By Briana Whiteside
In chapter 5 of Body and Soul, Alondra Nelson examines how the Black Panther Party (BPP) shifted its focus from healthcare awareness to “repressive medical surveillance” (153). More specifically, Nelson mentions the BPP’s opposition to the funding of the Center for the Study and Reduction of Violence, designed to support “research into the origins and causes of violence” (153).
Despite assertions of being built on the fundamentals of decreasing violence and making communities safe, the research center, the BPP argued, was “an instrument of social control,” which would eventually target minority groups because “their social status constituted them as accessible to researchers” (156).
In a response to the believed “other black disease,” the BPP advocated that “violence was neither irrational nor evidence of biological pathology; rather, it was a manifestation of social dis-ease” (165). This assertion challenged scientific suggestions of violence being innate in African Americans, noting that research often “compared only blacks and whites” (166).
The BPP was not the only group opposing the research center, as student groups on the campus of UCLA, where “the Neuropsychiatric Institute were establishing the center” stood in opposition as well by "barricading themselves" in the administrative office of the project director and chaining themselves to his desk (169-170). In turn, government funds were withdrawn from the research, but, as Nelson notes, “although the center failed, some of this prior research persisted” (180).
With the emergence of new research studies, the BPP had once again proposed the study of “medical discrimination” and by the early 1970s “successfully extended its health politics from the provision of health education and healthcare services to protection from overexposure to biomedical surveillance” (180).
Related: URG: Notebook on Alondra Nelson's Body and Soul
Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Black Studies Program.