For Elsie Lacks

20 May

Does anybody see the black women
Bound and gagged
In dirtied white gowns
Hair disheveled and feet bare
Climbing over one another
Trying to get your attention

Does anybody hear the black women
Moaning muffled cries
Kicking and wiggling
Banging their heads against the floor
Trying to get your attention

I see them.
I hear them.

They must be wondering…
Why is there a statue
Of Henrietta Lacks
In the middle of this room
Littered with our bodies–
Some injured, some sore, many dead?

Why is it these “brilliant” people
Keep looking up at this
Black women’s statue
Feeling the texture of her vagina
Admiring the details of her cervix
Praising the dedication of the sculptor

And yet they manage to keep
Stepping over our bodies
Without so much as a glance downward

They ask the artist
Can the family get compensation?
The family deserves something
But she insists that the law and medicine
do not protect such subjects
cannot repair the subjected
And so they move on.

They keep saying
the doctors and scientists
that used her cells
did great things for many people.
They deserve redemption.
They must be redeemed.

I’m a scientist.
I’ve worked with her cells
I must be redeemed

I studied under the doctor
who took her cells
He was a great man
He did great things
We deserve fair treatment
in the eyes of history

The artist offers a scale
supported by Black women’s bodies
Balancing the rights and good deeds of the
Scientific community on one end
and the Lacks family on the other
Fair and balanced
On Black women’s backs

They want to understand
How hard was it for you–
a White woman–
to get close to a black family
To get Henrietta Lacks’ story

They never question
how a White woman gained so much access
to privileged information
from largely White doctors, scientists, and assistants
to tell the HeLa story

And what of Mrs. Lacks’ daughter Elsie
One of the many
writhing Black female bodies
that got brought into this room
with this statue of her mother
erected in honor of the HeLa story

They too have stories of
systemic non-consensual experiments
that benefited people other than themselves
and their families

Research that left them battered, broken, and
banging their heads on the floor
for your attention

Can you see them?
Do you hear them?
I’m starting to think
I might be the only one.


4 Responses to “For Elsie Lacks”

  1. ashaf May 20, 2010 at 1:51 PM #

    I hear them too. Thank you for this, Sheri!

  2. crunktastic May 20, 2010 at 5:14 PM #

    Very, very powerful, Sis!!

  3. MB May 22, 2010 at 6:56 AM #

    Thank you for saying what needed to be said. Much love to you Elsie. You are not forgotten.

  4. revolutionaryandjoyful May 23, 2010 at 12:11 PM #

    I know that this is unrelated but how do y’all feel about the new femininity movement? one blog that stands out to me is:

    It would be greatly appreciated if someone could write a post on this.


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