Government-mandated circumcision? Not so much...

For the last five hundred years, white America has feared black America. When physical chains were broken, the fear only increased. Rumors of black on white atrocities frequently circulate in white communities that live on the edge of black communities. As my home town integrated, rumors of white women being raped weren't uncommon. One particularly tenacious rumor had it that a white boy had been castrated by a group of black men at a local mall.

All of these rumors were, of course, untrue, and served as both a barometer of fear, and a tool of control. If fear could be maintained, otherwise "neutral" white people could be pulled to the side of continued segregation and racism.

Rumors of black on white physical crimes (and of mixed relationships) are still used as a tool to control racial discourse in the US, and they are a measure of desperation as well. As the Right continues to find itself on the wrong side of public debates such as health care reform, they struggle to re-frame the debate. Instead of being about health care, it's about "freedom". Instead of increasing coverage, it's "death panels". It's a tribute to the intelligence of the American people that these arguments have so far failed to gain mainstream traction.

But now the Right is even more desperate, and the racism simmering under the surface of the debate is boiling over.

RUSH: By the way, leave our penises alone, too! This is getting out of hand. There is a story that some officials in the Obama administration are pushing for circumcision for all boys born in the USA to fight HIV/AIDS. Not that I'm against circumcision, but it's a family's decision. Leave our penises alone, too, Obama! ...So here's Obama out there saying we have to have circumcision of every young boy born in the country...

There are two basic problems here. One is the question of male circumcision and health. The other is the use of lies to scare people.

First, the facts.

Male circumcision can reduce female to male transmission of HIV. This has been shown fairly clearly in Africa. This does not mean that circumcision will decrease HIV transmission in the U.S. We have a significantly different HIV epidemic here. But it might. We already have a high rate of circumcision in the U.S. and in general, our society is very accepting of the practice. What's lacking is data on the effect of circumcision on male-to-female and male-to-male transmission of HIV. It's a risk-benefit analysis. Do the minimal but real risks of circumcision warrant recommending it for prevention of HIV?

The answer isn't clear, and the CDC recognizes this. Still, the data from Africa are so strong, the CDC is considering whether to officially recommend male circumcision for this purpose.


You see, that's their job: to look at medical evidence and see if the public health can be improved by certain recommendations. The CDC has a very thoughtful discussion of this issue at their website.

I suspect that the Right has two factions who object to this: those that object to any recommendations from a government body, and those who wish to exploit that fear for other purposes.

The connection being made is so tenuous to be laughable, if it weren't serious. It's the same reasoning we saw in the death panels lie. It goes like this: if health care reform passes, the government will penalize doctors who don't follow government recommendations, making the recommendations effectively mandatory.

This is, of course, total and unmitigated bullshit.

But that's only part of the message now. The simmering racism that we've seen expressed in this debate is being made explicit: allow health care reform to pass, and a black man will make you mutilate your kid's genitals. It's an old story, an ugly story, and one that needs to be dragged into the harsh light of sanity, and exposed for what it is---blatant racism being used for political purposes. It's sickening, and shameful.

But of course, they have no shame.

More like this

Cue the circumcision is mutilation squad in 3...2...

By LanceR, JSG (not verified) on 31 Aug 2009 #permalink

I love how the truly hysterical have conflated "circumcision" with "castration". Regardless of how you feel about either, no one (with the exception of a group in San Francisco) thinks they are equivalent.

And since when is "suggest" equal to "force"? That seems to come up a great deal in the talk about health care reform, and public health in general. "In home vaccinations if you want" becomes "Men in black stab your child!". "Help for first time parents" becomes "teh MAN is gonna tell you how to raise your kids!1!"

Let's all come back down to planet Earth, folks, and be reasonable. Please. Think of the children.

By JustaTech (not verified) on 31 Aug 2009 #permalink

Please...NO MORE!

The absolute last thing I want to contemplate is Rush Limbough's penis. Yuck to the power of a thousand.

By CanadaGoose (not verified) on 31 Aug 2009 #permalink

It is a bit disturbing that the victims of this bronze age barbaric mutilation endorsed by religious mythology (and which was finally starting to fade in popularity) have no choice in the matter. Government endorsement here is not a good thing.

"...failed to gain mainstream traction..." What planet are you talking about? The health care "reform" bill not popular with the average American, nor should it be.

Nice grammar, Les.

The bill may or may not be popular (it sure is where I live) but the death panel bullshit is recognized as bullshit by everyone with more brains than guns (probably doesn't apply to you...)

By MonkeyPox (not verified) on 31 Aug 2009 #permalink

Rush Limbaugh saying "leave our penises alone"? I suppose he now supports gay marriage?

I think my irony meter just broke.

I'm as left wing as they come and I think this potential CDC recommendation is ridiculous. We have the highest circumcision rate AND the highest per capita HIV rate in the developed world. To keep doing the same thing in the hopes that it'll yield different results is insanity. We still have an 80% circumcision rate among the adult male population and our HIV epidemic continues unabated.

The CDC and the American Medical community needs to grow up and get over their obsession with chopping penises. The CDC needs to strongly recommend comprehensive sexual education to all American students and make sure that effective condoms are available to all, regardless of means. They need to do this over the objections of the Religious Right and the Republicans. HIV is a disease of behavior and won't be prevented by putting babies on a cutting board, but it will be prevented by telling those babies how to wrap it up.

Babies on a cutting board?

You do realize that chopping up babies for food is kinda different from circumcision right?

And you do realize that the CDC didn't recommend anything yet, right? Looking into the data is smart. Making decisions based on no review data, or refusing to make decisions because you don't like potential answers is dumb-as-fuckall.

