Conference explores racism in medical science

By Matt Day

We don’t think of blacks when we think of medical abuse, journalist and author Harriet A. Washington said Friday in her opening remarks at the annual American Studies Conference. Over the course of her two-hour presentation, Washington made sure that no one in the room would ever forget the role played by unwilling blacks in the development of modern medical science.The keynote speaker at ninth installment of the American Studies Conference, Washington’s speech Friday night opened the two-day event, which included a panel discussion and lecture Saturday.

Presenting a summary of her recent book, “Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present,” Washington drew gasps from the packed Kagin Ballroom with graphic descriptions of medical experimentation and abuse.

“It was a really good speech,” Elena Slavin ’10 said. “It was powerful, and really uncomfortable at times.

“It was a hard thing to hear but it was something we needed to hear.”

Washington, whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Nature and several scholarly journals, is a former editor at USA Today.

Washington said the effects of medical science’s abuse of blacks are still being felt today. She cited studies showing that a disproportionate percentage of blacks are afraid of medical procedures, and that maternal mortality rates among blacks in the U.S. are more than twice that of white women.

“People were really engaged in what she had to say,” Slavin said. “I thought it was a really good turnout for a Friday night.”

The panel Saturday included local medical professionals, Washingto and Macalester professors Daylanne English and Lin Aanonsen.

Saturday’s events were followed by a bus ride to the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul. The museum featured a traveling exhibit from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, “Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race.”

“I liked the exhibit a lot,” Monica Keaney ’10 said. “It’s good that the school made it accessible.”

Keaney said that she didn’t think exhibit focused enough on the medical abuses in the United States that Washington chronicles.

“It was very eurocentric,” she said.