Syllabus: A History of Anti-Black Racism in Medicine

“I can’t breathe” (Miki Jourdan, Flickr)

The ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is revealing longstanding American health and healthcare disparities yet to be addressed. While some have described COVID as a “great equalizer,” policing, public health, medical care, and public funds are revealing otherwise. COVID-19’s impact on Black people in general and poor and working-class Black people in particular, has elucidated this country’s long disparate treatment of Black people and centuries-long neglect of Black health concerns. We hope this syllabus offers insight into those historical legacies, while simultaneously paving way for equitable health for all underrepresented populations.

Although the focus of this syllabus is the history of anti-Blackness in American medicine, we are aware that many of the texts are not from historians of medicine. Those scholars’ insights, however, are invaluable to our dissertation research and theoretical approaches. The selection of texts here also reveals the gaps that remain between the histories of medicine and science and Black studies. Though this syllabus is certainly not exhaustive, it lays important groundwork for bridging this gap and illustrating that questions of race and racism should be central to studying the histories of medicine and science. We hope that this syllabus serves not as an endpoint–but as a beginning.

Week 1. Medical and Scientific Theories of Racial Difference
Week 3. Medicine, Health and the Slave Trade(s)
Week 4. Slavery Era Medical Practitioners and Practices
Week 5. Disability in Slavery and Freedom
Week 6. Medicine, Reproduction, and Childhood in the Era of Slavery
Week 7. Medicine and Health in Post-Emancipation Era Societies
Week 8. Medicine, Public Health and Racial Uplift
Week 9. Eugenics and Progressive Era Racial Science
Week 10. Black People as Experimental Subjects
Week 11. 20th Century Race and Mental Health
Week 12. Race and Medicine from Civil Rights to Black Power
Week 13. 20th and 21st Century Social and Environmental Effects of Racism
Week 14. HIV/AIDS in Black America and its Legacy
Week 15. Genetics & the Re-biologization of Race
Week 16. Anti-Black Racism & COVID-19
Recommended Textbooks and Edited Volumes

*We are incredibly grateful to Dr. Ezelle Sanford III and Dr. Nic John Ramos for their input, support, and perspectives.

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Antoine S. Johnson, Elise A. Mitchell, Ayah Nuriddin

Antoine S. Johnson is a PhD candidate in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. Follow him on Twitter @AJohnsonHist. Elise A. Mitchell is a fellow at the McNeil Center for Early American Studies and a doctoral candidate in the Department of History at New York University, specializing in Atlantic World and Caribbean and Latin American History. Follow her on Twitter @byeliseam. Ayah Nuriddin is a PhD candidate in the Department of the History of Medicine, and Graduate Fellow in the Center for Medical Humanities and Social Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Follow her on Twitter @AyahNerd.