Diabetes: A Cultural Genocide?

In The New York Times, N.R. Kleinfield discusses the dangers of diabetes in the United States in the article, “Diabetes and Its Awful Toll Quiet Emerge as a Crisis”. Before I reading the article, I always felt that diabetes was such a paradox. While many are suffering from malnutrition in other countries, Americans must deal with diseases associated with overeating. However, the article brought to my attention that demographics play a role in the prevalence of diabetes; those in poorer neighborhoods have higher rates of diabetes and rates of diabetes are increasing all across the board. Priorities in terms of funding are given to illnesses that aren’t as deadly and youth in America have that mindset that they’re immune.

However, diabetes isn’t only a problem for developed countries. In 2006, Professor Paul Zimmet of the International Diabetes Institute at Monash University made the controversial claim that “ethnic populations… were facing ‘cultural genocide’ from diabetes.” 1/4 adults in the Pacific and North America are affected by diabetes. With high prevalence in indigenous Americans, Pacific Islanders, and migrant Asian Indians, awareness about diabetes and its consequences must be addressed worldwide.

Fortunately (or tragically), diabetes is a preventable epidemic.

Read more about it:

-Jessica Heng

Diabetes: A bona fide epidemic

I was surprised to learn about the serious effects of a common disease that is usually misrepresented as a benign condition. N.R. Kleinfield’s analysis of diabetes in Bronx, New York, shows how diabetes is rapidly spreading across communities, comparable to an endemic, but previous notions of the disease may be preventing us from treating diabetes with the seriousness that it deserves. Diabetes, a disease with no cure, affects 1 in 3 Americans and 1 in 2 Latinos. The higher statistics of Latinos can be attributed to epigenetic factors including diet and average income. Diabetes is a deadly disease which is the main cause for blindness in adults, and insulin-dependent diabetics even face job discrimination as they cannot enlist in the military or become commercial pilots. Diabetes can be diagnosed in two categories: Type I and Type II. Type I diabetes is when the immune system attacks insulin-producing pancreas cells while Type II diabetes is when the pancreas does not produce sufficient insulin or when the body cannot use it properly. Insulin is an important hormone that transports glucose into cells to use for cellular metabolism. In diabetes, glucose collects in the bloodstream while cells do not receive enough energy to carry out regular functions. Type II which affects 90-95% of diabetics, is often offset by poor diet and lack of exercise.

In a world where processed food items are becoming more prevalent and active lifestyles are eased by modern technology and conveniences, people are eating larger amounts of sugar without burning as much energy, leading to increased sugar in the bloodstream. The problem, this type of lifestyle is becoming common, so that its effects (diabetes) are becoming accepted as part of life when it can very well be prevented by a healthy, active lifestyle. Although certain people are more predisposed to the disease, society in general is lax about diabetes prevention and spreading awareness about its side-effects. Since the disease disproportionately affects those with lower incomes, it doesn’t seem to hold as much importance in the media’s health agenda, and could therefore be seen as systematic violence against the poor. This idea of systematic violence allows one group to take advantage of another, which could be seen as a form of mild and unintentional genocide. Those with power are not as pushed to spread awareness about diabetes and its effects because in most people’s eyes, it is a disease that can be prevented, when most people who are diagnosed have the disease because of an undesirable lifestyle that is difficult to get out of.


For more statistics on diabetes:


Social Stigma

Murphy’s, “The Damaged Self” and Zhou’s article on the people in China dealing with the stigmas that deal with having AIDS/HIV. Both reading focus on the perception of society on people with certain illness. Murphy’s life as a a paraplegic shows the problems with society when people are not constructed to their standard of normal. Rather than acknowledge the problems and educate ourselves we tend to ignore the differences and not address them. Reading Murphys account makes me realize how people with disablitlies must feel when people don’t make eye contact with them and are fearful to offend them. It is like an elephant in the room, this made me realize that now I will make an effort to talk to someone with a disabilities and ask them how they feel and ask the questions that I really feel rather than avoid them. They must avoid the feeling of shame and the only way for that is for society to disregard the idea of normal behavior or appearance.
The social stigma for the Chinese people follows the traditional guidelines of not being slutty because the view of sex in that society is seen as something dirty and associations to homosexuality. There also is the outrageous fear of it being contagious. Without knowledge or education people are not able to understand the disabilities and the reactions. Some physical disabilities have no mental effects so the people are just like everyone else but not everyone understands that. Society constructs stigmas that effect people mentally forcing them to question one’s self.

Modernity, Cultural Reasoning, and the Institutionalization of Social Inequality: Racializing Death in a Venezuelan Cholera Epidemic

The article,”Modernity, Cultural Reasoning, and the Institutionalization of Social Inequality: Racializing Death in a Venezuelan Cholera Epidemic,” by Charles L. Briggs the effects of culture on the health disparate such as the genocide that occurred upon the people of Venezula through a cholera epidemic. The epidemic was blamed on the cultural and social beliefs about the native people that were dying. The natives were the “Warao” people living in Delta Amacura.Their poverty, diet, lifestyle was used as an excuse to explain the disease. I believe this is not an intentional genocide but rather the lack of knowledge and a socialized belief about different groups and their culture.
When I traveled to Ethiopia I witnessed a much smaller scale of the a group of people characterized by where they come from.Gondor was a small village that was known for its poverty. Whenever people would talk about diseases, you would catch it in Gondor because the people or the region was just not clean. The sanitation is not the fault of the place but the government for not aiding the people. My mother came from Gondor so when I went to visit I was able to see that the advances of technology in the city had no effect on the people living in the village. How can sanitation advances be used in a city full of poverty with no means of access to better facilities or better hygiene.

