Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination
“. . . stiff, awkward, and confusing with all of its redundant information. . . . Not in any way to diminish the issue of sickle cell anemia and its medical history in the African American community, Body and Soul should be approached solely as a research text: a published thesis paper for those seeking data on the history of the Black Panthers and the medical community in America.”
It is unfortunate that a book with the title, Body and Soul: the Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination turned out to be such a disappointing read.
It is a disappointment because the provocative title does not deliver on the promise of a clear, comprehensive story of medical discrimination in a way that is easy and enjoyable to read. It is stiff, awkward, and confusing with all of its redundant information. The delivery is tedious and laborious to wade through.
Nonetheless, author Alondra Nelson has impressive qualifications and credentials to write this detailed history of the Black Panthers and their attempt to bring competent health care to the black community.
Dr. Nelson holds a doctorate in American Studies from New York University. She has published and edited numbers books and professional journals.
The content covers the discrimination of African American’s health care during the 1960s to the 1980s from the beginnings of the Black Panther party when they first established community medical clinics throughout the country.
Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, founders of the Black Panthers, were backers of the Peoples Free Medical Clinics (PFMCs) that were established to bring affordable health care to the impoverished African American communities, specifically the schoolchildren.
Sickle cell anemia was the particular focus of these medical clinics. Such anemia, a genetic disease, is often fatal. Sickle cell anemia causes red blood cells that take a sickle-shape, depleting their ability to circulate oxygen through the body. This form of anemia is more prevalent in the African American community and an ailment that was largely untreated by the medical establishment.
The inequities and treatment of the African American community in the U.S. is well documented in Body and Soul. Dr. Nelson shows how the medical establishment ignored this disease until the Black Panthers brought out this issue by publicly displaying their clinics on street corners and holding conferences to train people in the communities how to screen for it.
Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks beautifully tells another example of medical discrimination against the African American community.
Henrietta Lacks was an African American woman whose cancer cells were taken from her without her knowledge or consent, as was the custom in the 1950s. It turned out to provide one of the holy grails of mid-century biology: human cells that could survive—even thrive—in the lab. Known as HeLa cells, they gave scientists a building block for many breakthroughs, beginning with the cure for polio. Yet Henrietta’s family lived in poverty and frequently poor health.
Ultimately, sickle cell anemia as a disease was pulled from the Black Panther Party’s community treatment centers and hijacked by the medical establishment, according to Dr. Nelson’s research.
Sickle cell anemia became a political campaign issue by which various politicians sought to gain the African American vote in the 1970s.
Dr. Nelson’s extensive and exhausting details and history of this disease get lost in her over pedantic style of writing history and details that extends into the minutiae of major and minor players of the PFMCs.
To add to the burden of reading this book, Dr. Nelson includes a list of acronyms that goes on for two full pages. Referring constantly to these abbreviations further makes this book even more ponderous.
Not in any way to diminish the issue of sickle cell anemia and its medical history in the African American community, Body and Soul should be approached solely as a research text: a published thesis paper for those seeking data on the history of the Black Panthers and the medical community in America.