Once the U.S. Congress outlawed the importation of Africans on Jan 1, 1808, enslavers across the United States continued to build wealth by forcing already enslaved Black women to have children—children which they then sold while continuing to exploit their mothers for free labor.

In the 1840s, J. Marion Sims, the Father of Gynecology, founded the first hospital for enslaved women in Montgomery, Alabama. He traveled around the country with Lucy, Betsey and Anarcha, three enslaved Black women and performed multiple surgeries on them without anesthesia. Sims proclaimed that Black people did not experience pain like White people, a racist myth that persists today.

His experimental surgeries were long lauded as critical for the evolution of health care and more valuable than the lives of the Black people who suffered due to his cruelty. We see this exploitative use of Black women’s labor today, wed to the belief that we should sacrifice ourselves for the salvation of U. S. economy during the COVID-19, our bodies autopsied in order to find a solution for everyone else.

Black women, essential workers still, dying during the COVID-19 pandemic is in the tradition of this nation’s adherence to necrocapitalism—deciding who lives and who dies based on the acquisition, preservation and accumulation of wealth.

Here to discuss are Joia Crear-Perry, M.D., principal at Health Equity Cypher; Shavon Arline-Bradley, principal at Health Equity Cypher; L. Toni Lewis, M.D., principal at Health Equity Cypher; and Aletha Maybank, M.D., M.P.H., chief Health Equity Officer at AMA.

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