182659 Putting them in their place: The Medicalizing Gaze

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Yashika Jamee Watkins, MPH, PhD candidate , School of Public Health, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Carlos Drazen, MS , Disability Studies, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Putting them in their place: The Medicalizing Gaze

Often times in America, groups are marginalized based on their physical location or space in society, their population status, and their behaviors. We will discuss how the intersections of medical reasoning, population, space, and presence as the Other contributed to the personification of different groups as carriers of disease and harbingers of, in eugenics terms, “race suicide” to the dominant culture (Popenoe & Johnson 1933). Additionally, we will also discuss how these beliefs contributed to the gaze (a way of seeing that frames the object being seen to make an editorial comment) of the dominant culture and how that gaze serves to marginalize. The dominant group manipulates and defines the place, population, and perceived conduct of members of the marginalized group, citing laws and other forms of regulation to justify control over their behaviors.

One example of medicalizing minority locations is gay bath houses in San Francisco in the early 1980s. The AIDS outbreak of the 1980s (and subsequent AIDS hysteria) parallels the demonization of a marginalized group as a carrier of disease. When the disease started appearing in cities like San Francisco, it seemed to attack gay males. The gay bath houses were seen as plague-spots and cesspools of filth and disease, extending the identification of place (bath house), people (homosexuals), and behavior (sex). In this case, to regulate the bath houses or any other gay venue, the hysteria building up around AIDS would have to be used.

Traditionally, public health crisis have been managed by identifying the problem, creating policies that reform the space, tutoring the marginalized population, and persuading that population to self-regulate its behavior to eliminate fear in the majority demographic. Marginalized groups have been characterized as the embodiment of a disease and their behaviors were controlled by the creation of inspection, licensing, and regulations by the dominant group. As minority public health professionals, we must learn from the aforementioned example and work to eliminate the racializing of diseases to not only have a positive impact on existing disparities but to prevent future racial and ethnic disparities.

Learning Objectives:
Recognize public health examples of medicalizing and racializing marginalized groups and diseases.

Keywords: Barriers to Care, Culture

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am a doctoral candidate in a ASPH school.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.