Guatemala: New Research on Ethical Violations by White Researchers

Susan Reverby, a Wellesley College professor, recently discovered records that reveal a two-year study designed by white researchers and supported by the U.S. government was conducted in which people in Guatemala were intentionally infected with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

This STD study conducted from 1946-48, health researchers from the United States and Guatemala intentionally infected Guatemalan sex workers, prisoners, soldiers, and hospitalized psychiatric patients with gonorrhea, chancroid, and syphilis.  Reverby’s student prompted the U.S. Department of Health & Human services to release this information about the study.  It is officially referred to as “The 1946 STD inoculation study.”   And in an email statement, Dr. Thomas Frieden, head of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) – the current version of the institution that originally ran the study – said this:

The 1946 STD inoculation study should never have happened.  We are committed to the respect and safety of research participants.  In this spirit, the U.S. government will convene an international group of experts to review and report on the most effective methods to ensure that all human medical research conducted around the globe today meets rigorous ethical standards and how training of researchers will ensure such abuses do not occur.  If you have questions or comments regarding ethical human research and this study, please send them to

This renewed commitment to ethical research by Dr. Frieden is an important one but may fail to persuade skeptical listeners familiar with the history of other ethical violations.

The fact is that the researcher who discovered the Guatemalan study made this discovery in the archived papers of Dr. John Cutler, a U.S. public health researcher who was also involved in the Tuskegee syphilis study.  Cutler was white and all the “participants” in the study were African American men.   While the Tuskegee study design did not intentionally infect subjects with syphilis (a common misunderstanding), the researchers violated medical and research ethics by withholding treatment – a simple shot of penicillin – that would have effectively cured the disease.   Further, the men in the study were never told that they were being used as research subjects.   The combination of these two facts (withholding medical treatment that would have cured the disease, and not telling them they were research subjects) are used as textbook examples of ethical violations in research.   The additional, and some could argue, central fact that these were white researchers violating the human rights of black subjects is an ethical violation that continues to reverberate today in a variety of ways.    (For further research on Tuskegee, see James H. Jones’ classic text, Bad Blood and the more recent, and broader in scope, Medical Apartheid, by Harriet Washington.)

The reality is that the actions of Cutler, in Tuskegee and Guatemala, were not the isolated actions of a “bad apple” working outside the aegis of the CDC (and its predecessor organization, the U.S. Public Health Service).   He was a well-respected M.D. and public health researcher who defended his involvement in the Tuskegee study until his death in 2003.  (For video footage of Cutler defending Tuskegee on camera, be sure to see the documentary The Deadly Deception, which also includes interviews with a handful of the survivors of the study.)

Both the studies designed by Cutler, in Guatemala and in Tuskegee, Alabama, were premised on several notions that remain with us today.  First, is the notion that the pursuit of “scientific knowledge” is a worthwhile goal in and of itself, followed closely by the idea that pursuing this goal justifies almost any means necessary to achieve it.  Still with us, too, is the idea that white researchers are somehow entitled to the biological “resource” of others.   As a society, we continue to subscribe to the idea that there are some groups of people who, because they are less powerful, it’s okay to conduct research on them.   Perhaps the key idea underpinning Cutler’s research was that the “course of the disease” of syphilis would be different in blacks (or Guatemalans) than in whites.  Today, many continue to cling to facile notions of racial differences in biology, while research consistently show these are insignificant.  These ideas, taken together, share much in common with the worldview of the doctors that Robert Jay Lifton describes in his book, Nazi Doctors, about the physicians who practiced medical experimentation on Jews held in concentration camps.    In an interview with Cutler, James H. Jones asked him whether he saw any similarity between his study at Tuskegee and the experimentation in the death camps.  Cutler, looking incredulous and wounded, replied, “But they were Nazis!”

When the panel Frieden is convening comes together, they would do well to not only review the historical legacy of racism in public health, but keep in mind the way these ideas continue to permeate public health research today.

US Government Reports on US Human Rights to United Nations

Another difference that the Obama administration makes can be seen in this press release from yesterday. The U.S. has decided to submit this human rights report under the United Nation Human Rights review process:

On August 20, the United States submitted to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights a report on the U.S. human rights record, in accordance with the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process.

The report’s submission is one step in the UPR process. The next step will be a formal presentation by the U.S. government to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in November. The report stands as just one element of the U.S. effort to engage broadly and constructively with the UN and other international organizations.

