An early chapter in Alondra Nelson's book Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination prompted me to give some thought to historic instances of medical mistreatment addressed by African American writers. I mentioned an episode from Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon. And now, a narrative from the scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr's life came to mind.
In an essay in The Atlantic, excerpted from his book Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?, the writer Toure explains Gates's experience going to a doctor in West Virginia when he was 14 years old when he broke his hip and hurt his knee. After an x-ray, the doctor determined that "nothing was wrong" and viewed Gates's pain as "psychosomatic," wrote Toure.
Gates told Toure that his physical pain was dismissed by the doctor based on racial biases. "White guy thought I was imagining things. And that's why I walk with a cane and I've had a dozen operations since I was fourteen."
Looking back on the terrible, racist diagnosis, how does Gates feel? "I hope that motherfucker's burning in hell," Gates informed Toure.
The treatment that Gates received from the doctor is part of a larger history of medical discrimination experienced by African Americans. That kind of treatment, Nelson's book indicates, gave the Black Panther Party and other groups even more motivation to participate in African American health activism.
Related: URG: Notebook on Alondra Nelson's Body and Soul