The Context of White Supremacy hosts our debut study session on Rebecca Skloot‘s celebrated work of non-fiction, The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks. Henrietta Lacks was a black mother of five who suffered from cervical cancer. Suspected Racists in White lab coats stole genetic material from her without consent and have used her cells – code-named HeLa – to produce vast quantities of vaccines, cancer medications, in vitro fertilization, gene mapping and cloning. Neither Ms. Lacks or her black family members were compensated for this likely act of “medical apartheid;” her family members were not notified of the theft until 20 yrs after her death. White scientists continued their unethical legacy by conducting research on her children – also without consent. The ceaseless violation of Ms. Lacks and her family should be placed within the context of White Supremacist medical practices including the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, forced sterilizations, prison experiments, 21st century campaigns to restrict black people’s access to quality medical care, and the current global hysteria about Ebola. As Skloot is a White Woman, we’ll remain hyper-vigilant for the influence of her White perspective on the structure of this narrative.
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