Tuesday, March 18, 2008

No cure for the syphilis meme

Okay, time to get serious about stopping the repetition of this damn myth that the U.S. government infected black men with syphilis. (Truth is, contracting VD is one aspect of life where black folks never needed government assistance.)

Anyone who doesn’t bother to get historical facts right isn’t entitled to be taken seriously in the public discourse.

On MSNBC’s “Hardball” today, it was Ed Gordon. He responded to Roger Simon’s condemnation of Jeremiah Wright’s suggestion that the government invented the AIDS virus as a genocidal weapon.

Gordon said that this suggestion is “not so far-fetched” when you consider that “the government was giving syphilis to black men.”

Likewise, on CNN last Friday night, Roland Martin said: “I was watching another channel where they played a sermon where [Rev. Wright] said that America infected African-American men with syphilis, called the Tuskegee Experiment. That actually did, indeed, happen.”

No. It. Did. Not.

And the only reason Ed Gordon and Roland Martin didn’t get their face broke on national television is because Chris Matthews, Anderson Cooper and white people in general are more ignorant about black history than they are.


DeAngelo Starnes said...

Okay, Dave, we get your mission in accuracy. I'm down with it.

There's a larger point here. There's a thin line there because, while passive or aggressive, the result was the same. There was knowledge about the disease and active participation in denying treatment.

Both are criminal acts in the law and neither would be treated any differently as there is evidence of a conspiracy to allow the disease to fester.

Now what did the government do when it learned about that?

Draft a letter asking for correction, but the ultimate point remains.

Qadree said...

I think this touches upon something that you brought up previously regarding the rhetoric of people like Farrakhan. There seems to be a need to justify the confrontational rhetoric of some of the older leaders in the black community.

Though Lee Atwater didn't invent the abstract and coded forms of communication that prevail today in politics and media, I believe he ushered that new style in with such force that it rendered the confrontational style of many black leaders obsolete. Now they have to justify using an outdated, confrontational style by referencing events that took place when that style was the norm, even if that means exaggerating or distorting things a bit.

I think this is why many of the leaders have lost relevance with younger black people. Just look at the Don Imus situation. When all of the confrontational black leaders pounced on him, he switched from his usual confrontational mode to a more abstract mode and the confrontational black leaders didn't know how to respond, some of them actually took the bait and began blaming rap music for what he said.

While their are plenty of black people that could handle this kind of attack, the ones that the media relies on the most are the old-school confrontational types. Obama is a different type of guy, but unfortunately he's has these people around him that openly make inflammatory, confrontational remarks and I'm not sure he can weather much more of it.

Carla said...

In light of your fact-checking, check out yesterday's Wright post on NewsOne.com

Michael Fisher said...

I see D already dealt with this, but let me ask you as well. What is the qualitative difference between identifying people with a disease and lying about treating them and injecting them with the disease in the first place?

Kellybelle said...

My great uncle was one of the Tuskegee experimentees and my mother always told me that he had been injected with syphilis. She was pretty adamant about it. So I see how that mistaken belief cd take root.

Sarastani said...

Thanks for this information and your honest opinions. I read your blog daily and this post finally motivated me to comment. Keep up the good work.

Anonymous said...

This is interesting b/c atleast two of the commenters on this page have said exactly what I thought when I read your statement. I am all for historical accuracy, but the point is moot as to whether the African American men were injected with syphillis or had already contracted the disease. The point is that these innocent men were experimented on like lab rats to see the effect that the disease would have on the American American body. Besides being evil and unethical, the experiment shows a substantial amount of racial ignorance in that the scientists thought that the disease would progress significantly different in the African American body vs. Caucasion bodies, etc. The human body is essentially the same, regardless of race. Certainly, eating habits, lack of exercise, environmental pollutants, etc. all have affects on the body's ability to heal, withstand trauma, etc., To pretend to cure someone is unusually cruel. I think that the grandchildren/ surviving family members should file a malpractice suit if they haven't already. If people can sue McDonald's over hot coffee, surely the families can sue over the loss of life.

Undercover Black Man said...

What is the qualitative difference between identifying people with a disease and lying about treating them and injecting them with the disease in the first place?

The difference, Michael, is that one actually happened... and the other didn't.

Since when do conscious black men defend the spread of bad information? Is the propaganda value of the idea of the govt. actually injecting blacks with disease so important that you say "Who cares what really happened?"

DeAngelo Starnes said...

Dave, I don't think anyone disagrees with your mission for accuracy. I think the other point is that we shouldn't lose focus on the aftermath. Because the lack of treatment was almost as bad as a deliberate injection because the treatment denial was as deliberate as the mythological injection.

I think we're all intelligent enough to understand the point that it is inaccurate to broadcast "the government injected Black with syphillis." But don't stop there. Make the correction and then continue the point.

I think that's where we're coming from.

cnulan said...

Forget about being persnikkity about syphillis, and catch up on what T3 has been putting down about the long con of William Jefferson Clinton....,

I had forgotten all about the polio vaccine hypothesis for HIV/AIDS - despite knowing full well the realities of human medical experimentation that were routine in the American medical industrial complex.

now there's some x-files type shit to wrap your script writing muse around...,

Anonymous said...

