By Briana Whiteside
Not shying too far from shielding African Americans from police brutality, Body and Soul by Alondra Nelson presents the Black Panther Party (BPP) through a healthcare lens. Although the book focuses primarily on the BPP’s health activism, the chapter that resonated with me the most raised awareness on Sickle Cell Anemia, known by some as a “black disease.”
While reading this chapter, the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment served as a guide as to why education on diseases that plague African Americans is crucial. Just as the government used human guinea pigs to study the effects of syphilis on the black body, they also failed to acknowledge the negligence of universal healthcare regarding African Americans.
Not being openly acknowledged as a condition, those who had Sickle Cell were unable to be treated, just as those men were told they were being treated for “bad blood.” Either way, the government used healthcare as a mechanism for crippling African American communities.
Although the BPP has fought against several other black injustices, exposure of the neglect regarding Sickle Cell has remained the center of my attention. Through the People’s Sickle Cell Anemia Research Foundation (PSCARF), the BPP advocated for the education and free screening on the sickle cell disease. Representing the silenced, the BPP openly criticized those government programs who excluded African American communities that needed the care most.
This chapter was especially relevant to me because it is close to my heart and my family. I was not educated on the effects of Sickle Cell Anemia when I witnessed someone in my family go into crises because of it. The article written by Robert B. Scott in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), and the BPP’s effort to raise consciousness Sickle Cell Anemia has ultimately helped save thousands of lives, including one within my family.
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.