The review, which has featured an unprecedented level of consultation and engagement with civil society across the country, provides an opportunity to reflect on our human rights record and we hope will serve as an example for other countries on how to conduct a thorough, transparent, and credible UPR presentation. It involved support and assistance from the Department of Justice as well as over ten other federal departments and other offices, and the White House.

The United States is proud of its record on human rights and the role our country has played in advancing human rights and fundamental freedoms around the world.

I will analyze the report as soon as I finish reading it.

Florida’s S.B. 988, Philanthropic Giving, and the Public Good

This post was written by Calixto Melero Jr. and Marco Portales, Texas A&M University

Florida’s S.B. 998 allows nonprofit tax-deductible foundations not to disclose race and gender information regarding their administrators, staff, and grant recipients. This law legalizes and encourages money and power to continue to flow largely to privileged people and to organizations with resources. Disguised as a post-racial “color blind” policy enhancement, further legislation legalizing such laws and policies will continue to dismantle and kill the Public Good.

Driven by Tea Party and neo-conservative minds, Florida’s S.B. 998 dismantles civil rights laws and policies that are in place to empower communities of color.

Unlike other public and private sectors that have embraced and benefited from minority perspectives, tax-deductible nonprofits in Florida today can continue to exclude non-whites from their boardrooms, funding mechanisms, and grant giving.

In 1982, CEOs and board diversity memberships nationally consisted of 1.6 and 4.3 percent, statistics that slightly improved in 2006 to 5.8 and 13 percent, according to a 2008 article, “Philanthropy in a Changing Society” by Chao, Parshall, Amador, Shah, and Yanez. That’s why a U.S. House 2007 committee found private foundations were “not doing as much as they could or should” to channel dollars and support to racial minorities. Nonprofits “were not growing in pace with overall charitable giving” and with society’s demographic changes.

Police-State Treatment Of Latino Civil Rights Efforts in Arizona

The treatment and arrest of Mexican-American civil rights leader Sal Reza, head of the group Puente and opponent of Arizona’s SB 1070 last Thursday by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies reminds me of the 1960s treatment of civil rights protesters, especially the treatment of blacks. While not the same, Arizona is a modern police state similar to the police states of the south during the 1960s.

During the 1960s the controlling white population found it acceptable that the police could be used against people of color and Americans who spoke out against protests of all kinds such as the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Movement, or the Women’s Movement. We have all read, seen on television, or heard the stories of the police attacking blacks and other civil rights protestors with night sticks, shot guns, and dogs. It was a shameful use of the police in our history and contributed to the current distrust between law enforcement and communities of color. This distrust has only grown as people of color have been singled out by law enforcement officers for years. As Eduardo Bonilla-Silva states in Racism Without Racists “blacks and dark-skinned Latinos are the targets of racial profiling by the policy that, combined with the highly racialized criminal court system, guarantees their overrepresentation among those arrested, prosecuted, incarcerated, and if charged for a capital crime, executed.”

However, our law enforcement culture has changed in many ways since the 1960s. One of the important changes to note is that modern day police have much greater power to violate civil rights and civil liberties than ever before. While the police states of the south had brutalized black people for decades (centuries, really), the tools they had to conduct their terror were not as sophisticated as they are today—not that this made much difference to the victims of the police brutality—but the direction our police have gone since then impact the civil rights of all Americans, especially those who are “othered” in our society for whatever reason. Today the police have more tools of intimidation at their disposal and anyone who thinks our civil rights are important should be concerned.

Over the last 20 years of the American “tough on crime” ethic, we have developed a hyper-active law enforcement. Now we have police who are out with armored personnel carriers, high tech body armor, and automatic weapons. This results in a system that can easily abuse constitutional rights as what seems to have happened with Mr. Reza. The arrest of a known older civil rights protestor by a swat team is an example of political oppression. It appears that Mr. Reza was arrested because of his political views and his membership in an organization, not his involvement in any illegal activities. This is one example of the consequences of our modern militarized police machine.

Protection of our civil rights and civil liberties are key aspects of citizenship and critical for the success of democracy. We live in a police state that is exercising its power to repress political opposition, silence political views, and intimidate members of certain civil rights organizations. This is increasingly being used against Latinos and anti-racist white allies in Arizona who are participating in their constitutional rights to speak out against policies of the state. This is a sad commentary on American society, politics, and culture. Sheriff Arpaio and his deputies’ actions are contributing to our police state. And they call themselves Americans.

The End of White Privilege

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Virginia) has called for an end to end to affirmative action programs because, he contends, white privilege is a “myth.”

