By Adriana Gamondes
I first started looking into the possibility of a relationship between race and brain injury two years ago because—to be blunt— I wondered if mercury was more toxic to certain ethnicities.
My children are part Hispanic, Amerindian and North African among other things and, when it comes to race and medicine, the most paranoid fantasies of racially-motivated medical atrocity and negligence have at one time or another been actualized in American history. So I tried an extreme idea on for size: could the increase in thimerosal in vaccines in the 1980s have been intended to target certain populations?
As I’ll try to explain later, in the end it looked like the racial targeting concept was probably wrong. In fact, I might have run across some information that, if at all true, could confirm that the epidemic was a big “oops” after all, at least the first leg of it. That doesn’t mean the perpetuation of the epidemic once it was underway couldn’t have been accidentally-on-purpose. Again—just as an exercise in considering possibilities. Had the epidemic suddenly dropped off, say, when thimerosal was partially removed from vaccines, that could have looked quite bad for industry. It’s hard to forget Marie McCormick’s announcement in the wake of the 2001 Simpsonwood meeting that, despite Verstraeten’s findings that thimerosal levels and autism rates were showing strong correlation, the CDC “wants us to declare, well, that these things are pretty safe” and “we are not ever going to come down that [autism] is a true side effect” of thimerosal.
The timing of the wildly inflated “flu scare” of 2003 and attendant flu shot promotion created the appearance that industry and the CDC were trying to keep autism rates stable in order to avoid suspicion of iatrogenic factors if thimerosal was partly removed from other shots on the childhood schedule. Children born as late as 2005 or 2006 could have conceivably received higher levels of thimerosal than those born in the mid-1990’s due to the addition of the influenza vaccine and because, contrary to news reports, there was still old, full-mercury vaccine stock on the shelves in 2006. This is one of those open secrets—easily confirmed by a search of public documents but repeatedly denied or ignored in the mainstream press.
Though it’s debatable whether thimerosal is the central cause of autism, according to Simpsonwood transcripts, the CDC and industry may have suspected this themselves prior to the full mercury flu shot push. And of course there’s that monetary incentive: making the “lemonade” of almost limitless financial gains for anyone willing to sing along—from a $3.5 billion a year “autism drug market”; the sudden explosive need for clinical screening tools; grants for genes research, etc. — out of the “lemons” of an epidemic of autism. That’s how disaster capitalism works: let the mess happen, or make it happen— or just be less than contrite that it did— and mop up the profits after the fact.
But that may all be part of the era of cover-up that simply followed an “epoch of f***-up”. In the process of figuring out I was probably barking up the wrong tree about initial motives for increasing mercury in shots, I discovered some clues which might be as disturbing as my original considerations in light of the CDC’s recent findings on the gap in autism rates between children of different ancestry (David Kirby’s report HERE).
Two years ago, it was unknown whether African American or Hispanic children had lower rates of autism than white children. Now there’s evidence—for what it’s worth— that certain groups are less affected. This is not true across the board. Melody Goodman and Carolyn Gallagher discovered in their Stony Brook study that Hispanic male children who received the full-mercury Hepatitis B vaccine series starting at birth appeared to have the highest rates of autism (HERE)—though this isn’t necessarily a complete contradiction of overall lower rates of autism among Hispanic males, as I’ll get into later.
Among all the other things that corporate media doesn’t see fit to print or inquire about autism, almost no one is publically asking the reasons for any racial disparity in autism rates except parents and scientists from the vaccine injury arena. Could this be because all roads lead to Rome? That no matter how you look at it, the gap may implicate environmental factors, even specifically vaccines?
Until it unfolded that the highest rate of autism in the world might be among the Minnesota Somali (1/28 or 1/26 depending on the source), it was a vague impression within the vaccine injury community that autism was, for lack of a better expression, a “blonde disease” or even a “redhead disease”. It just seemed to many that, with some exceptions, the paler the kid, the more likely they’d be impacted. There were discussions of how many of our injured kids— even those with dark eyes and hair and Mediterranean ancestry—don’t tan even if their parents and typical siblings do; or the number of redheaded children with autism, which Age of Autism contributing editor Teresa Conrick has been researching at full force.
During such discussions, some people wandered into racially dicey conjectures that African Americans were “less likely to seek early diagnoses” than whites for economic and cultural reasons and that this could explain a gap: the implication being the rates of autism among minorities were identical to whites’ but there was just “decreased recognition”. This was based on a study which found some Hispanic and African American children weren’t being diagnosed until after age three (since the study was mainstream, it was never considered whether some minority children might actually be regressing later than white children—i.e., taking longer to succumb to environment). Others speculated that vaccination rates among African Americans might be lower due either to socioeconomics or to long-standing suspicions of mainstream medicine that trailed incidents of grotesque medical racism like I mentioned above—particularly the Tuskegee syphilis experiment (HERE).