By MonkeyPox (not verified) on 31 Aug 2009 #permalink

MonkeyPox, what other non-medical term would you use for a circumstraint? Its a board that's used for cutting babies. Sorry if it makes you squeamish.

But don't worry, the CDC will come to the conclusion that circumcision again is the solution to the problem, any problem. We Americans are obsessed with circumcision and love to find reasons to do it.

Jorge, they also retrain babies rather barbarically for stitches and the like. The method of restraint should not determine support or non-support for the procedure.

Your further statement is also puzzling---you seem to think you know the outcome of the CDCs evaluation before even they do. That would seem to be a bit conspiracy-minded.

Where is the race war in this argument? I fail to see what the black versus white america angle comes from. Is there something else in this discussion I'm ignorant of?

By antipodean (not verified) on 31 Aug 2009 #permalink

This is outrageous! Where is the interest in evidence-based medicine now? Because we know circumcision does NOTHING to prevent HIV infection except for a small chance it reduces HIV transmission from HIV positive women to men during heterosexual intercourse. This is not how HIV is spread in the US! It is INSANITY that you say otherwise when the scientific facts prove it is not the case. Why should Americans circumcise their newborns when we know for a fact this has not stemmed the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country? This is sheer QUACKERY. You and the cult of the scarred penis are telling people they will be immune to HIV/AIDS if the men they are having sex with are circumcised. We have entire cemeteries FULL of circumcised men who died of AIDS! THE FORESKIN IS NOT A BIRTH DEFECT! I vigorously defend the natural evolution of the human body.

By Camellia May (not verified) on 31 Aug 2009 #permalink

I have left Rush's penis alone for my whole life, and I don't plan to change that.

Camellia May, I do believe you have missed the point of this post.

Relax, folks! The CDC has said its circumcision recommendations will be "completely voluntary". In that, they're entirely eye-to-eye with the Intactivists (who are everywhere, not just in SF, and we don't see circumcision as equivalent to castration).

"Completely voluntary" can only mean, at the option of the man on the other end of the penis, when he is old enough to decide such an intimate thing for himself. Who else should have the power to have the most exquisite part of his sex organ removed - especially in the Land of the Free?

It is great to see that the CDC has reached such an enlightened position. Let's hope they don't deviate from it.

PalMD, my opposition to infant circumcision is laid out in my first post. Even if circumcision does have some benefit, its not right to do it to infants when condoms and sex ed will do the job a lot better. If an adult wants to get circumcised, that's his business.

And how do I know what the CDC will do? Like I keep saying, the American medical community is obsessed with circumcision. Watch for it. I hope I'm wrong. I love being wrong.

Let me get this straight. Dude write a post on how the fuckwad rightwing goatfuckers are using racist emasculation memes to scare the balls out of people. Some people read that as, OH NOES TEH GUVMINT GONNA STEAL BABYS FORESKINZZZ!!!

Reading comprehension FAIL.

Fucking idiots. It's not about the circ, it's about the politics.

Circumcision reduces HIV. So, lets circumcise babies because they are nothing but sex fiends when they are born. Right?

Oh, I know. Most men old enough to have sex in the United States are already circumcised. If we circumcise the few remaining intact guys, then the HIV rate will go down drastically. Right?

Come on people, get a clue! Or, has America dumbed down so much that the average American is a sheep ready to be lead to slaughter?

Fucking idiots. It's not about the circ, it's about the politics.

Thank you! Pal writes a smart and thoughtful post about racist dog-whistles in the health care "debate", but never mind. Anything to do with (male) circumcision is unbelievable flame bait.

Come on people, get a clue! Or, has America dumbed down so much that the average American is a sheep ready to be lead to slaughter?

Dude. Dude. What is your point, exactly? I'm not for routine infant circumcision or anything, is it comparable to slaughter? It's some sort of conspiracy to...what? I'm drawing a complete blank.

Is it possible that seeing racism behind every disagreement with a government statement is verging on being paranoid?

Is it possible that you overlook legitimate cases of racism because you've never personally experienced them? As a white person, I have been genuinely surprised to hear from my non-white friends about things that have actually happened to them that I would have never guessed still happen in this country. Of course it's easier to just pretend that everyone is overreacting than to realize that other people might have experiences different than yours.

i'd post an insightful comment here, but it turns out i already posted it elsewhere.

executive summary: opposing circumcision seems an odd thing for "conservatives" to do, to me; they must think there are things more important than being conservative involved here.

By Nomen Nescio (not verified) on 01 Sep 2009 #permalink

Please don't hurt my sack.

By What is a name? (not verified) on 01 Sep 2009 #permalink

catgirl -- I don't have to rely on my non-white friends to tell me of instances of racism that still happen today. I've lived in the south in a city that is 50% white and I've witnessed it myself. I worked at one place where I often left meetings nauseous and shaking with anger.

(I didn't quit, I expressed my opinions and waited for them to fire me. It didn't take long.)

But, the amazing thing about that place is the black person they were so hateful toward is now the city's mayor. Individual racism doesn't hold black people down the way it used to. That's not an excuse, it's acknowledging that racism has lost most of its political power.

Try to imagine if the CDC had proposed this during Bill Clinton's administration. Rush Limbaugh would have reacted much the same. By equating his reaction now with racism because we have a black president is actually a bit insulting to black people who do still have to deal with real racism.

I can't really have a problem with adult men deciding to get circumcised, given that my own goal is to have my brain transferred to a prosthetic body, Ghost in the Shell-style.

So what is the HIV rate amoumg uncircumcused US males.

I suspect that the rate of american circumcision is largely due to your corporate medical system.
It's a procedure that is largely irrelevant medically, but it's billable work. Perhaps you can list a number of similar unnecessary but billable procedures. More importantly, what is the prospect of reform of this attitude?