On February 14, CNN aired both segments of its special series “Black in America," and used the opportunity to perpetuate a harmful racial myth.
In the first installment, reporter Soledad O’Brien took viewers to Project Brotherhood, a clinic in the south side of Chicago offering free medical care and advice to its black residents.
“We are seeing an increasing amount of men with resources, who are just reluctant to access services elsewhere,” Dr. Pete Thomas, a clinic doctor told O’Brien.
“Why the reluctance? Dr. Thomas says black men are afraid of being exploited – a fear caused by history and the revelation that for forty years unsuspecting poor black men were used as medical guinea pigs in the infamous Tuskegee experiments,” O’Brien said.
“Between 1932 and 1972, 400 men were lied to about their condition; the men suffered terribly – tumors, heart disease, paralysis, blindness, insanity, and many died. Project Brotherhood overcomes this legacy of fear by staffing clinics with doctors, interns, and social workers who are black, professionals they say their patients can link to.”
However, the story of the Tuskegee “experiments” as told by “Black in America,” is a myth.
From 1932-1972, 400 poor black men were not injected with syphilis, were not treated as medical lab rats by white doctors, were not deprived of treatment, were not tortured and subjected to inhumane circumstances, and were not used in a sinister plot by the U.S. government to spread syphilis among the black population (or “controlled”-genocide) in the Tuskegee “experiments.”
But 399 black males were: chosen because they had already entered into the latency stage of syphilis; carefully monitored and compensated with free medical care, meals, and burial insurance; specifically chosen because they were black – the study has its roots in a progressive organization trying to help the disproportionate amount of infected blacks.
And in spite what current wisdom and most-prominently publicized archival footage would lead you to believe, black health care professionals were involved at all stages of the study, the study was endorsed by the prominent black organization, the Tuskegee Institute, and as late as 1969 a team consisting mostly of black doctors participated in the Tuskegee “experiments.”
And most revisionist narratives of the story delude people into believing the men could have been cured. Truth is syphilis therapies were weak, timely, costly and extremely hazardous. Tuskegee doctors tried, but the side-effects of the early treatment were so painful, 85 percent of patients dropped out before treatment was complete. Of the 15 percent –few were cured.
Even Richard Shweder, a prominent and liberal academic, conceded: “All too often these days one witnesses the triumph of identity politics over critical reason. All too often rhetoric of evil and moral horror demanding protective public interventions has produced a rush to judgment about matters of great consequence.”
Although he believes that the real outrage is people’s judgment of the Tuskegee study by modern standards, also according to Shweder the study was conducted openly and without secrecy.
In fact the myth has been so deeply engrained into the fabric of African American culture. A national survey by Emory University's Institute of Minority Health Research revealed that 36 percent of blacks believed it was "very likely" they would be used as unwitting guinea pigs in medical research.
One progeny of the Tuskegee mythology has been propounded by none other than President Obama’s pastor, Jeremiah Wright – the theory that the U.S. government invented AIDS to infect the black community. “The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color,” Wright said. “Based on this Tuskegee experiment … I believe our government is capable of doing anything.”
And, when Michelle Obama worked at the University of Chicago’s Medical Center, hospital researchers considered enlisting local black teenage girls when the HPV vaccine became available. She put an end to it. Courtesy of the New York Times: “The prospect of white doctors performing a trial with black teenage girls summoned the specter of the Tuskegee syphilis experiment…” HPV is believed to cause 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer.
So this time, O’Brien and CNN weren’t just repeating inaccurate information. They were perpetuating an especially poisonous and potentially lethal myth. So much for caring about being “Black in America.”