None of these theories really made sense to me except maybe the last one. First, they assume too much about parenting differences between races. Secondly, any parental resistance to diagnostic stigma wouldn’t last too long once a child hit school age, particularly when schools receive federal funding for each qualifying diagnosis of learning disability. Plus, many white families drag their heels in labeling their child for as many “cultural” and economic reasons as minorities might; and whites are more likely to homeschool if they’re avoiding diagnosis. But the final conjecture—that African Americans in particular might have lower vaccination rates out of jaundice towards mainstream medical intentions towards their community at least gave me pause: history shows that minorities in the US certainly have good reason to be circumspect.
As some are aware, racist diagnosing and selective treatments go back to the time of slavery in the US, when slaves who didn’t sufficiently enjoy the brutality of slavery or who tried to escape were slapped with various bizarre psychiatric diagnoses like “dysaesthesia aethiopis” or “drapetomania”—respectively, “African laziness” and “running away disease”. According to Robert Whitaker, author of “Mad In America”, in a post-emancipation explosion of racial hatred, recently freed slaves faced a new threat of being locked up in mental institutions, with the risk of being labeled “insane” rising fivefold in the twenty years following the civil war.
This was regarded as “proof” by racist psychiatrists that freedom was detrimental, that blacks were “prone” to psychotic illness because they were “descendents of savages and cannibals” and that the “biological development of the race had not made adequate preparation” for living in “an environment of higher civilization”. In 1958, Clennon King was involuntarily committed to a mental hospital solely for being the first African American to seek admission to Mississippi State University. Later, a study of 1,023 African American psychiatric patients diagnosed as schizophrenic found that over 64% had been misdiagnosed and that reports of severity of illness and “dangerousness” were typically exaggerated when patients were black.
Sometimes this boiled down to basic differences in reality between races. One of the most disturbing stories I read in a tome on posttraumatic stress occurred only about 20 years ago. A middle aged African American male was picked up on the side of the road in a Southern state, screaming that his son had been beheaded. He was taken to county, put under observation and subsequently diagnosed with schizophrenia. But it turned out that his son had, as he had tried to explain, been decapitated when the boy was taken hostage by a racist gang, chained by the neck to the back of a truck and dragged to his death. The man’s white attendants hadn’t been able to corroborate the crime because it had happened in a neighboring state—and they simply had trouble understanding horror, grief and betrayal on such a scale, mistaking it for insanity.
For African Americans, “psychiatric disorders” were never traditionally assumed to be due to stress or poverty, which happened to be the prevailing state of existence for most nonwhites in the post civil war era. “Depressions of various forms are rare in the colored…These individuals do not react to the graver emotions…owing to the fact that they have no strict moral standard and no scrupulosity as to social conventions” explained Dr. Mary O’Malley of St. Elizabeth’s Hospital (famed as Walter Freeman’s “lobotomy” center and, ironically enough, the proposed site for the new Department of Homeland Security headquarters). In other words, anything “wrong” with African Americans could not be due to environmental factors— such as all the manifold ways that racism effects health, socioeconomics and stress levels. This could not have to do with the very bias and misinterpretation exemplified by powerful medical authorities like Dr. O’Malley herself: it had to be genetic.
Dr. O’Malley, the first female president of the Psychoanalytic Society, probably made this statement in the 1920’s. Then, also according to Robert Whitaker, two sociologists at Indiana University—Brian Powell and Marti Loring—had 290 psychiatrists review written case studies of patients that were alternately labeled black or white. The group generally diagnosed the conditions of black males as “more severe” and white males as “less severe”. The researchers concluded that “Clinicians appear to ascribe violence, suspiciousness, and dangerousness to black clients even though the case studies are the same as the case studies for the white clients”.
If anyone thinks this kind of medical bias is a thing of the past, the Loring-Powell study took place in 1988 (here HERE). And it goes right to the top. Here’s another bit of relatively recent history that’s interesting in light of the neurodiverse community’s attempts to equivocate their movement to civil rights and racial pride: Frederick Goodwin, psychiatrist and Thomas Insel’s predecessor as director of the National Institute of Mental Health—who sits beside professional vaccine defenders Steven Novella and Paul Offit on the science advisory board of ACSH (industry front group American Council on Science and Health); friend of Drugwonk friends of Quackwatch (I feel like I’m channeling Lewis Carroll)— once compared minority inner city men to "hypersexual" monkeys in the jungle who just mate and kill. He made this statement while heading the former federal Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA):
"If you look, for example, at male monkeys, especially in the wild, roughly half of them survive to adulthood. The other half die by violence. That is the natural way of it for males, to knock each other off and, in fact, there are some interesting evolutionary implications of that because the same hyperaggressive monkeys who kill each other are also hypersexual, so they copulate more and therefore they reproduce more to offset the fact that half of them are dying. Now, one could say that if some of the loss of structure in this society, and particularly in the high impact inner city areas, has removed some of the civilizing evolutionary things that we have built up and that maybe it isn't t just careless use of the word when people call certain areas of certain cities jungles, that we may have gone back to what might be more natural, without all of the social controls that we have imposed upon ourselves as a civilization over thousands of years in our own evolution".