Can I please get the name of the Black Man who investigated the results of the Tuskegee experiment? The Tuskegee experiment ran from 1932 to 1972, and you mean to tell me that you believe these doctors waited around for patients to show up with syphilis? If you believe that, I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ That comment is almost nonsensical enough for me to delete.

I feel like a lone voice in the fucking wilderness trying to get this particular item of bullshit banished from our rhetorical arsenal. Because one of these days somebody's gonna run up on a white TV host who knows his shit... and he's gonna get clowned.

Christina said...

I'm with you, UBM. If you're going to be talking about racism, it behooves you to at least get your facts correct. Otherwise, people will say "that's not true, black people weren't injected with syphilis!" The End, conversation over. And isn't the truth bad enough?

I don't feel wedded to the Tuskegee syphilis "injection" story any more than I feel a need to believe a guy in Vegas woke up in a bathtub full of ice with his kidneys gone. If it's not true, it's just not true.

And here's another one that is not true that blew my mind when I learned the truth: Charles Drew did not die when white doctors at a hospital decided not to give him a blood transfusion because he was black. He died because he was too badly injured and nothing could have saved him.

DeAngelo Starnes said...

I don't think the person is gonna get clowned too badly. Because after the correction is made, the more powerful argument will come forth, i.e. there was deliberate denial of treatment of men doctors knew were infected with syphilis for over thirty years. I knew that the injection story was inaccurate and cringed when I heard it.

I think your journalistic instincts are what's driving you crazy on this issue.

Like I suggested, it's more constructive to send these gentlemen correspondence requesting that they correct that aspect of the story unless that is all there is to their story.

Undercover Black Man said...

Begging your pardon, DeAng, but that is all there is to their story... when Tuskegee is brought up to justify a belief that the U.S. government designed AIDS as a genocidal weapon.

In the four recent examples I quoted, that's the context every time. The government's active role in infecting black people with disease is the point at issue.

I'm gonna go another route in attempting to quash this mythology...

DeAngelo Starnes said...

^Now see, I almost asked you that question. If that is all to the story, I clearly understand why your nuts are twisted about it.

Count me in because I hate to see the story (a) told incorrectly and/or (b) not being told in its entirety. The story is vile and powerful in a vile way as to not be distorted so that folks like you and I have to clean that shit up.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ You hit on something, DeAngelo. The vileness of this crime is what was done to the men. Look at that photo I put up in the earlier post... they're about to give that man a spinal tap!

He was literally a laboratory animal to them. Rather than cure his disease, they drilled into his spine for research.

The truth is horrific. To misrepresent it just to feed into a conspiracy theory about AIDS... that dishonors the truth.

Anonymous said...

I am back UCBM. This is the "Brooklyn Bridge" anonymous commenter in which you responded "That comment is almost nonsensical enough for me to delete." Nonsensical you say. Just because I don't believe everything I read exactly as I read it? Unlike some people, I think about the information after I read it and then form my conclusion. You must be a passive reader UCBM. I bet you believed Ronald Reagan when he said the goverment did not sell drugs in the Iran Contra Affair.

dj said...

Re:Roland Martin

When you first posted the picture,I thought that was a example of one of the horrible side effects of syphillis,"cranial gigantism".
I have since seen other photos of him and am amazed that this is not the case or Photoshop in play.
He's got enough Mug to do a two shot set up and not turn his head to look directly at either camera!

Susan Reverby said...

Thanks for trying to get the story of the Tuskegee syphilis study out there. As an historian of the Study (Tuskegee's Truths: Rethinking the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, 2000) and a member of the Legacy Committee that lobbied for the federal apology from then President Bill Clinton, I have spent more than a decade trying to explain that the racism is worse because the men were left untreated. This makes the Study more normative. If you want to understand the Study, go talk to the families in Macon County, spend time with them at the Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church in Notasulga, Alabama, and learn some history while you're at it.

As you note, it is not as if the white newsmen know anything either. Both Peter Jennings on ABC (may he rest in peace) and Tom Brokaw on NBC said the men were infected by the Public Health Service. Alas, the story of the doctors as monsters is an easier sell than the story of normal everyday racism and the day to day business of doing medical research at the time.

The response to the Study was new rules to govern research. The men who were in the Study have provided safety to many of us over the years. We owe them more than I can say.

Susan Reverby, Wellesley College

Anonymous said...

We the members of the Shiloh Community invited you to come to the community,there are famlilies members still alive who have the lived through the experience the pain and suffering watching their parents die and not knowing why as a child.The birth defects and blindness.Generations after generation who have been affected from their foreparents.There has been round table discussion with family members,and there will be interviews with family members.

Anonymous said...

the fact remains that nobody knows if they did or did not inject some of the men with syphilis. like that one guy said his mother was the wife and she said they did inject him so it is very possible. Seeing as she didn't have the disease....get yo cake up son.