Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight against Medical Discrimination Paperback – September 17, 2013
Frequently Bought Together
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
a much-needed and major work that will set the standard for scholars -American Historical Review
Nelson's work stands out as the first major book length treatment of the BPP's medical initiatives -Mobilization
Body and Soul is a valuable addition to the literature on this organization, rendering the Black Panthers in greater complexity than most other accounts have achieved, and pointing the way to archival collections largely untapped -Journal of American Studies
Body and Soul is well researched and powerfully argued, and it skillfully bridges several scholarly fields...By any measure, Nelson's book is an important contribution -The Crisis
highly informative, meticulously documented, extremely relevant, and deeply engaging -The Black Commentator
From the Back Cover
"This book is a revelation. Alondra Nelson uncovers two remarkable histories in Body and Soul. First, she provides the deep context for our current conversation about the health disparities that plague the African-American community and that are, as she puts it, "quite literally sickening."Second, she adds immeasurably to our knowledge of the Black Panther Party, complicating its commonplace designation as a radical, militant organization to unearth its dedication and hard work in advocating for and providing equal and quality health care for even the most underserved African Americans. Nelson is the first scholar I know of to bring these two histories into dialogue with each other, and she does so with spectacular results. This is a tremendously important book." --Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Alphonse Fletcher University Professor, Harvard University
"In Body and Soul, Alondra Nelson combines careful research, deep political insight, and passionate commitment to tell the little-known story of the Black Panther Party's health activism in the late 1960s. In doing so, and in showing how the problems of poverty, discrimination, and access to medical care remain hauntingly similar more than forty years later, Nelson reminds us that the struggle continues, particularly for African Americans, and that social policies have profound moral implications." --Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
"The activities of the Black Panther Party have long been reduced to stories of violent police confrontations and empty propaganda. By taking seriously the claims and the practices of the Black Panthers with respect to the health of Black people, Alondra Nelson has provided a critical corrective to earlier studies. More importantly, this is a brilliant analysis of a significant moment in the long tradition of health advocacy on the part of African Americans. That health was a cornerstone of Black Panther politics reveals how deeply access to good health care has shaped Black lives and politics in the past and today. Body and Soul is a major achievement and will be indispensable to anyone who wants to understand how healthcare and citizenship became so intertwined in American life." -- Evelynn Hammonds, Barbara Gutmann Rosenkrantz Professor of the History of Science and of African and African American Studies, Dean of Harvard College, Harvard University
"In her revisionist account, Nelson insightfully guides the reader through the range of campaigns by which the Black Panther Party paved the way to broad efforts to promote biomedical inclusion and democratize access to medical knowledge and practice."
--Steven Epstein, author of Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research
If you buy a new print edition of this book (or purchased one in the past), you can buy the Kindle edition for only $2.99 (Save 73%). Print edition purchase must be sold by Amazon. Learn more.
For thousands of qualifying books, your past, present, and future print-edition purchases now lets you buy the Kindle edition for $2.99 or less. (Textbooks available for $9.99 or less.)
Top Customer Reviews
In this book, Professor Nelson presents the history of the Black Panther Party's efforts to provide much needed healthcare to poor people. It is an eye-opening illustration of the Black Panther Party as a force behind a movement - in keeping with a theme that still resonates today - Healthcare is a right, not a privilege. I highly recommend reading this book for an honest presentation of a balanced story of the positive work the Black Panther Party did during the Civil Rights Era in America.
Pamela C. Ranberg (History student at the University of Baltimore)
Iman Washington (Duke University School of Medicine)
"When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist."
Dom Hélder Pessoa Câmara (1909 – 1999), Catholic Archbishop of Olinda and Recife, Brazil, 1964 to 1985
Body and Soul: The Black Panther Party and the Fight Against Medical Discrimination by Alondra Nelson.
University of Minnesota Press, 2011, 289 pp.
Professor Alondra Nelson (Twitter) has written a book which all activists should read. It focuses on the advocacy, activism and ideology of the Black Panther Party (BPP) in healthcare.
The BPP saw healthcare in the United States as proof of white supremacy and regarded its provision as a necessity for movement building and outreach. Over time, it required each of its branches to establish a community health center. The health centers were required to staff or have access to biomedical professionals and empower the patients in decisions regarding their treatment. They promoted a view of health beyond the biomedical model. Poor health outcomes among black Americans were the inevitable result of policies which limited their political clout and economic opportunities, and only revolutionary socialism could address these issues. Healthcare was one example of a good which should be provided regardless of profit, and these community health centers were proof of this concept.
