Many people have the impression that racism simply involves isolated acts of prejudice. However, the racism that results in long lasting oppression of people from minority backgrounds is typically perpetuated by institutions. People of color have faced institutional racism in housing, education and law, to name a few. Some of the most unsettling examples of institutional racism have involved medicine. In the 20th century, the U.S. government conducted syphilis research on marginalized groups—poor black men in the American South and vulnerable Guatemalan citizens—with disastrous results.

The Tuskegee Syphilis Study

In 1932 the United States Public Health Service partnered with educational establishment the Tuskegee Institute to study black men with syphilis in Macon County, Ga. Most of the men were poor sharecroppers. By the time the study ended 40 years later, a total of 600 black men had enrolled in the experiment called the “Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male.” Medical researchers swayed the men to participate in the study by enticing them with “medical exams, rides to and from the clinics, meals on examination days, free treatment for minor ailments and guarantees that provisions would be made after their deaths in terms of burial stipends paid to their survivors,” according to Tuskegee University. There was just one problem: Even when penicillin became the main treatment for syphilis in 1947, researchers neglected to use the medication on the men in the Tuskegee study. In the end, dozens of study participants died and infected their spouses, sexual partners and children with syphilis as well.

The Assistant Secretary for Health and Scientific Affairs created a panel to review the study and in 1972 determined that it was “ethically unjustified” and that researchers failed to provide participants with “informed consent,” namely that test subjects were to remain untreated for syphilis. In 1973, a class action suit was filed on behalf of the enrollees in the study that resulted in them winning a $9 million settlement. Moreover, the U.S. government agreed to give free medial services to the survivors of the study and their families.

via Medical Racism: The Tuskegee and Guatemala Syphilis Studies.

3 Comments

  1. childofthesixties on

    I remember reading about this many years ago and all I can say is what has been said about the White man all along, he is nothing but the devil walking around on this Earth. Most of those involved could not read or write due to not being allowed to as a young child therefore they (researchers) knew that they were getting over on these poor Blacks! Makes one wonder what the hell they are doing today behind our backs and we can read and write. Nine million was not enough! I wonder about those off and on again outbreaks of Ebola in Africa!

    • As a Native American I have heard my own people make these stupid arguments about the white man. Thousands of young white men died to free the blacks, whose own people sold them into slavery.. So if you want to be angry, be angry at your own ancestors who put you in the slave ships for some colored beads and bolts of cloth..
      Just as my ancestors sold this land for the same. And if you are going to bitch about slavery… the black Egyptians held the jews in slavery for 400 years. So STFU about yesterday. Yesterday can take care of its self. And stop sniveling and stand up and do something with your life instead of whining about what ‘whitey’ did to you. Blacky has done the same shit to blacky and whitey. No race is free of evil doings. And if you hate whitey so much, go back to Africa and see how you like it over there with your own people slaughtering whole villages and chopping off peoples arms. Rebel blacks raping every woman they come across. Then you might be glad to get back to hot and cold running water and three meals a day. .
      I for damn sure don’t want to go back to sleeping in a Teepee and no showers and having to hunt down and slaughter Bambi for each meal. Count your blessings and stop sniveling.

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