There’s a dark side to medicine that involves the literal use of Black people.
Medical advances save lives and improve quality of life, but many of them have come at a high cost. There’s a dark side to medical advances — one that includes the literal use of Black people.
This dark history has reduced Black people to test subjects: bodies void of humanity.
Not only has racism fueled many modern medical advances, it continues to play a role in preventing Black people from seeking and receiving appropriate medical attention.
J. Marion Sims, credited for the invention of the vaginal speculum and repair of vesico-vaginal fistula, is referred to as the “father of gynecology.”
The women, considered the property of enslavers, were not permitted to give consent. Further, it was believed that Black people did not feel pain, and this myth continues to restrict Black people’s access to proper medical treatment.
The names of the Black women we know of who endured torturous experimentation at the hands of Sims are Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsey. They were taken to Sims by enslavers who were focused on increasing their production yields.
This included the reproduction of enslaved people.
Anarcha was 17 years old and had gone through a difficult 3-day labor and stillbirth. After 30 surgeries with nothing but opium to ease her pain, Sims perfected his gynecological technique.
“Anarcha Speaks: A History in Poems,” a poetry collection by Denver poet Dominique Christina, speaks from the perspectives of both Anarcha and Sims.
An etymologist, Christina was researching the origin of “anarchy” and came across Anarcha’s name with an asterisk.
Upon further research, Christina found that Anarcha was used in terrible experiments to aid in Sims’ scientific discoveries. While statues honor his legacy, Anarcha is a footnote.
“No Magic, No How” — Dominique Christina
when Massa-Doctor look
right past the
way i hurt
she a tough ole gal,
can take a mighty lickin’
The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, commonly referred to as
It involved about 600 Black men from Alabama who were between ages 25 and 60 and experiencing poverty.
The study included 400 Black men with untreated syphilis and around 200 who didn’t have the disease to act as a control group.
They were all told they were being treated for “bad blood” for 6 months. The study involved X-rays, blood tests, and painful spinal taps.
When participation waned, the researchers started providing transportation and hot meals, exploiting the participants’ lack of resources.
In 1947, penicillin was shown to be effective in the treatment of syphilis, but it wasn’t administered to the men in the study. Instead, researchers were studying the progression of syphilis, allowing