Alondra Nelson on the Panthers, medical discrimination, and health care

By Rahiel Tesfamarian
UrbanCusp editor

Nelson_Body coverUrban Cusp: What led you to decide on the Black Panther Party and medical discrimination as your point of focus?

Alondra Nelson: A lot of conversations about the social construction of race and ideas about where racialization was made. The history of scientific racism and ideas about Black bodies that have been created often in the name of science, health and healing. Because of my interest in the Civil Rights Movement, I started thinking that it could not be the case that Black people had nothing to say about the racism in science and medicine. I started reading books like Harriet A. Washington's Medical Apartheid.

UC: What do you think a Black Panther-inspired health activism movement would look like in 2012?

AN: One way that the Panther health activism is still relevant is seen in the NY Times article Racial Bias Seen in Study of Lead Dust and Children about a class action suit against a Baltimore institute accused of exposing Black children to lead poisoning in a study in the 1990s that sought to explore the hazards of lead paint. The Black Panther Party had worked on this issue and it was something they were trying to eradicate 45 years ago. They saw themselves as protecting the Black community against dodgy experimentation. You imagine that a Black Panther health politics today would be a place where poor communities would be protected.

UC: How has researching the health activism of the Black Panther Party imprinted your views on contemporary health care policies?


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