[Blackstudies-l] Rand Paul, Vaccinations and the (Not So) Secret History of White Supremacy

Maria Lima lima at geneseo.edu
Fri Mar 13 02:54:18 EDT 2015

[image: The Nation]
Published on *The Nation* (http://www.thenation.com)

Rand Paul, Vaccinations and the (Not So) Secret History of White Supremacy
Greg Grandin | March 12, 2015

*Kentucky Senator Rand Paul (Ed Reinke/AP) *

Last month, Senator Rand Paul said
<http://www.vox.com/2015/2/3/7966975/rand-paul-vaccine> [1] a few confusing
things about vaccines, leading some to ask: Is he or is he not an
anti-vaxxer? In an interview with CNBC’s Kelly Evans, the senator from
Kentucky stated that he had heard of “many tragic cases of walking, talking
normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after
vaccines.” Then a recording surfaced of an earlier 2009 conversation, where
Paul engaged in the kind of wild linkages that libertarians have become
famous for: Social Security leads to serfdom and flu shots put us on the
death march to the gulag. “The first sort of thing you see with martial law
is mandates,” Paul said
[2], “and they’re talking about making [the flu vaccine] mandatory.”

But Paul also said something in that Evans interview that didn’t get much
attention, which I found curious (especially coming from a libertarian who
had trouble explaining
[3] why his brand of individual supremacy isn’t really just white supremacy
or in what way it is different from his dad’s out-and-out racism
[4]). Paul said: “I’m a big fan and a great fan of the history of the
development of the smallpox vaccine, for example. But you know, for most of
our history, they have been voluntary.”

An unexceptional statement. Senator Paul is a history buff. And as an
ophthalmologist, he’s interested in the history of science. Except that
anyone who actually knows the history of the smallpox vaccine knows that it
was anything but voluntary, at least for the many African and
African-American slaves the vaccine was experimented on (including by
Thomas Jefferson) and whose blood streams served as the best and cheapest
way to transport the vaccine across the Americas.

I have no idea whether Paul knows this history, despite being its big and
great fan. But it’s not just for rhetorical effect that conservatives and
libertarians like Paul and Sarah Palin “invoke slavery
[5] for all
[6] sorts
[7] of things
[8] that,” as *The Washington Post*’s Jonathan Capehart points out
[9], “don’t come anywhere close to matching the evil it represented.” The
“right to health care,” Paul once said
[10], is “basically saying you believe in slavery.” That sounds like a
ludicrous statement, except that there’s a reason he, along with other
likeminded individualists, can’t stop talking about slavery.

The ideal of freedom they champion was born in chattel slavery, by the need
to measure one’s absolute freedom in inverse relation to another’s absolute
slavishness. And try as they might, this patrimony is inescapable:
individual supremacy is white supremacy. It’s a point I’ve argued in *The
Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World *(it’s
just been released in paperback
[11] and, in case I haven’t mentioned it, NPR’s *Fresh Air* named
<http://greggrandin.com/> [12] it *the *best book of 2014, including
non-fiction and fiction). A bit of the book describes the role the slave
system had in the development of modern medicine, including the smallpox

As is often the case with libertarian hyperbole, Paul’s warning that public
health is related to enslavement has a real, if inverted, relationship to
actual history: enslaved Africans and African-Americas lived under “martial
law;” for them, “healthcare” was “slavery.” In the early 1800s, both Spain
and Portugal disseminated
[13] the smallpox vaccine throughout the Americas via the “arm to arm of
the blacks,” that is, enslaved Africans and African-Americans, often
children, who were being moved along slave routes as cargo from one city to
another to be sold. They were forcibly vaccinated: doctors chose one slave
from a consignment, made a small incision in his or her arm, and inserted
the vaccine (a mixture of lymph and pus containing the cowpox virus). A few
days after the slaves set out on their journey, pustules would appear in
the arm where the incision had been made, providing the material to perform
the procedure on yet another slave in the lot—and then another and another
until the consignment reached its destination. Thus the smallpox vaccine
was sent through Spanish America, saving countless lives even as it helped
stabilize the slave system. Smallpox epidemics, along with other virulent
disease, threatened the viability
[14] of slave trading as a business, cutting into profits as much as fifty

Please support our journalism. Get a digital subscription for just $9.50!
<https://ssl.palmcoastd.com/06601/apps/ORDOPTION1LANDING?ikey=I**ARL> [16]

And not just in Spanish and Portuguese America. Harriet Washington, in *Medical
Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans
from Colonial Times to the Present
[17]*, documents the smallpox experiments Thomas Jefferson preformed on his
Monticello slaves. In fact, much of what we now think of as public health
emerged from the slave system. Slave ships were floating laboratories,
offering researchers a chance to examine the course of diseases in fairly
controlled, quarantined environments. Doctors and medical researchers could
take advantage of high mortality rates to identify a bewildering number of
symptoms, classify them as diseases and hypothesize about their causes.
That information then filtered into the larger medical community. Rand Paul
is an ophthalmologist, and for an example of how that profession benefited
from slavery, read about the 1819 case of the French slave ship *Rôdeur*,
which I write
[11] about in *The Empire of Necessity.*

During the late January measles outbreak, which many blamed on the
anti-vaxxer movement, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig was one of the few
commentators who smartly pointed out
[18] that anti-vaccination parents merely reflect the “very virtues
American culture readily recommends,” including “individualism,
self-determination, and a dim, almost cynical view of common goods like
public health.” The idea of “rugged individualism,” Bruenig writes,
“functions in a feedback loop with American politics.”

That feedback loop, which has its origins in the history of American
slavery, has two basic beats: Individual rights (to property, guns, speech,
etc.) are freedom. Social rights (to education, medicine, and a decent,
dignified life) are slavery.

Read Next: *Greg Grandin on whether Venezuela really is an “extraordinary
threat” to the United States
*Source URL:*

[1] http://www.vox.com/2015/2/3/7966975/rand-paul-vaccine
[12] http://greggrandin.com/
[16] https://ssl.palmcoastd.com/06601/apps/ORDOPTION1LANDING?ikey=I**ARL
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