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“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

– James Baldwin


The history of the exploitation and brutalization of people of color by doctors and others in the medical field is one of America’s most tragic and largely untold stories. Thanks to the work of people like Harriet Washington, author of Medical Apartheid, there is a new willingness to grapple with the impact of this trauma. Knowing our past is the first step towards a more equitable future.


In one of the most notorious cases of medical racism, Marion Sims subjected Black enslaved women to gynecological experiments without using anesthesia in the late 1840s. He later moved to New York City and began operating on white women, but with anesthesia.


Equally horrendous is the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in which government-funded doctors denied treatment for almost 400 Black males with the disease, even after penicillin was determined to be an effective treatment. By the end of the study in 1972, only 74 of the patients were still alive; 28 patients died directly from the disease, 100 from its complications and 40 infected their wives, and 19 children were born with it.


From 1960 to 1971, Dr. Eugene Saenger without their consent exposed 88 mostly Black and poor people to whole-body radiation experimental treatment, even though that treatment already had been discredited. The patients suffered severe pain, nausea and other effects and a quarter of them died of radiation poisoning.

As expected, the legacy of medical racism continues, resulting in considerable distrust of the medical profession by people of color.

Read this article about how racist stereotypes led to approximately 20,000 people – many of them Latino/a – being forcibly sterilized in California and how this is echoed in the political landscape today.

Listen to this podcast about the United States Supreme Court ruling, Buck v. Bell, that institutionalized the racist eugenics movement and led to 70,000 forced sterilizations of people of color and people with physical and mental disabilities.

Watch this video about the history of institutional racism in American medicine and how racist 18th-century beliefs and practices are still leading to adverse health outcomes for people of color today.

These articles were curated by a local committee to be used as a list of resources pertinent to DEI topics. The 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge Committee would like to thank and give attribution to those who created the content above, which reflects their individual perspectives. We do not support nor endorse any advertisements associated with the above content.