Growing up in Arizona, we had very few statues or landmarks that represent early American history like there is in on the East Coast. Now living in Washington D.C., you can’t help but run into them. Every time I drive to my friend’s house or Costco I can see the Washington Monument and its surroundings. There’s not a spot that doesn’t hold significance or history. I live in the city that was frequently visited by George Washington (Alexandria, VA). As I walk the old brick bricks streets in Old Town, I can sense the excitement and dreams of the colonial Virginians, yet I realize that every historic place had a price. Not only the sacrifice from my white brothers and sisters but that of the slaves who built and carved these beginnings into this young nation, as well as the indigenous people who were forced out of their own land. These stories of our nation’s beginnings will continue to unfold, and as we unearth our heritage of cruelty admixed the heroism, we must validate the atrocities and restore human dignity.
James Marion Sims is known to be the father of gynecology. There are statues throughout New York City, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania to honor his research and work, specifically his development of the technique to repair vesicovaginal fistula (VVF). Vesicovaginal fistula is an abnormal passage between the bladder and the vagina. According to UCLA Health, “In the developing world, VVF most commonly occurred due to prolonged and obstructed labor where the baby’s head may be disproportionately large for the mother’s pelvic outlet.” Fistula can be very painful, and if a woman has one she is most-likely unable to control her bladder. There’s more to this man’s story, no matter how heroic his endeavors may seem. It is recorded in history that Sims went too far in experiments on female slaves, never with anesthesia. Many argue the slaves wanted help, no matter how much pain they were in. These women were never offered anesthesia, Sims ignorantly believed that black people couldn’t “feel” pain. James Marion Sims operated not only on women, hours at a time without pain medication, he also would pry children’s bones apart in order to treat them. This man was known to purchase slaves to always have subjects to “test on.” No matter the perceived success, if human life is disgraced, the outcome is a loss.
On April 18, 2018, 124 years after the statue of Sims was erected, New York City pulled it down. Despite his work, the egregious acts of abuse and racism are not worthy of the public display of honor. There will be a plaque replacing the statue to respect and commemorate the women who lost their lives in the name of biological progress: Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsy. This is one small step towards reconciliation, and if we continue in this direction we will see healing and restoration between races in our communities. We must keep building the bridge between what has separated us for so long, and that includes validating the hurt and evil of the past, without excuses or justifications. There is no justification for dehumanization. We must respond with eagerness to repair and reunite as equal human beings while respecting and appreciating our diversity.