Reading up on cholera and the diseases effect in Venzuela, I found that the disease death roll is still risiing.

social stigmas


The article “The Damaged Self” by Robert Murphy really stood out to me. By Murphy describing how people react to people with disabilities (usually negative) and how in turn that affects the disabled person, I really began to contemplate how I personally address people with disabilities. What really hit home was when he mentioned deaf people and how they are often frustrated the most, “as they struggle to convey meaning to their agonized listeners” (331). Growing up with a deaf brother, I learned sign language in order to communicate with him, but because my parents were constantly working, they never had much time to learn it themselves. His teachers advised my parents against teaching him Spanish; for fear that he would become confused in learning three languages at the same time. I became the interpreter between him and my Spanish speaking family.

People born with disabilities or acquire disabilities later are in life are treated different, and after reading the article, it seems they are meant to stay invisible. With this invisibility it is easier to deny them rights and/or take away human right from them.  Here in the U.S. deaf people’s rights have come a long way but there are still discriminations that occur when it comes to employment. In other parts of the world, being deaf is much harder because some lack adequate programs for the deaf. So when I came across the article on the Rwandan genocide and how they also targeted deaf people because “disabilities were seen as a source of shame” I was shocked. With that being said, educating people and providing communities with access to programs that help the disabled, creates understanding and acceptance.



More on Deaf history:


Social Stigmas Surrounding Disability/Disease

The two articles this week did an excellent job of discussing social stigmas a disabled or diseased person encounters from the rest of society. I hesitate while even describing these people as “disabled” or “diseased” because even these casual descriptions are loaded with stigma, from which the people described by these words work hard to disprove.

Robert Murphy’s article, “The Damaged Self,” is an autobiographical account of a quadriplegic whose life is changed after a spinal tumor leaves most of his body paralyzed. Murphy mentions many examples of how society reacted negatively to his condition, which makes me sad and angry, since I have sometimes reacted in similar manners. Since childhood, most of us fear what is not perceived as “normal” or “other” as Murphy uses to describe disabled people. I never realized that simple gestures such as avoiding eye-contact with a disabled person was indeed noticed, and in fact had the effect of separating the gap between “normal” and “other.” This lack of eye-contact is often justified as a sign of respect towards the disabled, since one does not want to stare and make the other feel uncomfortable, but in reality, we do not stare because it makes us uncomfortable. The article mentions undesired dependence on others which further weakens self-esteen, and awkward social situations caused by a disability, such as going to a cocktail party in a wheel-chair.

This reminded me of the time I met a boy at precisely this kind of “stand-up” party. After he was done talking in a circle of standing men, he went of to the corner, as if to observe the rest of the party. He did not seem happy, so I decided to try to talk to him. As approaching him, I was quickly deciding whether to crouch down to talk to him, or to stay standing, either of which gestures could be taken offensively. I decided to bend down, to try to make clear that we were equals, but even my action in doing so is a bit ironic, because why did I feel the need to clarify this equality?

The second article looks at the strong stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS infection in China. Many people do not seek treatment or practice safe sex practices because they are ashamed of what the rest of the community to think. This universal mentality of caring more about what other people thing than what is personally beneficial, is somewhat of a disease in itself, in which individuals are paralyzed by social stigma. People in China infected with HIV/AIDS, which is seen as a “dirty” disease, are often isolated and treated as highly contagious. Although education about the disease should be able to clarify these notions, the negative cultural stigma surrounding the disease is so strong, people infected with the disease would still be seen as “other.” However this is true of any nation, since even in our country, people with HIV/AIDS are subconsciously thought of as “different.” These two articles really made me think about the way society reacts to disabled and diseased people and its implications on human nature community values. The way we separate people based on physical qualities is what makes it easy for people to turn a blind eye when one of these groups is taken advantage of, such as in extreme cases of genocide. The only way people can find discrimination or genocide acceptable, is if they truly believe in this “otherness,” which from a biological viewpoint is completely idiosyncratic.

For more information about HIV/AIDS in China:

Social Stigma & The Self

Murphy’s account of “The Damaged Self” and Zhou’s article of people in China with HIV/AIDS highlight how one blames the victim when they cannot fit to the norms of a current social structure. Both victims in the articles have to deal with situations in their lives that the people around them see as a curse or conscious disability.  This view hurts these people’s self image, making them feel less part of the culture and more alone in their own worlds. Murphy describes his mental state in the life of a paraplegic, and Zhou describes how the interactions between PLWHA and their friends and families cause them to be embarrassed of their condition and not seek further assistance or care.  Both of these characters experience a sense of helplessness as they are tied to these bodies that do not want to be acknowledged to society because of the socially constructed norm that society tries to see everywhere.

The victims of rape during the Rwandan genocide are punished by society as well. They are looked down upon if falling victim without hard evidence, often leading to other future marriages to  fall apart. This is a system created by it’s own people giving women little sympathy when claiming that they have been raped. Society sees it unfair that men and children had to fall to their deaths while women gave up their bodies for sex to stay alive. Unfortunately, those who have survived through a genocide in their own country are forced to pay the repercussions and guiltiness of being alive.

You can read more about the social stigma on post Rwandan Genocide here:

Merilou Salazar