Houssaynatou@ 'Behind the Sheet' - my blood boiled

What’s it about?

An up-and-coming 19th-century gynecologist is hoping to pioneer medical advancements… but they could come at the cost of his female slaves’ lives. 

My experience.

Slavery is such a touchy topic for me.

I remember being introduced to it in elementary school. Even at that point, I did not like hearing about it. I felt like at such a young age, the public school system was laying the groundwork for segregation and encouraging us to think certain ways about one another. Being born and raised in New York City, I was thankful that I was brought up in a diverse neighborhood and school community. But as I got older, the reality of race playing a huge factor in a person's life began to sink in. I did not like it, and I did not want to witness it. It would only bring me anger. It's natural to react that way when you see one of your own being treated badly by another race due to the color of her skin. It makes my blood boil inside, and learning the history in the classroom made me feel uncomfortable. 

The history of slavery in the United States will forever be embedded in our minds, and I can only imagine how I would have survived at that time. Putting myself in that position makes me sad and angry, a combination that is hard to overcome. My family does not have a long history in the U.S. — they came from different parts of Africa in the 1990s. For this reason, I see no reason to do 23andMe or create an account on Ancestry.com. I don't wonder about where my family comes from. We never were forced to leave the motherland. When I encounter black Americans who are curious about where their families came from, I am happy for them. They are excited to learn about their ancestry.

But I also encounter ignorant black Americans who look down on the term African. They associate it with being dirty, ugly and not at all attractive. That stigma existed way before my time, but it was still alive and well when I was a kid in school. So I would refuse to say where I was from, and I would not have my parents come to any school events. For the most part, no one really knew I was African. I did not look the way they assumed an African person would look — dark skin, wide nose, short brittle hair, red eyeballs and “dry ashy skin.” I was far from that, if not the complete opposite. At times my name would hint at my African heritage. But I would instantly shut it down and reference my name’s origins in the Quran, instead. 

When I saw the four black women being tested on and degraded in this play, my blood boiled. Dr. George had relations with each of the women he experimented on. There were no consequences because he was a white man in the South during the 1850s. His experiment was to find a cure for fistulas. Though the term sounds odd, in simple terms it was a condition that women experienced after childbirth. Holes would appear in the vagina and cause blood, mucus, and urine leakage. Dr. George wanted to be the first to find a cure because it was a condition killing many women and their unborn babies. Of course with any experiment there are failures, and Dr. George experienced a lot of failures at the cost of his slaves’ well-being. They endured procedure after procedure — and excruciating pain — until he found success. At the end, the audience was informed by the cast that this was in fact a true story. My mind filled with disgust and hatred for this so-called father of gynecology.

Race and its fraught history in the U.S. will never go away. As racial tensions make a huge comeback in our current political climate, I can only hope that those who came before us and paved the way are at least a little bit proud of what black people have accomplished as they continue the fight.  

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