Racial segregation

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Racial apartheid has dominated the imaginary as well as the everyday world since time immemorial, dating back to slavery and the slave trade and continuing into the twenty-first century. To stop bigotry and other savages that lower the standing of men of color, universal schooling, affirmative action, and world sports, among other initiatives, have been proposed. However, the attempts are futile, and bigotry will be a man's constant friend in the future. This article would examine bigotry from the prism of Skloot's "Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks." The implementation of the Jim Crow laws culminated in extreme racial segregation that witnessed the isolation of whites’ only schools and hospitals alongside other social amenities. Henrietta Lacks had to travel a long distance to seek healthcare in a hospital that admitted blacks, passing nearby whites-only hospitals (Skloot20). John Hopkins hospital was, further, segregated into black’s wards and white’s wards with the level of care further compromised for blacks as was for white counterparts as summarized in the quote:

“…her history is surprising since she went through a term delivery here at the hospital… no notes recorded in the history at that time, or during six weeks return visit that there is any cervix abnormality” (Skloot21).

The quote reveals that a standard procedure in John Hopkins’s hospital required further recording and diagnosis to any peculiar condition after delivery to be undertaken. To Henrietta Lack’s case, she just delivered and was sent home without any further diagnosis to expose any underlying complications living the cervical cancer to advance.

Moreover, due to Henrietta skin color, the doctors had no obligation to inform her or the family members on the cell samples rushing to patent it for financial gains while the family was living in abject poverty, unable to even afford to see a doctor (Skloot 32). Elsie, Henrietta’s elder daughter, succumbed to congenital syphilis; Deborah suffered sexual molestation that resulted into early marriage while the cells drawn from their mother was a lucrative trade for the white researchers who realizes billions of dollars in profits through HeLa cells sale.

Henrietta Lacks also struggles to read and write since she was only able to reach 6th grade as she had to fend for the family hence seek for work in the tobacco field. She filled a lot of forms she knew nothing about; a disadvantage of illiteracy and the John Hopkins doctors (majority whites) never had the time to explain the contents as witnessed in the below quote:

“For Henrietta, walking into Hopkins was like entering a foreign land where she didn’t speak the language…she’d never come across biopsy or cervix words…she like most black parents, only went to Hopkins when they had no choice” (Skloot 20).

Bombarding patients with medical terminologies contravenes the ethical codes of conduct which demands to inform a patient on the diagnosis and treatment in a language they understand.

Nonetheless, it took over 50 years for the researchers to realize they have breached the ethical standards and warrant justice to the family. The new HeLa acknowledgment restricted access and distribution of the Henrietta’s complete DNA sequence without the permission of a panel of six people with two members drawn from the Lack’s immediate family. In addition, the acknowledgement of Henrietta Lack as the source of the cells when publishing works from HeLa cell research accompanies six-person committee to permit its adaptation and subsequent use.

In another instance, doctors would also prey on African Americans at night, kidnap and forward them to John Hopkins hospital for research purposes. Other doctors would pretend to be of help to men of color while in reality use them as subjects of human experiments. Tuskegee experiments, for instance, involved injecting abducted African Men with syphilis and subsequently monitor the disease progression until a patient dies despite the presence of cure (Skloot 49)

“The researchers selected their subjects from black population since they believed that the Negros were “a notoriously syphilis-soaked race” (p49).

The “Just Walk on By” article by Brent Staples serve of racism parallels “Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” The narrator is mistaken to be a burglar while he trying to rush and deliver an article for the magazine. He had to be escorted by a known person to reach his editorial office (Staples par 8). In reaction, he adopted survival tactics just to reduce the tension that is associated with the colored minorities. At times he had to remain congenital and calm whenever apprehended by a police officer, offer wide berth to racially phobic white population.

“If I happened to be entering a building behind some skittish people, I may walk by giving them opportunity to clear the lobby before I return, so as not to be following them” (Staples par13).

The Charlottesville protest, a modern day racism incidence, witnessed conflict between white supremacists against the blacks over a bid to take down the confederate monument. Confederate monument signified maintenance of slavery and slave trade. The authority’s lobby to clump it down was an effort to erase the slavery and slave trade off the minds of the Blacks in a reconciliation effort that didn’t augur well with the white supremacists. President Trump, in his reaction, protected the white supremacists that suggest a continued brutalization of men of color in this time and era as depicted in the quote:

“You had a group on one side which was bad. You had a group on the other side that was violent” (Astor et al., Para 3)

The statement points to double speech towards the fight against racism suggesting to favor the supremacist proponents.

Compare and contrast

While racism in the book and the two articles diminished human status, the one witnessed in Just Walk on By and the Charlottesville represent a softer version of “Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” based on skin color. Populations in the later articles could afford and access to quality medical care, education as well as employment. They were also able to access guns they might use in self-defense contrary to citizens in “Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.”


Increasing cases of black’s deaths, denial of equal education and employment opportunities, the resurgence of Nazi sympathizers backed by the government of the day’s goodwill, racism is still the elephant in the house awaiting the slightest of the provocation for full re-emergence. The only possible solution is to encourage inclusivity that will allow tolerance to diversity leading to a conscious cultural generation.

Works cited

Astor, Maggie, Caron, Christina, and Daniel Victor. “A Guide to the Charlottesville Aftermath.” The New York Times, 13 Aug. 2017,

Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Broadway Books, 2011.

Staples, Brent. “Just Walk on By.” Canvas. Retrieved https://scccd.instructure.com/courses/20112/files/1396806?module_item_id=450472. Accessed 4 Oct. 2017

July 19, 2022

Racism Slavery

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