Sacrificing the Poor
Updated: Sep 19, 2022
Photo Cred: Dorothy Attakora-Gyan
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I've been thinking a lot about who gets sacrificed and or exploited in the name of, "the common good," or "come up." It's almost always, animals and nature, or, if humans, poor people- racialized poor people, disabled poor people, Black disabled people- who get the short end of the stick (is this euphemism problematic, I know, ‘bottom of the totem pole is,’ but not sure about this one, let me know). A case in point is a Washington Post article I read this week by Cathy O’Neil titled, “The Vaccine-Hesitant Could Use Some Friendly Shame.”
Cathy writes, "So on a spring day in 1796, Jenner harvested pus from the hands and forearms of a local milkmaid named Sarah Nelmes, and used it to inoculate James Phipps, the eight-year-old son of his gardener. Jenner then gave the boy what would be a deadly dose of smallpox. The boy survived. Just to make sure, Jenner went on to infect Phipps twenty more times. The boy’s defenses held, and the first vaccine was born.”
She goes on to add, “Yet its development also sheds light on how some lives are valued more than others. In Jenner’s view, many lives saved were worth far more than one life risked, especially that of a lowborn boy. On the social scale of eighteenth-century Britain, Jenner occupied a master’s caste. He had servants, including his landless gardener and the gardener’s son. This gave him the authority, in the name of science, to put the child’s life at risk. It was in the interest of society, as enunciated by a person in a position of power and knowledge, that permitted Jenner to steamroll the rights of an individual, especially a poor one.”
O’Neil goes on to cite the infamous Tuskegee experiment which unethically left Black men with syphilis untreated when they were diagnosed and could have been treated. She also points to Henrietta Lacks whose cancer cells were harvested and still get used in the medical field today, including for the COVID-19 vaccine. Henrietta Lacks died of cancer as a poor woman, though her cells have generated so much money.
A lot of "Third-World" (read: Black and Brown) poor people have also been used for such testing in the name of science and research. Somebody's gotta do it, but I can't imagine rich white people jumping at the opportunity to be sacrificed so easily in the name of anything. It's like they value their lives and actually want to live to see another day. Plot twist: so do the rest of us.
But living life like I value myself and daring to want more for myself is also sticky somehow.
I have lots of complicated feelings around this life I’m calling in and trying to create for myself. One where I flow into ease and do away with subscribing to suffering. I struggle with the carbon footprint I leave in my quest to “live my best life,” and even more with the passport privileges that folks with Canadian, American, or European passports have.
I’m sure some say that I don’t think I’m deserving of a better life, and they aren’t entirely wrong.
I have a lot of financial trauma and resistance to money and rich people that can block a certain level of financial freedom from flowing into my life. I been known, and I’m aware. I’m also trying to be honest about my privileges and how it comes at the expense of others, in most cases, poor people. Two things can be true at the same time.
We live in a world where abundance for some, means off the backs of others, often, poor people. I feel some type of way exploiting or benefiting from the labor of low-income people who are already underpaid, overworked, and taken advantage of daily. It’s weird to me. I want abundance and luxury for all of us, or at the very least, for those who desire it.
What about you? How do you negotiate this tension? As always, please feel free to like, subscribe, and share.
Until next time, in solidarity.