By Marian Haile
Medical racism in the U.S. and its historical roots has affected Black women in more ways than one. Moreover, the painful aftermath and high mortality rate amongst Black women today stems from racial bias in the medical field that dates back hundreds of years ago, with eugenics being the main motivator for the notable deaths of hundreds of thousands of woman of color in the hands of doctors, nurses, and other medical personnel.
In the late 1800s in the American South, a teenage, enslaved woman named Anarcha was experimented on by Dr. Marion J Sims after giving birth to her child, a man dubbed as the “Father of Modern Gynecology.” Anarcha was subjected to 30 experimental surgeries without anesthesia due to Simms’s belief that “Black women couldn’t feel pain.” Decades later, the story of Henrietta Lacks continues to shock the world as the late mother of five was diagnosed with cervical cancer at John Hopkins in 1951, only to mysteriously find later through testing that her cells were immortal. Yet, despite her cells saving the lives of many to this day and studying cancers, diseases, and viruses (like COVID-19!), she never gave doctors informed consent to use her cells, nor was her family ever compensated in any way for her legacy.
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere“Martin Luther King, Jr.
Not receiving treatment or the proper care in hospitals isn’t uncommon, as the myth surrounding Black women having “thicker skin” and not feeling as much pain is still believed today. So, in addition to simply not believing Black women and disrespecting/not valuing Black femme bodies, death through sterilization as a means of eugenics is an unfortunate reality for us.
One of the world’s longest humanitarian crises is the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. There is currently an ethnically cleansing happening with the Palestinian population by Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) in Palestinian neighborhoods. Israeli’s bombing of hospitals, libraries, media stations, etc., has recently reached new heights and extremes. In addition, Israel occupying and attacking Palestinians’ holy sites in the region and forcing citizens to live under Israeli rule has held many captives in the Gaza Strip (a self-governing Palestinian territory on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea) as an open-air prison.
It is also important to note that Israel is a young nation that occupies a very ancient land. Ancestrally speaking, Israeli Jews have ties to the region that was formerly known as Palestine. Due to the rise of anti-Semitic persecution (The Holocaust), there was a need for a Promised Land/country after WWII that would be Jewish-led and ensured freedom.
Palestinians–the majority being Muslim–aren’t the only marginalized people Israel has targeted as a means of ethnic cleansing. For example, in 2008, the Israeli government intentionally selected and forcibly sterilized Ethiopian Jewish immigrant women as “incentives for other (fairer) Jewish women to produce more children.” While the government had racist, ulterior motives for injecting the women, Ethiopian immigrants weren’t allowed to enter Israel if they didn’t take a shot that, unbeknownst to them, would affect their birthrate in the country (a 50% decline) for years to come. Furthermore, lecturer and author Meira Weiss’s book The Chosen Body highlights that “body politics” amongst Israelis puts European Jewish men at the top of the social hierarchy. And this was a book written six years before Ethiopian women were unknowingly given the Depo-Provera contraception.
After Israel admitted to the 2008 atrocity in 2013, The Haifa Feminist Center in Israel reported that 57% of the women that received the Depo-Provera shot were Ethiopian Jews–despite only making up 2% of the population. Many rabbis and prominent figures within Israel have also justified the sterilization by questioning the Jewishness of Ethiopian Jews, in which long-reigning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chimed in by saying Black Jews in Israel “‘threaten our existence as a Jewish and democratic state.'”
“As Israel waves the diversity flag by sending an artist from Ethiopian descent to represent it in an annual Eurovision competition while simultaneously bombing Gaza and brutally Palestinians resistance to the occupation…”@eye.on.palestine
This year, Ethiopian Israeli singer, Eden Alene, would participate in the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest. The news made history as Alene became the first Israeli singer of Ethiopian descent to participate in the annual Eurovision competition. However, even though she has made history, the news came at a crisis-ridden time for Israel and Palestine. This almost eliminated the highly negative image Israel was receiving worldwide for the first time and diminished the racism towards Afro-Israeli citizens faced and still face in the region by catapulting a young Ethiopian Israeli woman to stardom.
Countries like the United States and Israel are like teenagers: they want independence, control of their freedom/livelihood, and respect as they deserve to be respected. These–as they should be–are non-negotiables. However, it should never be at the expense of lives you deem less worthy because of xenophobia and racism. Countries like the United States and Israel have controlled the wombs of Black women to own them, strip them, disrespect them, and propagate white nationalism within the country.
Henrietta, Tsega, Anarcha, Eden, Bertha. Black women feel pain, and it is a crime against humanity not to speak out against the intersections of reproductive rights and anti-Black racism worldwide.
Marian Haile is a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. A literature graduate, she believes that storytelling and analyzing history can assist in developing an understanding of those around us and ourselves. You can follow her Instagram @marianhaile.