So, white people.
I’m going to make a vast generalization but Black people are afraid or hesitant of going to the doctor, because, well, white people.
White people think that Black people are super human. It must be because when they conquered this part of the world and killed off all the indigenous with their diseases and then realized that Africans didn’t die–that we are special.
I don’t know man.
From the Tuskegee Syphilis study, where Black men were used as guinea pigs to see the effects of syphilis, though they weren’t told they had the disease or even given treatment for it, to the study of gynecology done by the father of gynecology J. Marion Sims who used enslaved women as his subjects with NO regard to their humanity, inventing the speculum and other gynecological tools to the stealing of the immortal cells of Henrietta Lacks.
Born Loretta Pleasant on August 1st 1920 in Virginia, Henrietta changed her name at some point after her mother’s death and her move to live with her grandfather. She was a descendant of enslaved humans and white slave masters. Her and her cousin, later her husband David, got married in 1941 and had 5 children together.
On January 29th, 1951, at age 31, Lacks who had just given birth to her 5th child, was complaining of extreme pain and vaginal bleeding and went to the only hospital that would treat black people, Johns Hopkins.
She should have known something was up.
She was diagnosed with cancer and was dead by October 4th that same year. During her treatment, doctors at Johns Hopkins just happened to take two samples of tissue from her cervix without her permission or knowledge. One sample was healthy, the other cancerous and guess what they discovered?
Her cancerous cells didn’t die like other cells. They would reproduce multiple times and stay alive, which meant that they could be experimented on. Her cells were now called HeLa cells, named after her and they led to endless discoveries in the medical profession. Her cells led to the vaccine for polio. Her cells led to the discovery of in vitro and cloning. Her cells led to doctors discovering that humans have 46 chromosomes, not 48 like they had thought of before. And her cells are the basis for anti-cancer drugs that are in their experimental phase right now.
Fantastic. Henrietta Lacks is saving the world.
So, ummmm, what about her family?
Well they didn’t even know about the HeLa cells of their matriarch until the 1970’s, when a scientist contacted the family seeking blood samples and other genetic material.
You see what I mean by White people?
To this day the family has not received any financial reparation for Henrietta Lacks stolen cells. Johns Hopkins says they have not made any money off of her cells and instead they have only added to the human good. Instead they have developed programs and scholarships and a historical exhibit.
Now, I really intended to write a post that talked about the amazing contributions of Henrietta Lacks butttttttttttt, I really can’t. Because she didn’t know she was contributing, nor did her family. I really wanted to find out if they were financially secure or not, but I couldn’t bring myself to investigate because if they are not, I’m gonna be big mad.
So what do we take away from today’s post?
White people. (Le sigh)
No, but seriously. The medical contributions of her immortal cells should be taught to our students, while also teaching them how treacherous white people be, so that maybe we can inspire our young people to become health professionals with a conscience. We also need our students of color to study diseases and illnesses that disproportionately affect people of color like fibroids and sickle cell anemia.
You can learn more about Henrietta Lacks by reading the book and watching the upcoming HBO film starring Oprah, set to hit screens in April. But you know there’s some drama between Oprah, HBO and the family.
Lacks was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the family cemetery thought to be near her mothers grave. In 2010 her grave was given a headstone shaped like a book.
Henrietta Lacks, August 1, 1920 – October 4, 1951
In loving memory of a phenomenal woman,
wife and mother who touched the lives of many.
Here lies Henrietta Lacks (HeLa). Her immortal
cells will continue to help mankind forever.
Eternal Love and Admiration, From Your Family
I pray Lacks soul is resting in peace because I sure knows mine wouldn’t be. But that’s just me.
We must teach the story of Henrietta Lacks and keep her legacy alive. Man oh man, the next cancer walk I take part in, I’m honoring Henrietta Lacks because without her, we wouldn’t be where we are with cancer treatment.
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