A couple of months ago, the medical center that is part of the university I attend got a hold of my name and mailing address and sent me a letter saying they were conducting a study on women to see if being screened for cervical cancer in a clinical setting (you go in – they give you an exam) or having folks test themselves with new technology (you stay home – they give you a home exam kit) would be more convenient and effective — or something of that sort. I would have to participate in both types of exams. I thought about it for a sec back when I received the letter and said ‘Sure. What the heck?’ I was due for an exam anyway, and they would pay me — up to two or three hundred bucks. I thought that even though I had never scraped my own cervix before there was no time to learn like the present, so I called in, found out I qualified and made the appointment — which was to happen just the other day — except I didn’t show up to it.
I really started thinking that I didn’t research this project like I should have done before the day arrived that I was to go. I thought about how Black women and Women of Color have been used as guinea pigs and test subjects to ‘research new services’ and realized that I was en route to, in several ways, make myself very vulnerable to such a legacy, if I went to this medical center and went through with this project. Even though this research was not specifically geared towards Black women I also thought about the idea that I would more than likely be physically, socially and mentally positioned in front of a white woman — and I’m not keen on being ‘material’ — on my back and having a white woman stare down my naked body while she went out of her way to make it appear that she’s ‘used’ to seeing a Black woman’s yoni. That’s a classic. Believe it or not, I also thought about Henrietta Lacks and her story that I read — I think it was the year before last. Even though there are differences, and she wasn’t a research subject to begin with, per se, and I can’t say what I learned about her was the driving force behind why I chose not to go through with the exam, her story, along with Harriet Washington’s book Medical Apartheid also came to mind about how Black people have been experimented on. I know that many would believe that there are differences here in people who have been involved in research, voluntarily or involuntarily. Some would say the fact that I’m actually ‘literate’ in that I simply can read and have a multitude of opportunities to educate myself and understand what exactly the research entails, means there is a huge difference — that it’s not the same. Also, that even though the extra cash would be great, at this point I’m not starving nor do I have to feed a family with it, and so that means that I am not making a decision out of desperation — I was actually going to put any money I received upfront to offset the cost of a plane ticket because I plan on visiting my friend on the east coast this summer.
I never got around to talking to my sisters about this — specifically my oldest and little sister. If I had, I’m almost certain that my little one would tell me I’m going overboard, as usual and roll her eyes before asking if everything has to be a protest — and that I should ‘stop being so suspicious.’ My oldest one would no doubt say that I would be participating in something that could ‘create opportunities for others’ — helping out — so that women who can’t get to or who don’t go to the Dr. for whatever reasons would be able to have home exam kits mailed to them, potentially saving lives. I know that there are huge discrepancies in many women’s access to medical care and even their ability in getting to the Dr.
To be honest I’ve been too busy to process my true feelings about it completely. All I know is that being a Black woman and a research subject began to bother me enough that I didn’t feel bad about skipping out on my appointment, which I initially fully intended on going to after my classes, and went so far as to get ready for it (I wore knee-high socks that day). For now, though, I figure I would just go on my own to the Dr. outside a research- type setting, and that would (almost inevitably) be my way of speaking to this legacy. And like I said I should have researched it more before I made a decision anyway. But at this point, that’s me.
What about you — what do you think? What would you have done?