Here’s what Sen. Webb said in a recent (7/22/10) Wall Street Journal piece:

In 1974, a National Opinion Research Center (NORC) study of white ethnic groups showed that white Baptists nationwide averaged only 10.7 years of education, a level almost identical to blacks’ average of 10.6 years, and well below that of most other white groups. A recent NORC Social Survey of white adults born after World War II showed that in the years 1980-2000, only 18.4% of white Baptists and 21.8% of Irish Protestants—the principal ethnic group that settled the South—had obtained college degrees, compared to a national average of 30.1%, a Jewish average of 73.3%, and an average among those of Chinese and Indian descent of 61.9%.

Policy makers ignored such disparities within America’s white cultures when, in advancing minority diversity programs, they treated whites as a fungible monolith. Also lost on these policy makers were the differences in economic and educational attainment among nonwhite cultures. Thus nonwhite groups received special consideration in a wide variety of areas including business startups, academic admissions, job promotions and lucrative government contracts.

Where should we go from here? Beyond our continuing obligation to assist those African-Americans still in need, government-directed diversity programs should end.

Nondiscrimination laws should be applied equally among all citizens, including those who happen to be white.

Webb is right to note that white Americans are not a monolith and that there are poor whites among the racial category “white.”   However, just because Webb has discovered poor white ethnics does not mean that white privilege is a myth.    There are so many examples of white privilege that it barely merits listing them all again, but just in case you’ve never read Peggy McIntosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack,” review it now.
One of the key points that Webb misses (and there are many) is that even in a system in which all poor people are oppressed, some poor people who happen to have black or brown skin are even more oppressed.   As Matt Yglesias points out:

Someone accused of killing a white person in North Carolina is nearly three times as likely to get the death penalty than someone accused of killing a black person, according to a study released Thursday by two researchers who looked at death sentences over a 28-year period.

People are generally aware of the fact that the criminal justice system sanctions African-American suspects and perpetrators disproportionately harshly. Less noted, but in some ways even more pernicious, is the way it affords lesser protection to African-American victims and potential victims. Randall Kennedy’s Race, Crime, and the Law explicates this neglected issue in an excellent way.

So, while I will be the first to applaud the end of white privilege, we’re not there yet, Sen. Webb – not by a long shot.

No Native Americans among our 860 Federal Judges

Faith-based thinking about racial matters in U.S. society is quite common these days, including much data-less nonsense about this being a “post-racial society” and about “Obama’s election meaning racism is dead” or “minorities are now taking over,” and similar such sentiments. One recent MSNBC report on the recent Supreme Court hearings of Ms. Elena Kagan provides substantial data refuting such notions.

Were you aware that the National Native American Bar Association and the National Congress of American Indians, major Native American organizations, had sent letters to President Obama asking that he consider distinguished and accomplished Native Americans for a position on the Supreme Court, since no Native American has ever served there:

While other ethnic groups and women have made strides in reaching the federal bench, there has never been an American Indian appointed to the Supreme Court or the federal appellate bench, and out of the nation’s more than 860 federal judgeships, not one is currently occupied by an American Indian.

Not a single Native American is serving. We are indeed an exclusionary, highly segregated society still. In our entire history, according to the Federal Judicial Center, only two Native Americans have ever served as federal judges.

The implications of this are obvious:

“There’s just a lack of representation and that lack of representation leads to no voice, no voice whatsoever in the decisions that are being made about Natives,” said Richard Guest, a senior staff attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, one of the Indian groups that have been meeting with White House officials in recent months, urging them to consider an Indian for the Supreme Court vacancy and for other federal judgeships. Heather Dawn Thompson, the immediate past president of the National Native American Bar Association, calls it a “rather frustrating” situation. “For over two hundred years, the United States Supreme Court has sat in judgment over us, over our lands, over our treaties and over our families. Not one single day have we ever had a voice in those decisions,” Thompson’s group said in its letter to Obama.

I remember something in the old American set of ideals about “no taxation without representation,” and revolutionary anger over lack of representation more generally. Well, here is a complete lack of judicial representation.

