In a museum in Cuba, the skeleton of a slave is on display. He is named, and he died near the end of Cuban slavery, about 1880. He died in his twenties.
I stood looking into the display case. Of course, it was fascinating. I thought:
- This is the best preserved skeleton I have ever seen
- He had a magnificent body, large and strong
- He had no dental decay at all. How did that happen with so much sugar about?
But also, it was disturbing. I thought:
- He was a slave. He had no autonomy in life and no say in what happened to his dead body.
- This is not long ago. When I was a child, I talked with my great aunt, who was alive when this man was still a slave.
- Is placing his skeleton on display giving some respect to him after all this time, or is it merely continuing his exploitation?
- Is displaying the body of a powerful pharaoh different from displaying the body of the pharaoh's slave?
Clearly the museum curators think that this display is proper. But I am not so sure, and would like to understand how to think about whether I should be fascinated or appalled. I note the questions Ought we respect the privacy of the deceased? and Does a person own his/her body? but don't find an answer there.