Time for Reckoning Microgrants were created through the generous support of the Steve McKee Foundation.
I remember the trepidation expressed by my Gullah forebears whenever they became ill and were advised to visit a doctor. I did not understand, then, what I do now. And what I understand is that they had fear—the depths of which I will never know. Nor will I understand the fear of countless others who would rather take their chances with faith healers or home remedies than to become the victims of questionable medical care or worse—medical experimentation. The reasons for distrust of the health care system in African American communities has a well-documented history—a history which began with enslavement and which ends in the hours that have passed today. For as William Faulkner said, “The Past is Never Dead. It’s not even past.”
Night Doctors in the Age of COVID is a video which provides an unvarnished account of the exploitation of the Black body for free and cheap labor, sexual gratification, and medical experimentation. Comprised of monologues, poems, quotes from famous speakers, and excerpts from Painted Red (a play about Henrietta Lacks, the African American farm worker from whom the first immortal human cell line was stolen), Night Doctors in the Age of COVID highlights the true costs of American medical advancement. In this work, fundamental questions are posed. Underscored by music borne of the anguish felt by Africans torn from the bosoms of mothers and fathers and brought by force to the punishing shores of this America, we see evidence of the vile usages of humans as guinea pigs. The grand scheme of dominance and containment was played out as these men, women, and children labored in terror through the horrors of slavery; the bitter crop of Jim Crow; the batons, water hoses, and dogs of civil rights protests; to the murders of Black people, who—like Sandra Bland—were unafraid. She was supposed to be afraid in the land where servants can murder their bosses with impunity, so long as the bosses are Black, and the servants White.
But Black people are subjects of the body politic. And police murders are meant to remind us that Black bodies in this America are to be used as seen fit by those in the upper echelon of the body’s corporation. As the unadulterated truth shocks like tasers, Black people will do as we have always done. We will fight and we will resist. But warriors must prepare their bodies for battle. And today we confront an enemy even more deadly than those who have historically sought to annihilate us. That enemy is COVID 19, an invisible, opportunistic killer that first takes down the aged, poor, unhealthy, and oppressed. More specifically, COVID takes down—US—in all our intersectionality.
As all Americans are urged to move toward herd immunity by getting vaccinated, the collective consciousness and oral history accounts of African Americans come to the fore, and the message is clear: many African Americans do not trust the medical establishment to care for them or about them. Although the Night Doctors of the past no longer abduct us from streets near major medical centers in the darkest hours, their shadows continue to torment us. This is evidenced by the lingering skepticism about the quality of medical care Black people receive. And this skepticism often leads to delays in seeking medical attention—or worse—absolute avoidance of the medical system. Yet, Black and Brown people suffer worse fates, in greater numbers, from COVID 19. So, we ask, “How must we gear up for this new battle? How can we protect ourselves? Where should we begin? Who should we trust?” Night Doctors in the Age of COVID will help us explore these questions and perhaps, even provide some answers.
Short Stories, Poems, Proverbs and Other Remembrances Dedicated to our Ancestors of the Diaspora
Edited by Cynthia Stephens, Ph.D. and Ian Thompson
Illustrated by Trenn Williams