No, that’s not your imagination: the former most powerful shrink in the country actually echoed the eugenic view that minority men are evolutionarily less advanced. Contrary to Goodwin’s later claims that he misspoke, in documents attained by FOIA, Goodwin expressed serious intentions to put government money where his mouth was. Unsigned statements stamped with Goodwin’s department, which reiterated Goodwin’s own spoken views, intimated that Goodwin advocated the prophylactic drugging of minority youth due to the "genetic contribution” to “antisocial personality disorder" to which "minority populations are disproportionately affected". In other words, anything “wrong” with African Americans could not be due to environmental factors— such as all the manifold ways that racism effects health, socioeconomics and stress levels. This could not have to do with the very bias and misinterpretation exemplified by powerful medical authorities like Goodwin himself: it had to be genetic. Oh how far we’ve come.
After two blatantly unethical and baldly racist federally funded “Violence Initiatives” (HERE), which attempted to “prove” a link between race and violence— and after more than a century of “eugenetic” research— no genetic link to crime or violence has ever been found. The two modern Federal Violence Initiatives went so far as to plan mass lobotomies on black urban rioters, actually did approve and fund spinal taps on black toddlers (interesting in light of charges of “unethical” lumbar punctures leveled against Drs. Wakefield, Murch and Walker-Smith) and subjected the younger siblings of black juvenile detainees to doses of fenfluramine that would be dangerous for adults.
It was all for nothing. As geneticist Patrick Levitt put it, there are no “genes for behavior”. But you’d never know it from the mainstream press, which still periodically refers to “crime genes” as if this were an established finding. Sound familiar?
The government was so embarrassed by Goodwin's statements and his conduct in spearheading the second Federal Violence Initiative that he was immediately made director of the NIMH from 1992 to 1994. National Public Radio was so embarrassed by Goodwin's history that they gave him his own radio show until he was caught taking $1.3 million in fees from GlaxoSmithKline, fees which presumably influenced Goodwin’s constant promotion of certain psychiatric drugs on the air (HERE).
One also has to wonder, particularly since NPR producers had every reason to know about Goodwin’s financial ties to industry, if Goodwin was fired because then-Senator Obama was ahead in the polls and only a few months away from being elected. Did NPR sense the change of guard might shed new light on old crimes?
The fact that, of the 60% of children in foster care who are currently being subjected to dangerous drug cocktails, the vast majority are African American shows that the tendency to overdiagnose minority children with “conditions” for which the “treatments” are cheap, cruel and restrictive is still a problem. But at the same time, when Dr. Herbert Needleman did a study on widespread “silent lead poisoning” among urban children in the 1970’s showing that the condition could affect academics and behavior, rather than launching a lead treatment and abatement program—which would have been a complex and astronomically expensive undertaking— the government lambasted Needleman and the lead industry did everything it could to counter and bury reports. Government health authorities showed their preference for a view of “genetic” behavioral explanations rather than anything pointing to pricey cures or ecological racism—the fact that minorities are more often forced to live near industrial dumps and in lead infested housing. The refusal of government regulators and health authorities to contend with lead exposure is ongoing (HERE).
So, to recap, African Americans and other minorities have traditionally been overdiagnosed with any disorder which might add to subjugation or act as an excuse to curtail freedom such to antisocial behavior disorders, “oppositional-defiant disorder”, etc. This seems to be particularly true for conditions which are treated cheaply. Conditions which are expensive to treat, and for which cause points to industry culpability and government negligence, would of course be underdiagnosed (as for all children) and research into racial susceptibility has traditionally been sorely lacking. Again, the risk of clinical abuse is even beyond what all medical consumers in the US face.
With this history of official attitudes and officially sanctioned medical abuse, it may not have been so “out there” to wonder if African Americans—poor or not—had the same uptake of certain medical interventions such as vaccinations for their children as whites. At the same time, assuming that many African American and Latino parents are just as concerned about a toddler who won’t talk or won’t toilet train as white parents (particularly if we assume many urban households, like suburban ones, can scarcely afford eternal diapers), some may have trouble getting an early diagnosis if the diagnosis comes with expectations of (expensive) early interventions.
So are African Americans and Hispanics underdiagnosed or are they “undervaccinated”? Or both or neither? When I hit the roadblock of lack of data for any of these issues, I moved on to the question of whether African Americans and Latinos were having a different reaction to the same vaccine schedule as whites, if in fact their vaccine uptake was relatively similar.
Adriana Gamondes lives in Massachusetts with her husband and recovering twins.