Ronda Lee
Ronda Lee
Aug 23, 2017 · 4 min read

Anarcha, Lucy, Betsy & Advances in Gynecological Medicine

Illustration by Robert Thom of Dr. J. Marion Sims and Anarcha. Pearson Museum, Southern Illinois University School of Medicine

ANARCHA, LUCY, BETSY & Advances in Gynecological Medicine

Update: Science and medicine typically treated African-Americans as guinea pigs under the unfounded belief that we did not feel pain to justify operating without anesthesia. Even today, a study showed that some “white medical students and residents [surveyed] endorsed false beliefs about biological differences between blacks and whites. And those who did also perceived blacks as feeling less pain than whites, and were more likely to suggest inappropriate medical treatment for black patients.” The stories of the Tuskegee experiment and Henrietta Lacks warranted a healthy mistrust of the medical profession from the black community. Like their black counterparts, many Native American and Latina women were coerced into sterilization. Today, studies show black children and adults do not receive the same pain treatment as their white counterparts. Even when money is not an issue, there is unequal treatment of women of color in childbirth. Tennis legend Serena Williams told her story of complications during childbirth that went ignored.

Do you know the story of Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsy? They are the predecessors of Henrietta Lacks but with a more morbid history — black female slaves operated on by white doctors without anesthesia and consent — a gift to science from their slave masters. The statue in east Harlem honors the doctor that did the experimentation, Dr. J. Marion Sims. The New York Times article sheds a little light on Dr. Sims, but for a complete picture, I would suggest also reading the NPR article and podcast about Anarcha. Months ago, New Orleans mayor, Mitch Landrieu, gave a moving speech on why these monuments had to come down. It took the events in Charlottesville before others acted.

PBS’ Independent Lens noted “[w]hile California’s eugenics programs were driven in part by anti-Asian and anti-Mexican prejudice, Southern states also employed sterilization as a means of controlling African American populations. “Mississippi appendectomies” was another name for unnecessary hysterectomies performed at teaching hospitals in the South on women of color as practice for medical students.” Additionally, it noted “the forced sterilization of Native Americans, which persisted into the 1970s and 1980s, with examples of young women receiving tubal ligations when they were getting appendectomies. It’s estimated that as many as 25–50 percent of Native American women were sterilized between 1970 and 1976. Forced sterilization programs are also a part of history in Puerto Rico, where sterilization rates are said to be the highest in the world.”

For Woman Crush Wednesday (#WCW), know Anarcha, Lucy, and Betsy’s stories and why Dr. Sims statue should be removed. I am always amazed how people see the swastika as a symbol of oppression and racism towards Jews, but cannot understand how Confederate flags and statues are a symbol of oppression and racism towards blacks. Worst yet, maybe they do see but don’t value black lives the same. Oops. I said that out loud.

A reader commented that taking down the statues only served to remove “white guilt.” My response was that I understand the Phil Ochs’ Love Me I’m a Liberal mentality. However, the statues do not belong in our neighborhoods. They belong in a museum, preferably the National African-American History Museum, similar to a Holocaust museum that shows what the statues stand for — an atrocity against humanity and American values. To expose the “boil of racism in America,” borrowing the words of MLK, you have to peel back the layers. This is the first step in removal, the easy step that makes liberals feel good. After that, you have to peel another layer and so on. With each layer you expose covert, systemic, and institutional racism of not only whites but self-hating blacks.

“Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.” — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

This originally appeared on Ronda’s blog, Ronda-isms.