In my “Determines of Health” class, I cover the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. You can learn about it from the historian Allan Brandt’s article, which describes its history. We discuss this history and its implications in class and to what extent attitudes around race have actually changed since that time, lest students believe that all that is in the past and no longer relevant. The General Social Survey provides 50 years of data on attitudes around race and can be very interesting to explore. We also look at the redlining maps of the Seattle area, in particular, to show that this history of discrimination is very local and not isolated to the south of the United States. We look at a 1990s version of the doll experiments done by Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark, Black psychologists, in the 1940s and used as evidence in Brown v. Board to learn about internalized racism. These are just some of the resources we use to discuss how institutional racial discrimination impacts health outcomes.
I would be very grateful for any feedback on these materials/topics. As a white person, I recognize that it is problematic for me to be telling the stories of Black Americans. I try to frame these histories with the agency, as in “White researchers/policy makers/doctors/teachers did x,” instead of the passive voice, “this happened to Black Americans.” I’m not sure that is enough. I don’t want to make Black students in the class feel powerless or targeted. At the same time, I think this history is significant to share and all be aware of.