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Scientific Racism - Let's Rewind

Updated: Feb 16

*Trigger Warning*

“The Father of American Gynecology” There is a lot of controversy which surround Dr. J. Marion Sims. They label him as a man who advanced obstetrics and gynecology; however, many of these surgeries were performed on enslaved Black women without anesthesia. So who do you blame, do you blame the doctor, or do you blame the institutional racism that contributed to his successful work? I think the latter. And it did not start with him. Black women were first seen off as having a higher pain-tolerance than their counter-parts, and we still see this today more pronounced in coloured communities.


Let’s rewind back to Sarah Baartman, who was considered a “freak of nature” by British colonizers to the point of where her body was led to England and France. There she was exploited, violated and lived in the most inhumane conditions. She was a black woman whose black body was not seen as human but as barbaric. Creating a difference between Black bodies, and White bodies not only in terms of their sexuality but in addition race. She was put on display and labelled as “the greatest deformity in the world” because of her darker skin and larger buttocks… and it doesn’t end there.

George Cuvier a naturalist had asked to study Sarah as a science specimen (not HUMAN). There was a conclusion that there is a difference between Black bodies and White bodies in terms of female sexuality. This led to African being oversexed and considered a lesser race. Once Sarah died at a very young age they dissected her body…. Her body, brain and genitals were placed on display in the Musée de l'Homme.

It wasn't until 2002 that they returned her remains to South Africa where she was buried.


This story on Sarah Baartman is only one form of scientific racism that has appeared in history, and unfortunately there are many more.

Regarding J. Marion Sims, many women of colour may not benefit from health advances because of health disparities. Now, please don't confuse this solely with accessibility to healthcare. Keep in mind we still see a lack of BIPOC individuals being included in research studies. We also do not see enough representation of BIPOC medical professionals in research.


In relation to nutrition, when dietitians conduct assessments, we need to take into account that some science is bias. For instance, we base BMI on the body fat content in a healthy Caucasian population. Therefore, we have to use our clinical judgement and complete a thorough assessment to come up with the best nutritional care plan for everyone.

I believe that we are seeing a shift in the community, and it's important that we have a discussion about the history which has shaped some of the science we continue to see and use daily.

Take a look at this article written by Janice A. Sabin, a research associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Informatics and Medical Education at the University of Washington School of Medicine: How we fail black patients in pain

#thatblackRD #dieitiansofinstagram #dietetics #blackdietitans #inclusionmatters #healthprofessionals #blackhealth #dieitiansforblm #dietitianapproved #rd2be #dietitiansforchange #registereddieititan #diversifydietitics #amplifymelanatedvoices #culturalcompetence #science #scientificracism #sarahbaartman #jmarionsims


Lawson, W. B. (2019). How to expose scientific racism? Journal of the National Medical Association, 111(3), 231-232. doi:10.1016/j.jnma.2019.06.001

Mothoagae, I.D.. (2016). Reclaiming our black bodies: reflections on a portrait of Sarah (Saartjie) Baartman and the destruction of black bodies by the state. Acta Theologica, 36(Suppl. 24), 62-83.

Thomas, G., Crais, C., Scully, P. (2009). Sara Baartman and the Hottentot Venus: A Ghost Story and a Biography. Princeton: Princeton University Press. The American Historical Review, Volume 115, Issue 3, June 2010, Pages 922–923,

Qureshi, S. (2004). Displaying Sara Baartman, the ‘Hottentot Venus’. History of Science, 42, 233 - 257.

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