(Part 1 of a 5 Part Series)
White supremacists refer to those of non-European extraction as “mud people.” The closer the skin color is to black mud, the worse off the person. Taxonomically, Black Africans and their descendants would be the worse of the bunch. When this racist conclusion breaches the walls of medicine and related fields, it’s called “Scientific Racism,” which translates into Black health scare instead of Black health care. What could be more appropriate than a discussion of scary health care for Blacks on the first day after Halloween?
This column has taken note of the fact that Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary says under the entry “gorilla,” “believed to be the name of an alleged tribe of African women.” (I certainly hope that Black women who were compelled to celebrate Halloween by attending some costume party didn’t go as a gorilla!) Hanno, an ancient Greek voyager, reported that he discovered a tribe of hairy dark-complexioned women circa 450 BC in western Africa. Though geneticists confirm that all humans are completely distinct from apes insofar as cross-mating is concerned, Webster’s Ninth and subsequent editions persist in associating the Black woman with the gorilla. (Interestingly, when the gorilla is shaved its skin is strikingly white.)
This fact notwithstanding, it’s no wonder that Black women in the U.S. receive shoddy health care and, as a consequence, experience a higher mortality rate in health outcomes than do White women. But someone could object: “That’s a stretch! After all, that was then. This is now. Why complaint about some arguably racist Greek who said he saw some gorillas, monkeys (or whatever) that looked like African women almost 2,500 years ago?”
Blatantly racist attitudes persist in medicine. And since we’re talking about Black women, let’s take a look at the history of gynecology in the U.S. Dr. J. Marion Sims is credited with being “The Father of Modern Gynecology.” Of him one source says the “His patients included Empress Eugenie of France, wife of Napoleon III, Scotland’s Duchess of Hamilton, and the Empress of Austria,” all White women. (He even treated President James A. Garfield when shot in an assassination attempt in 1881; was the president of the American Medical Association in 1876; and was president of the American Gynecological Society in 1880.) The obvious question now is, Did he ever treat Black women? ‘Treating’ is one way of putting it. The more appropriate word would be butchered!
Dr. Sims makes Nazi physicians who experimented on Blacks and Jews look like Boy’s Scouts. Note how one Internet source characterizes him: “He operated [on Black female slaves] without the aid of anesthesia. Most of his patients used for experiments died nameless and faceless, many of them suffering for weeks before being relieved by death. Those who survived became addicted to drugs Sims furnished them to keep their groans and moans to a minimum. The slave women of the time left no written record of their torture since reading or writing was punishable by death if you were a Negro slave. One of his patients, a slave by the name of Anarcha, underwent 34 experimental operations on Sim’s table. Two other slaves mentioned in his biography were Lucy and Betsy.”
Distressingly, Black women in particular are still receiving sub par health care, and it’s literally killing them. As to the whys and wherefores there’s plenty of blame to go around in the medical community. In my next installment I’ll expound further on Black health scare and a fascinating conference that took place in Los Angeles last week entitled: “The Challenges and Impact of Human Genome Research for Minority Communities” that dealt further with this issue. Stay tuned! n Dr. Carr can be reached at (800) 501-2713 or email