where hundreds of Black men who had syphilis, who were told under this program that they would be receiving treatment for syphilis, instead were denied treatment in order to study the effects of untreated syphilis. Washington very astutely points out that the face and historical villain of that episode, Black Nurse Eunice Rivers has been unjustly singled out as the heel in this situation, as she was simply a nurse for the white Doctors who were really in charge of the experiment. These men, Dr. Oliver C. Wenger, Dr. Taliaferro Clark, Dr. Raymond H. Vonderlehr and Dr. John R. Heller, all have managed to escape the infamy of Nurse Rivers. This is a clear act of racism, showing another instance in which whites who commit racial terrorism avoid paying for their misdeeds, by putting a Black face on their chicanery. She also has chapters on how our enemies have used deception to sterilize Black Women as a population control tactic, radiation experiments that disproportionately featured Black participants, the disregard for Black corpses and how they have been stolen by grave robbers and disrespectfully used in dissections, as well as the experimental medications that were first tested on Black Children.
Most intriguingly, she wrote about how white scientists have been attempting to use scientific research, and discoveries to wage chemical and biological warfare in order to use new ways to carry out their genocidal agenda. This part of the book is of particular interest for me, as it really drives home how white supremacists will use all avenues that they can possibly think of in order to achieve their goal of genocidal worldwide white terror and domination. Neely Fuller has quipped that “white supremacists will swim to the bottom of the ocean to study grains of sand, if they think it is constructive in maintaining racism/white supremacy”. And they have no true sense of guilt, as in the mind of a white supremacist, survival is a zero sum game, in which their survival is invariably tied to our destruction, and vice versa. It should serve as a reminder of how those who are running counter to the white supremacist agenda should perhaps also use all avenues, as well as our time and energy to study how to put an end to the problem immediately. This book is extremely well rounded, as there is no field within the medical and scientific field that goes un-examined.
All throughout my life, I personally, as well as many other Black people that I know, have always had an aversion to hospitals, doctors offices, and anywhere where you are expected to lay prone and put your body and well-being in the hands of suspected white supremacists, or those trained at institutions that regularly train white supremacists. Perhaps this is a cultural iatrophoba, which is the fear of doctors (a term or affliction that I became aware of while reading this book) that has developed from a shared ancestral memory of these acts. Perhaps it is just a simple mistrust of the enemy. Whatever it is, Medical Apartheid demonstrates exactly why Black people tend to have such mistrust of the medical and scientific field with historically based, accurate information that is well researched and well presented. However Ms. Washington does not try to scare Black people away from receiving such needed medical attention, but just to be historically conscious, well informed, ask questions, know signs of malfeasance, and use the presented information to make better choices for ourselves and our loved ones. This book is in my view a must have, and should be a required read for all Black people.
Medical Apartheid can be purchased where all books are sold, please support Black bookstores!
Brother Osei, 21st Century Race Man