I think of trans-generational traumas, and how they shape us, and I wonder whether the pang that I sometimes feel in my gut connects me with the agony of my foremothers.
Trigger Warning: This article contains discussions of racialized reproductive and sexual violences against Black women
We have been rather preoccupied with our statues of late. As we should be. They are symbols of who and what our nation chooses to venerate and immortalize, and monuments to white supremacy have stood long enough—they should never have been erected to begin with.
At the edge of Central Park, in New York City, stands a figure in honor of J. Marion Sims, an allegiant to the Confederacy who often vocalized his loyalty to the south and southern tradition, including slavery. This nineteenth century doctor is known as the “father of modern gynecology.” While the field respectfully celebrates its patriarch, it too often neglects to remember its mothers. Among them: Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsey.
Sims became the world’s most renowned authority on reproductive health after years of experimental operations on enslaved Black women in the backyard hospital of his Montgomery, Alabama home from 1845 to 1849. Lucy, Anarcha, and Betsey were his subjects, taken on from local slavers. These young women were in horrible condition and went hoping that he would cure their ailments quickly.
This began “before the time of anesthesia,” Sims notes in his autobiography. The first successful surgery performed with anesthesia occurred in 1846, but Sims never gave any to the enslaved women in his care. It is recorded that he subscribed to the belief that Black people did not have the same capacity to feel pain as white people, a belief that many people in the medical field unfortunately still hold. Physicians continually offer less pain relief and fewer management resources to their Black patients, even to children, due to this accepted myth.
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