An Open Letter to Those Colleges and Universities that have Assigned Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as the “Common” Freshmen Reading for the Class of 2016 | Brown Town


An Open Letter to Those Colleges and Universities that have Assigned Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as the “Common” Freshmen Reading for the Class of 2016 | Brown Town.

Excerpt from the letter:

What makes the racism of Skloot’s account all the more insidious is that she could have foreclosed my accusation that she was unquestioningly  appropriating Henrietta Lacks’s body by admitting that Henrietta’s self-touching was, indeed, a fabrication, a “it-could-have-happened-like-this” situation. She could have admitted the unreliability of her narration. Instead of self-reflecting, Skloot turns the criticism outward, recounting in great detail how difficult it was for her to get Henrietta’s story. As a result, the black characters in her story are racialized but she is not. They have the problem with racial difference, not her. She has less to get over than them; she comes in earnestness; she can be trusted. So she says. And so we believe. We learn so much about the fears and hesitations of the Lacks’s family toward this white writer but nevertheless come to trust Skloot more than the Lackses; she is the voice of reason.  And so we come to suspend our disbelief and go on thinking that it is fine and ethical for her to rewrite Henrietta Lacks’s body in an intimate moment that may not, in fact, even have happened.  Yet the proclamation of the book’s truth content begs an analysis of Skloot.  What feelings of privilege and authority over another’s body must a writer possess in order to rewrite an already exploited body and call it “non-fiction”?

 

~ by Tichaona Munhamo on August 29, 2012.

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