We squint really hard at the intersection of race, gender, and science
Last Saturday at Verso Books, our own Emily Brooks spoke on a panel about race, gender, and science along with members of Science for the People and BYP 100. The speakers drew some brutal lines between past and present that have been echoing all week in the news. On those echoes:
Our Bodies, Ourselves will cease production after nearly fifty years, but the problem it was first created to address persists: when women people speak about what they’re experiencing, whether it’s menstrual cramps or fibromyalgia or sexual assault, they aren’t believed. There’s the case of Essure, a small metal birth control device that functions by triggering a build-up of scar tissue in the fallopian tubes. That’s ghastly enough, right, but here’s the horror show: It took 26,000 complaints, 8 deaths, and over 15 years for the FDA to restrict sales of the device to doctor’s offices, which they finally did last week.
And then there’s the case of black maternal and infant mortality mortality rates in this country, which Linda Villarosa has documented in a piece for the New York Times Magazine. Racism is killing black mothers and black babies, and no amount of wealth, education, or fame really helps. In fact, the racial disparity between black and white infant mortality rates is worse today than it was in 1850, during chattel slavery. Those takeaways from the story have made the rounds on social media, but here’s another statistic that made me scroll back up and blink rapidly: In 2016, a study found that white medical students and residents often believe pernicious myths about black bodies and pain, such as “black skin is thicker than white” and “blacks have less-sensitive nerve endings than whites.” The year of that study, again, is 2016.
In the 1840s, a doctor named J. Marion Sims believed those same myths about black bodies and pain. Hailed as “the father of gynecology,” he performed scores of experimental surgeries on enslaved black women, without anesthetic. Three of the women were named Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsy; the names of the other seven are unknown.
In 2018--this Tuesday, actually--the city finally caved to public pressure and removed a statue of Sims from Central Park, after years of advocacy by groups like East Harlem Preservation. They’re still fighting to get the city to remove the engraved pedestal.
So, there’s work to be done. Here’s where you can donate to Birthmark Doulas, the real star of that New York Times Magazine piece; they are a birth justice group that is transforming outcomes for black pregnant and parenting people. And here’s where you can donate to East Harlem Preservation.