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159 6 Bodies and DisEase Finding AlterNative Cure, Assuming AlterNative Identity Underscoring the importance of a multifaceted community-based model of health care, Ann Folwell Stanford acknowledges that the “institution of medicine is only a part, albeit an important part, of a more far-reaching health care enterprise. In this setting the body’s health is inseparable from that body’s relationship to the greater community (or world) and its health” (Bodies 4). While being mindful of severe physical illness, Stanford nevertheless feels that some diseased bodies are emblematic of social and racial injustices that reveal the disparity in the care and cure administered to certain (read blacks) individuals.1 To reappropriate Jacqui Alexander’s coinage, not just any body is eligible for care or cure. Certainly, this logic holds up in Dorothy Roberts’s analysis of racial health disparities in the United States. Contending that “race matters,” she reveals the stark and frightening reality that “[b]lacks are more likely to die prematurely (before the age of sixty-five) from most major illnesses: cancer, stroke, diabetes , kidney disease, AIDS, and coronary heart disease, to name a few” (Fatal Invention 81). Lindah Mhando notes: “The body . . . becomes the site of profound struggle in black communities; an indication that there are implicit and complex links between global power relations, local experiences in spatial location, and women’s subjective experiences of health, illness, and disability” (“Under Ivory-Tower Eyes”). Stanford points out that “living human bodies pay the price for and carry within them the symptoms of a sick world” (Bodies 29). Often the cost is astronomical; in the given situation, the expense is self-erasure that bears the imprint of denial of personhood, and subsequently citizenship. 160 · African Diasporic Women’s Narratives This multifaceted community-based model of health care that Stanford promotes is premised on the politics of inclusion and belonging. Furthermore , community support is complementary to one’s survival. Along these lines, Stanford is calling for a transnational coalition between western and indigenous medicine and cultures, free of racial and geographic boundaries and borders.2 She also brings attention to the black diasporic community that is disproportionately inflicted by diseases, rendering its inhabitants disabled and therefore unworthy of citizenship. Accordingly, she calls for the end to discrimination in western medical practices and the acknowledgment of race, gender, and biological differences. Promoting a comparable transnational agenda, Edwidge Danticat, Paule Marshall , Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid, and Maryse Condé seek alternative cures as counter discourse to hegemonic, medical practices that become manifest in the embrace of indigeneity. This celebration of difference engenders an alternative identity and a more realistic route to becoming a viable patient cum citizen of the (medical) world. Alvin Poussaint questions the devastating dismissal, “the rationales that legitimated the exclusion of blacks from the purview of universal rights and entitlements” (Hartman, Scenes 5). He reasons that “the persistent presence of racism despite the significant legal, social, and political progress made during the last half of the twentieth century, has created a physiological risk for black people that is virtually unknown to white Americans” (15). Dorothy Roberts bolsters this line of reasoning when she refers to the health disparity between whites and blacks as a “racial chasm in health” (Fatal Invention 82). This racial (body) divide provides a historical point of entry to the dehumanization of blacks even as it summons up images of exceptional (white) citizenship. In this regard, the unhealthy body carries traits of difference and deviance and therefore does not measure up to the nation’s (read medical discourse) definition of ideal citizenship .3 However, these bodies of difference and deviance were conjured up by the powers-that-be in a futile effort to justify their “sins.” Roberts cogently observes that “white slaveholders explained race in biological terms to demarcate slaves from masters and to provide a moral excuse for slavery. Whites argued that the biological peculiarities of blacks made enslavement the only condition in which blacks could be productive and disciplined” (Fatal Invention 83). Quoting Lundy Braun, Roberts concludes , “It was precisely ‘by locating disease in physiologic difference— be it susceptibility or resistance—that medicine served to mark blacks as Bodies and DisEase: Finding AlterNative Cure, Assuming AlterNative Identity · 161 deserving of their inferior social status in society’” (83). Whiteness and able-bodiedness therefore are imagined as the transcendental norm. Incidentally , black subjects undergo denationalization that resonates with disembodiment. Poussaint refers to this condition as “posttraumatic slave syndrome.” Citing the predominance of black prison inmates despite...


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