Travel Sickness: Pan-Africanism, Medicine, and Misogynoir in Caribbean Harlem

Friday, January 5, 2018: 1:50 PM
Delaware Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
W. Chris Johnson, University of Toronto
During the 1920s and 1930s, coalitions of black civic leaders, journalists, and healthcare providers organized campaigns for the medical rights of black migrants in New York City, Ethiopian soldiers fighting against Italian aggression, and women confronting eugenicist reproductive policies in the British West Indies. At the forefront of these campaigns were Caribbean surgeons who had been migrating to the United States from the Caribbean since 1900. Entangled campaigns for medical rights and patriarchal authority erupted along several fronts: protest against segregation, entrepreneurship and institution building, health education and knowledge-production, and transnational pan-Africanist organizing. Struggling for legitimacy, economic independence, and manhood, Caribbean Race Doctors successfully desegregated institutions like Harlem Hospital. Framing their medical authority as both moral and manly, Caribbean surgeons declared professional independence from a Jim Crow medical industry that demeaned and excluded them, and white doctors who neglected, exploited, and “butchered” black patients, particularly black women and girls. Declaring themselves saviors and guardians of black womanhood, Caribbean health activists assumed police powers over the movements, actions, and sexual practices of black women. Engaged in broader strategies to combat social, political, and economic inequality, some endorsed forced birth control and the sterilization of poor black women as a tactic eliminate poverty and uplift the race. In Harlem, the Caribbean, and across Caribbean diasporas, anti-imperialists who revolted against colonial regimes, imagined transnational utopias, and marshaled creative and financial resources against fascism also produced similar ideologies relating to eugenics, medicine, gendered power dynamics, morality, and black women’s reproductive autonomy.