Indigenous Activists Take-On Canadian Government: Successful Resistance to G8/G20 Summits

On 24 June 2010, encircled by a substantial police presence, 1,500 indigenous activists and their allies marched through downtown Toronto under the slogan “Canada can’t hide genocide,” openly contesting Canada’s authority in negotiating on the global stage. Shouting “No G20 on stolen native land!” the marchers carried placards, banners, Mohawk Nation flags, and an inverted Canadian flag. The group altered the Canadian national anthem’s opening lines “O Canada! Our home and native land!”, singing instead “O Canada! Our home on native land!” They hoped to bring international awareness to aboriginal issues via media coverage of the G8 and G20 summits. The demonstrators urged the Canadian government to investigate the disappearance of some 500 aboriginal women , demanded self-determination, complete political recognition of past treaties, and nation-to-nation negotiations with Canada on equal terms.

On 25 June 2010 ‘Shout Out for Global Justice,’ sponsored by the Council of Canadians, organized an incredible line-up of speakers to challenge the G20 and demand trade, water, and climate justice. The event was sold out. 2,700 people attended, as well as many others who watched the forum by web-cast in communities across Canada and at the U.S. Social Forum in Detroit. The line-up of speakers included Clayton Thomas-Müller of the Mathais Colomb Cree Nation in Northern Manitoba and tar sands campaigner with the U.S.-based organization Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN).

The five First Nations in the region of the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, rely on traditional food sources, like moose, fish, beaver, and muskrat, all of which have become contaminated by mining pollution. A community of only 1,200 has seen more than 100 deaths in the last decade from rare cancers and autoimmune diseases. The tar sands leases also breach aboriginal treaty rights; they were sold by the provincial government without the prior informed consent of local communities.

There is no scarcity of examples of native resistance in recent Canadian history. In 1990, an historic armed standoff between Mohawks and the Canadian army near Oka, Québec lasted more than two months when the provincial government tried to convert a native burial ground into a golf course. Five years later, the Canadian government employed helicopters, armoured personnel carriers, improvised explosives, and more than 77,000 rounds of ammunition during a three-month standoff over land title at Gustafsen Lake in British Columbia. In 2007, the Mohawk community at Tyendinaga, 200 kilometres east of Toronto, blocked the trans-continental rail line, and Canada’s largest highway, in protest at the government’s failure to address land rights and basic issues of survival within First Nations – including safe drinking water, which the community lacked. Despite the exposure of such injustices, a foremost concern in 2007 appeared to be how to circumvent a roadblock. (See here and here.)

Aboriginal peoples living in Canada have lower life expectancy, less access to education, a much lower average income, and a much higher suicide rate than the rest of the country. The UN has stated that if Canada were “judged solely on the economic and social well-being of its First Nations” peoples, the country’s human development ranking would drop from 7th to 48th out of 174 countries. Organizations like Amnesty International have sharply criticized Canada’s treatment of aboriginals, calling the country’s reserves a third world problem in one of the world’s richest countries.

One final thought. Press coverage of issues related to aboriginals clears the way for government actions that “reproduce material and social inequality between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people” (including subtle sanitized ethno-genocide). This is a major cause of concern because it promotes an environment in which social injustice is tolerated and Canadians are less likely to be sympathetic to aboriginal resistance movements.

Tessa M. Blaikie, Nicole R. Gordon, and Natalia T. Ilyniak are sociology honours students at the University of Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada. Kimberley A. Ducey is a faculty member in the Department of Sociology, University of Winnipeg.

“Illegal” Immigration in Arizona: Wong’s Utilitarian Solution

This morning’s Arizona Republic features a front-page article on legislator Barry Wong’s approach to the solution of the ‘illegal’ immigration problem.

Wong, a lawyer and four-term member of the state house of representatives, is running as a Republican for a seat in the Arizona Corporation Commission, a public entity responsible for public utilities regulation. He proposes asking utility companies not to serve ‘illegal’ immigrants.

He contends that

There is a cost ratepayers shouldn’t have to bear because of the illegal immigrant population.

The other two Republican candidates for the seat, and all three Democrats agree that asking utilities “to check customers’ immigration status is inappropriate.”

“I’m sure that there will be criticism about human rights violations,” Wong averred. “Is power or natural gas or any type of utility we regulate, is that a right people have? It is not a right. It is a service.”

I’ve always believed in calling bullshit…… bullshit. Wong’s proposal falls in the latter category. It is ironic that Wong, the son of Chinese immigrants who fled difficult conditions in China, would voice such xenophobic bullshit. How unsettling it is to see that political candidates believe that practically all campaign promises will help them get elected, as long as they are “anti-illegal.”

