Books & Ideas feature on Alondra Nelson

By Pauline Peretz
Books & Ideas

Books & Ideas: According to what you call a “narrative of victimization”, Blacks have historically been the casualties of science and technology, and have accordingly shown a deep mistrust of all scientific authorities. Your research on both the Black Panthers’ health policies and on the use of genetic genealogy testing shows, on the contrary, that Blacks have resorted to science and technology as a way of self assertion, of personal and collective empowerment. According to you, what made this reversal possible?

Alondra Nelson: As a graduate student, I was trained with a whole generation of works explaining how science and medicine had created race, such as Sander Gilman’s work and many other historical works. I was struck that these kinds of works, and even more recent works like Harriet Washington’s Medical Apartheid, give you an overwhelming sense of the ways in which science and medicine subjugate racialized populations, but they always give you a top-down view. I explicitly started looking for spaces where black communities were challenging the process of racial formation in medicine and science. ...

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