Medical Bondage

Julie Hawks interviews historian Deidre Cooper Owens about her new book, Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology

In Medical Bondage, Cooper Owens examines a wide range of scientific literature and less formal communications in which gynecologists created and disseminated medical fictions about their patients, such as their belief that black enslaved women could withstand pain better than white “ladies.”

Julie Hawks: Did you face any challenges conceiving of, researching, writing, revising, publishing, or promoting this book? If so, please share those challenges and how you overcame them? 

Deirdre Cooper Owens: The biggest challenge I faced was trying to eradicate all of the voices I absorbed from well-intentioned colleagues, editors, friends, writing group members, and former professors who had competing ideas about how I was to write Medical Bondage.  Once I learned to trust myself, I found it difficult to isolate and amplify the voice of enslaved and Irish immigrant women whose stories and experiences were contained within medical narratives written by white male doctors.

Beyond the Slave Trade, The Cadaver Trade

By Daina Ramey Berry

Beyond the Slave Trade, the Cadaver Trade

“The topic of slavery features prominently in each February’s reflections on African-American history. But when it comes to this darkest time in our country’s past, experts are still discovering horrors that have not yet made their way into history books.

One shocking fact that’s recently come to light: Major medical schools used slave corpses, acquired through an underground market in dead bodies, for education and research.

Yes, there was a robust body-snatching industry in which cadavers — mostly the bodies of black people, many of whom had been enslaved when they were alive — were used at Harvard, the Universities of Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia, and other institutions.”


At the Wet: A DACAmented Journey, I learned a lot about the psychological tolls of being undocumented in the United States. Alex’s character, Anner, went through many governmental procedures just to fill the requirements to get his citizenship. This stress, along with the fear of being deported make this process much more difficult.

I was thinking throughout the play. How could someone who has lived in the United States his whole life not be considered an American? It does not make sense how someone can contribute to the society in positive ways and not receive the benefits of citizenship. Anner was a social worker; he helped many people while on DACA. Shutting down DACA will be very detrimental to this country. The United States will lose a lot of great minds and much of the backbone of the country. The criminalization of undocumented immigrants is not practical, it is racist.

Anner’s return to Guatemala reminded me of the passage from Hartman’s The Tribe of the Middle Passage because he was going back to his place of origin, but it was completely unfamiliar to him. He did not fit in. Africans had been displaced by Europeans and Colonial Americans. Similarly, as a result of Trump’s actions, undocumented immigrants will be forced to leave their familiar way of life in the United States.

Anner’s identity had gone through so many changes since he arrived in the United States as an infant. All the experiences add up to create his American identity. Wherever he goes outside of the U.S. people will recognize him as an American. In the beginning of the play, Anner was posting a piece of paper on the board. He was talking about one little piece of paper determining his citizenship status. Bans on DACA will displace so many people who call the U.S. their home. The country of origin is not always home. The United States will not suffer from more immigrants.

DACAmented Journey

“Stepping off that plane was the first time I felt like an immigrant” (WET). This quote refers to the point in the play where Alex steps off the plane in Guatemala for the first time. Alex has lived in the United States his entire life, in his own words, “this is not home”. This play taught me how so many people only have one piece of the story they take to be the truth and don’t realize there is more than one side to the story. It also taught me about all the little intricacies and complications within the immigration process.

During the play, I recalled the Hartman piece where she states, [they] had returned to Africa but they possessed no kin, clan or village home” (Middle Passage). While Alex did have family there and fortunate enough to meet them so many others don’t. Thinking over the amount of times I heard and still hear people saying, “go back to where you came from” or “you don’t belong here”. America is their home, however we are deporting people left and right to places they have never lived a day in their life. When society is calling for immigrants to be removed from their communities, they don’t realize what this truly means. Imagine being put on a plane and left in a country you don’t know, you have never lived there a day in your life; you may not even speak the language, but you are expected to make a home there. Being from or being born somewhere does necessarily make it your home.

Another part in the play to me was simply everything Alex was forced to go through. Here is somebody that has worked to become a “legal” citizen for years and still has not received a piece of paper that would change his life. When the public is telling people become a “legal” citizen then your life will be so much easier, but most of them have no idea what that process looks like. Alex, filled out paperwork, wrote letters and went back to Guatemala and to this day has still not received that little piece of paper that holds so much weight. Before jumping to conclusions, the public needs to get the full story and educate themselves on the truth.

Reflecting on a DACA story

Alex Alpharaoh’s powerfully raw and vulnerable performance about his life and DACA experience taught me that people battling DACA struggle on a daily basis. DACA fighters must constantly watch their backs and worry about every move they make, especially from law enforcement individuals, which harbors fear and distrust among a large portion of the U.S. Alpharaoh’s story is only one DACA story, but is an extremely important one to know in better understanding the negative impacts of DACA.

As he told his audience of the multiple obstacles he had to face, Alpharaoh’s constant struggle was more than apparent. Trying to receive a new passport took months, especially once he was arrested for “disturbing the peace.” Alpharaoh, however, simply walked outside and a police officer thought he was suspicious because Alpharaoh did not have identification on him. Among passport and legal barriers, however, Alpharaoh also faced some intense personal struggles.

When trying to decide whether to go back to Guatemala to receive an official passport, the main unknown question to Alpharaoh was whether he would be allowed back into the U.S. Alpharaoh just wanted to be able to get back home. Alpharaoh never had the stable assurance that any white U.S. citizen would face if traveling out of the U.S. I am confident that my father, being a white male, would have absolutely no problem getting through U.S. customs or Border Patrol if he wanted to travel to Guatemala for seven days. Alpharaoh, however, never had an instance of calm travel. From the minute he stepped onto his departing plane at LAX to finally landing back in LA and going through border patrol, Alpharaoh knew his whole life would be on the line. Alpharaoh could not even completely enjoy his time in Guatemala, because he was so concerned about what regulation Trump would enact, or if he would be arrested the second he stepped out of the plane returning home.

While I only briefly discussed some of Alpharaoh’s struggles with DACA, his uneasy journey to Guatemala was only a piece of his life puzzle. In reality, however, Alpharaoh and so many other non-U.S. born people constantly live a life of fear and anxiety. As long as the U.S. has yet to find any permanent and positive solution for immigrants, foreigners, and people involved with DACA, a large portion of this country will live in constant uncertainty.