A Different Story About What Happened To Black Men At Tuskegee
The What Is Now Being Heard
by Jonah Goldberg
The infamous Tuskegee experiment is the Medusa’s head of black left-wing paranoia. Whenever someone laments the fact that anywhere from 10 percent to 33 percent of African Americans believe the U.S. government invented AIDS to kill blacks, someone will say, “That’s not so crazy when you consider what happened at Tuskegee.”
In 1932, public health researchers set out to study syphilis, particularly among African Americans, who had higher infection rates than whites. They recruited 399 black men who already had syphilis. The doctors infected no one. In fact, the patients were selected in the first place because they were tertiary-stage syphilitics who were no longer contagious.
The researchers studied the progress of the disease, without treating it, for 40 years. Prior to the availability of penicillin in the 1940s and 1950s, the researchers couldn’t have treated the men even if they wanted to. Even after standardized penicillin treatments were available, it wasn’t clear that the patients could have been helped. Some of the doctors believed that treating the decades-long infections would kill the men.
Among scholars who’ve studied Tuskegee, there’s a lot of debate about how much — if any — racism was involved in the experiment. But no one disputes that Tuskegee had nothing whatsoever to do with genocide or even a desire to spread the disease among the black population.
What was bad about the Tuskegee experiment was a callous disregard for the humanity and integrity of the patients. They were told they were getting “treatments” when they were merely being studied. They were lied to, treated as objects rather than citizens. This is even more offensive today, now that we have modern legal and ethical rules about informed consent — rules that did not exist when the study was launched. But it was still wrong.
But the idea that the Tuskegee experiment somehow validates the deranged, paranoid view that the U.S. government created AIDS to murder African Americans — in one of the most hideously painful, drawn-out and expensive manners imaginable — is a riot of ridiculousness and a maelstrom of mendacity. And yet, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve heard guilt-ridden white liberals say exactly that. “Considering what we did at Tuskegee,” they opine, “who can blame them for being distrustful of government?”