This article is from special contributor, Brian Powers at the Institute of Medicine in Washington DC. The portion featured here is from the chapter entitled, “Emerging Amidst Tumult: Black Physicians and the Professional Demands of the Antebellum Era.”
The history of race and medicine is a deep and complex trail of deception, misperception, social struggles and exploitation. In particular, the history of Blacks and the institution of medicine provide several examples of how scientists and health professionals used medicine and science to promote theories concerning the inferiority of blacks. From pluralist theories of different origins for different races, to the development of diseases specific to one race, racial biology has formed a deep seated question of whether there are true anatomical and physiological differences among mankind. From the early 18th to mid-19th century, several theories were employed to support the belief that blacks were an inferior race. Decades later, the works of two black, male scholars added to the growing thoughts concerning racial health and hierarchy. The association between the theories proposed under black, male scholarship can be linked to efforts to eliminate the use of racial and physiological differences to promote discriminatory practices.