Black Ops: The Use Of Black Bodies In Science

Recently, Lisa Martino-Taylor came forth with research suggesting the United States Army targeted minority neighborhoods in St.Louis for chemical experimentation. The government admits spraying Black communities with zinc cadmium sulfide, which alone is used for its fluorescent properties. Supposedly, the experiment was to develop technology that would create a “chemical cloud” to protect the country from a Russian nuclear attack. But Martino-Taylor argues radioactive material was added to the mixture, which she believes is the cause for the prevalence of cancer among black residents in low-income St.Louis neighborhoods.

I have not seen or heard of any major media outlets reporting these findings. I urge everyone to follow this story. As a person of color you are vulnerable to similar attacks to your physical and mental well being. Never forget the battles black people have fought to protect their humanity, not just civil rights but their health and right to live. There is a long history of Black people being used by science for experimentation and too satisfy the curiosity of perverted scientists. Below I will provide two great sources, one book and one documentary, that provide insight on the inhumane treatment Black people have suffered throughout history in the name of science.

Miss Evers Boys finally revealed the atrocities of the Tuskegee Project to a mainstream audience, but unfortunately Vertus Hardiman’s story has not received as much attention. When Vertus was five, he and his classmates were subjected to radiation treatments, authorized by the US government, in a town that was founded by freed slaves. How ironic. Experimenters gave Vertus too much radiation, which resulted in the huge hole in his head that is still visible today. Although it’s disgusting how the government exploits, degrades, and violates Black bodies, beauty still illuminates Vertus story. Vertus’ tenacity and ability to forgive and not harbor bitterness, hate, and resentment is triumphant. For more information on Vertus check out the promo about his story below or catch the full documentary Hole in the Head.

In the book Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, Harriet Washington outlines the beginnings of the exploitation and violation of black bodies in the name of science. She discusses several experiments from slavery to the 1970’s that used Black bodies without their consent and indicates that often the research failed to further any medical or scientific knowledge. One of the most horrific accounts from the book is J. Marion Sims experimentation on enslaved Black women.

Because Black women were enslaved, they had no control or input about how their bodies were used. Sims brought 3 women and proceeded to mutilate their genitalia, without providing anesthesia despite it being available. The research was supposed to provide insight about vesicovaginal fistulas, but he was only able to cure one of the women. And of course he didn’t try this on white women until after his first trials with black women. He was even kind enough to provide white women with anesthesia. Imagine being forced to lay on a table and endure the slicing and poking of your vagina without anesthesia, conscious and alert for the entire humiliating, debasing, and unnecessary procedure. If you want more information on Medical Apartheid but don’t have time to read the book check on Harriet’s interview on Democracy Now below.

As Black women we must never forget the women who have come before us and sacrificed so we don’t have to experience the hardships and evils they did. We should fight everyday in honor of their memory. Whenever I find myself feeling defeated and at my wits end, I remember these women along with other strong black women who’s bodies, minds, and souls were trampled so that I could have a better chance at a more fulfilling life.

It’s such a shame the cruel, barbaric, and vicious evils that have been waged against Black people. We hear many uncritical explanations for the abundance of curable health issues plaguing the Black community. Some people believe its a result of Black people not caring about their health, and thus any health ailments they suffer are a result of their negligence. But, we must not forget why Black people are distrustful of health administrators and science in general. It is because for centuries we have bore the brunt of the scientific inquisition and refuse to be used anymore. Knowledge is power; so we must never forget this history and always be conscious of our vulnerability living on the margins in a society that has historically despised us and tried to “cure”, eradicate, and categorize us every chance they could in the name of science.


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