England’s Smartest Family is Black has a nice personal interest story, with a very important point. The story is about the Imafidon family, a black-British family, and its very-very-high-achieving children. First there are the two nine-year-old twins, Peter and Paula, who are the youngest to

ever pass the University of Cambridge’s advanced mathematics exam. That’s on top of the fact they have set world records when they passed the A/AS-level math papers.

Nine years old! But these two children are not alone, because their sister Anne-Marie

holds the world record as the youngest girl to pass the A-level computing, when she was just 13. She is now studying at . . . Johns Hopkins University …. Sister Christina, 17, is the youngest student to ever get accepted and study at an undergraduate institution at any British university at the tender age of 11. And Samantha, now age 12, had passed two rigorous high school-level mathematics and statistics exams at the age of 6…

The father immigrated to London from Nigeria three decades back, and he makes a key point about why these working class children have done well in England:

….. he denies there is some “genius gene” in his family. Instead, he credits his children’s success to the Excellence in Education program for disadvantaged inner-city children. “Every child is a genius,” he told British reporters. “Once you identify the talent of a child and put them in the environment that will nurture that talent, then the sky is the limit. Look at Tiger Woods or the Williams sisters … they were nurtured.”

Doubtless, he is underplaying parental efforts here, but still his point is dramatic.

So, of course, in the U.S. we starve and re-Jim-Crow our inner-city educational programs for decades, then when the Bush Depression kicks in, our governments’ solutions include giving a trillion dollars in aid to Wall Street’s white-collar, low-intelligence deviants, but cutting back on many local educational and other social support programs that develop young talent in areas where we need it.

Perhaps we need to send our (mostly white) politicians to study with this savvy father and his very talented kids. Maybe they can get their “low IQs” up a little?

Pew Poll: Americans Support Police-State-Like Tactics on Immigration

The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press has recently released a national opinion poll (done on on May 6-9, 2010) on the general public’s reactions to the Arizona immigration law (SB 1070), which makes being an undocumented immigrant traveling in or through Arizona a major crime under state law. Here is their summary and here is the full report.

The key and actual questions are these:

Q.10 The state of Arizona recently passed a law dealing with illegal immigration. As I describe some parts of the
law, tell me if you approve or disapprove of each. [The three percentages are for these responses, reading from left to right: approve, disapprove, don’t know/other]:

a. Allowing police to question anyone who
they think may be in the country illegally: 62% 35 3

b. Requiring people to produce documents verifying
their legal status if police ask for them: 73% 23 4

c. Allowing police to detain anyone who cannot
verify their legal status: 67% 29 4

On the face of it, these survey data are pretty chilling, with a very substantial majority of the general population supporting key aspects of laws like that in Arizona. On another question, 59 percent of those polled say they approve of the new Arizona law.

More than two thirds buy into the conservative argument that police have a right to act on their own subjective hunches that a person is in the country illegally. In the Southwest this means routine racial profiling, as white residents will almost never be “thought to be in the country illegally.” Indeed, as legal analyst and scholar Michelle Alexander shows in her great new book, The New Jim Crow, the not so secret “secret” of everyday practice in all major aspects of our criminal justice system is that this system routinely and demonstrably (from tons of research) operates in an well-institutionalized racist fashion, with whites with power (especially police officers, prosecutors, and judges) able to pretty much discriminate against working class Americans of color with impunity — and with the backing of numerous recent court decisions by our arch-conservative Supreme Court (perhaps our most undemocratic political institution). People of color are easily targeted when the Supreme Court and the congress back up routine discrimination in the streets. The subjective “thinking” of police and other criminal justice officials is now the criterion of “justice” when it comes to many crime policing and prosecution decisions.

The second question’s and third question’s huge positive responses might, however, have been different if the supportive respondents (especially the majority of white respondents–Pew does not give a racial breakdown) had routine experience with being mistreated or harassed by the police seeking such information–like many Americans of color. Also, I wonder how they would feel if they were taken to jail if they did not have their key documents (birth certificate?) with them, as this law requires. Apparently a driver’s license is not enough. (Have you ever gone out on the streets without key documents?)

The increasing public support of essentially police-state tactics over the last decade (notice that the large, mostly white employers are not principally targeted–the easier way to stop immigration?) is one of the chilling things about this supposedly “post-racial” America. (Related issues in some of the likely police stops out of this law seem to be the fourth amendment’s protections against government searches without specific evidence and without warrants, and the fifth amendment’s protection against self-incrimination, and its a person shall not “be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Have these also been nullified by the routine operation of the justice system, including recent Supreme Court decisions?) Actually, we have now quickly gone to the post-post-racial America.