By Briana Whiteside
In chapter 4 of Body and Soul, Alondra Nelson examines sickle cell anemia and the BPP’s efforts to raise consciousness about the disease in African American communities. Namely, Nelson mentions the People’s Sickle Cell Anemia Research Foundation (PSCARF), which was developed by the BPP to emphasize “health education” and “free genetic screening” amongst African Americans (116).
Exposure of the “black disease” was made visible by Robert B. Scott in an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which highlighted “the relative invisibility of the sickle cell disease, compared with other genetic diseases” (119). Awareness of this article prompted the government to acknowledge the negligence of universal healthcare regarding African Americans and to establish research incentives for the study of sickle cell anemia.
In direct response to the sickle cell alertness outbreak Nelson points out that Party members remained unimpressed by the government’s attempts to rectify the disregard it had imposed on healthcare in black families. In fact, President Richard Nixon’s seeming concern for sickle cell was criticized as merely a “gimmick” to secure black votes (148).
The BPP firmly believed that “successful sickle cell anemia prevention efforts should emerge from and remain within poor black communities;” thus, they critiqued organizations that established programs lacking direct links to African Americans most in need of assistance (149). According to Nelson, although Party’s focus on sickle cell may have “influenced the Nixon administration’s decision to allocate significant federal resources for research on the disease,” those resources likely “served to neutralize the Party’s larger political critique” (151). By the mid-1970s, the Party’s take on sickle cell anemia was becoming “less radical,” and their campaign on the disease was “becoming professionalized” (151-52).
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.