Most fascinating to me was the BPP's work in the field of sickle cell anemia and its resistance to the medicalization of violence.
Sickle cell anemia is familiar to me. My father co-authored a paper in this field, and I mentioned it in "Health, Public," an encyclopedia entry I wrote for Africa and the Americas: Culture, Politics, and History, edited by Richard Juang and Noelle Morrisette. When I was a child, I was diagnosed with anemia, but I never had any symptoms. Later physicians told me that I likely had fewer, larger red blood cells than the "norm" (i.e. northern European) as part of the genetic legacy of peoples from malaria-endemic regions.
While black American health activists had been addressing sickle cell conditions to the extent their resources permitted, a 1970 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association by Dr. Robert Scott seemed to bring together all of the BPP's talking points:
Health care priority for sickle cell anemia (SCA) should be based on its prevalence, severity, and on a standard of support set for similar conditions. Sickle cell anemia occurs in about one in 500 Negro births and median survival is still only 20 years of age. In 1967 there were an estimated 1,155 new cases of SCA, 1,206 of cystic fibrosis, 813 of muscular dystrophy, and 350 of phenylketonuria. Yet volunteer organizations raised $1.9 million for cystic fibrosis, $7.9 million for muscular dystrophy, but less than $100,000 for SCA. National Institutes of Health grants for many less common hereditary illnesses exceed those for SCA. Prevalence data in cities with sizeable black populations show that SCA is a major public health consideration. More appropriate priority for SCA depends on improved public and professional understanding of its importance.
The BPP began learning how to conduct screenings, and, when a new screening procedure which didn't require a blood draw and whose cost was minimal emerged, the BPP launched widespread screening campaigns in public places. It also fundraised for these efforts and attempted to mobilize researchers who shared its social vision of health to research cures and treatments for sickle cell conditions. It published articles and its leaders gave interviews refuting white supremacists who used sickle cell conditions as evidence that black Africans and their descendants were genetically inferior to white Europeans.
In 1972, researchers at University of California at Los Angeles drafted plans to create the Center for the Study and Reduction of Violence and sought financial support from Governor Ronald Reagan and the California legislature. The BPP and allies saw these groups as defining violence in the United States as a medical problem requiring a medical solution, i.e. medicalization or biologization. The BPP rejected this view, as exemplified by H Rap Brown's (Jamil al-Amin) famous quote, "violence is as American as apple pie." A coalition of groups was successful in convincing the state of California to cease supporting research along these lines.
These BPP successes, however, did not result in ending morbidity and mortality discrepancies among races in the United States, much less socialist revolution. There are of course many reasons for this, including police repression. But in the cases of sickle cell anemia and the medicalization of violence, liberal solutions from the biomedical world, namely increasing resources developed for sickle cell diagnosis, treatment and research and extending the protection of medical ethics to prisoners in United States jails, who would have been the experimental subjects in the UCLA center's research, blunted the BPP's radical arguments.
And yet this legacy of activists providing healthcare to the people the state ignores lives on. I have given some money to University Muslim Medical Association Community Clinic in Los Angeles over the last 10 years, and I learned from Dr. Nelson's book that a former BPP member and worker at one of its clinics, Norma Armour, helped found it.
The Islamic Medical Association of North America publishes a guide to operating a charity clinic. It has also published video recordings of sessions where people involved in these clinics discuss their operations.
To the extent that any of these clinics focus on patients' participation in decision-making and on a social vision of health, it is part of the BPP legacy.
Dr. Nelson has a 16-minute video from Book-TV about this book.
Her most recent book is Genetics and the Unsettled PastThe Collision Between DNA, Race, and History which she co-edited with Keith Wailoo and Catherine Lee. (Rutgers University Press, Paperback, 9780813552552, 370pp.) (Twitter)
Updated October 11, 2014: The concept of medicalizing away social phenomenon is at the heart of Edward Said's Orientalism and its Reader's Digest version, Covering Islam. Define a group. Develop a methodology to use in the study of that group which is not used on any other group. And, then, what do you know, you find that there are factors unique to that group which cause a phenomenon. I've blogged a lot on the War on Terror, but the reading I'd recommend which has several examples of medicalizing is Arun Kundnani's The Muslims are Coming!.