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Bioanthropology: Culture and Medicine Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jun 27th, 2020

The readings for this work explore several main themes. First of all, they study the relationship and connections between people’s racial background and the state of their health or possible conditions and diseases individuals may have a tendency to develop according to their race. Secondly, the readings follow the correlation between the modern tendencies in plastic surgery and the cultural and ethnic stereotypes of the society forcing non-white women to change their bodies. Finally, the readings raise the important subject of the distrust of African-Americans towards the American healthcare system due to the cases of racism in medicine such as Tuskegee Syphilis Study. The importance of social and ethnic diversity in the United States today is very high, the awareness of this diversity is widely promoted, yet some culture-specific researches in the American medicine led to racial division that seem to border with re-segregation.

The perception of race as biology of individuals has been considered as an old fashioned idea and forgotten for a while, yet, not so long ago this concept returned to the sphere of research medicine. Due to some statistical data collections a strong belief that people’s health states and predisposition towards certain disorders and diseases can be studied as inflicted by their racial background has been developed and maintained. As a result, nowadays the first race-specific medication treating heart failure has appeared (Kahn, 474). The stereotype that certain races tend to develop certain diseases more often than others has become stronger. However, this belief is nothing but a myth. In reality, race is a rather unstable measure, and “a problem with race classification is that there is no agreed-upon “race scale” as there are hat and shoe size scales. Ideas about race are fluid and based on different phenotypic cues; the salient cues change over time, place, and circumstance” (Goodman, 1700). This is why considering race correlation in reference to the health conditions individuals develop is deemed unscientific and opportunistic.

Taken too far this issue may result in very serious problems for the sphere of healthcare. For example, the Tuskegee Syphilis Study that had been going on for forty years before it was shut down as a highly intolerant and discriminative research endangering lives of the patients and generating a racial division in medicine, when in Alabama African American patients “were deliberately denied effective treatment for syphilis” so that a history of natural development of the disease could be researched (Gamble, 1773). This is unacceptable according to the Hippocratic Oath obliging all the medical workers to provide professional care for all the patients that need it. The knowledge that for the sakes of syphilis research some patients were actually infected by the PHS of the US heightens the distrust between people of color and healthcare system in America (Reverby, 7). Medicine today also reflects the social pressures on the individuals of various ethnic backgrounds. For example, Asian women use the services of plastic surgeons to alter their faces and prevent the negative stereotype about them (Kaw, 75). The degree of social discomfort for these women must be rather high if they agree to undergo surgeries to fit into the society gain its approval.

Social division based on the racial background is more subtle these days, yet it is still present. It creates highly unpleasant experiences for the people of color when applied in education, mass media, or popular culture, but racial division in medicine actually endangers lives of the citizens of the whole America, violating one of the main human rights, the right to safety.

Works Cited

Gamble, Vanessa Northington. “Under the Shadow of Tuskegee: African Americans and Health Care”. American Journal of Public Health, 87.11 (1997): 1773-1778.

Goodman, Alan H. “Why Genes Don’t Count (for RacialDifferences in Health)”. American Journal of Public Health, 90.11 (2000): 1699-1702.

Kahn, Jonathan. “Getting the Numbers Right: Statistical Mischief and Racial Profiling in Heart Failure Research”. Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 46.4 (2003): 473-483.

Kaw, Eugenia. “Medicalization of Racial Features: Asian American Women and Cosmetic Surgery”. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, 7.1 (1993): 74-89.

Reverby, Susan M. “Normal Exposure” and Inoculation Syphilis: A PHS “Tuskegee” Doctor in Guatemala, 1946–1948”. The Journal of Policy History , 23.1 (2011): 6-28.

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