This conversation with Alondra Nelson focuses on the socio-historical descriptions of her book Body and Soul (University of Minnesota, 2011) that unfolds the work of the Black Panthers (late 1960s – 1970s) to resist against the highly discriminatory mechanisms of the politics of health in the United States. Following the structure of the book, we discuss the discrimination against the African American community, both in its negligence (inappropriate healthcare response to disease, prohibitive cost of care) and in its active medicalization of marginalized bodies (scientific research on convicts and women, experimental brain surgery). Against this systemic oppression, the Black Panther Party created its own clinics, as well as a politics of knowledge to counter the racialized medicalization. Health being the realms of the biological function of bodies, discriminatory healthcare (as it continues to be) corresponds to racial violence to its most intimate violence: we thus frame our conversation within a broader historical account of how racism has been exercised in the last two centuries.
Alondra Nelson is professor of sociology and director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University. An interdisciplinary social scientist, Professor Nelson writes about the intersections of science, technology, medicine and inequality. She is the author of Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination (University of Minnesota Press, 2011). Her next book, The Social Life of DNA: Race and Reconciliation after the Genome (forthcoming from Beacon Press), traces how claims about ancestry are marshaled together with genetic analysis in a range of social ventures.
– Alondra Nelson, Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination, University of Minnesota Press, 2011.
– “On the Black Panther Party’s Free Clothing Program: Q&A with Alondra Nelson” by Minh-Ha Pham on Threadbared