Opposed to the being of Henrietta: bioslavery, pop culture and the third life of HeLa cells

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Abstract

Operating at the intersection of thanatopolitics and African-American cultural studies, this essay argues that the commercial sale of HeLa-themed art and other bioproducts perpetuates the bioslavery of HeLa cells, a circumstance created by legal and medical discourses tracing back to US racial slavery. Racial slavery normalised economic, social and legal inequities that the nation continues to struggle with and, the article posits, laid foundation for the dynamics that currently exist between Henrietta Lacks' genealogical family, the HeLa cell line, and the medical-pharmaceutical establishment. The author turns to fashion ethics discourse and trademark law as potential sites for reparations.

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