Eugenics is the social movement claiming to improve the genetic features of human populations through selective breeding and sterilization. It first came about in the 1880’s and was funded in the early 1900’s. The idea behind it was that you could perfect humanity and get rid of undesirable traits in people. It became the reason to advocate for forced sterilization of the “poor, disabled, and immoral” and for people of color.
Eugenics was a controversial concept even shortly after its creation and it was proven that major genetic changes occurred outside of inheritance and therefore the concept of eugenics based upon genetic inheritance was severely flawed.
By the mid-20th century, eugenics had fallen into disfavor, having become associated with Nazi Germany abuses, like racial cleansing, medical torture, and genocide of populations considered undesirable. The ironic thing was Nazi Germany got eugenics ideas from the U.S. and proceeded accordingly.
In the U.S., 32 states passed laws allowing for the forced sterilization of so called ‘defectives.’ These laws took away the reproductive rights of an estimated 100,000 people, mostly women and most poor. Many were women of color.
Califorina had the highest number of sterilizations, but North Carolina’s eugenics program was the most aggressive. It went on from 1933 to 1977. Not to reveal my age, but this was going on when I was already here on the planet. It wasn’t that long ago.
I am trained as a social worker, so it was also horrifying to learn that North Carolina was the only state to give social workers the power to identify people for sterilization. Social workers should have been in there trying to stop it. Messed up!
In North Carolina, an IQ of 70 or lower meant sterilization was appropriate. That means mental retardation, uneducated, or having cognitive preferences and habits originating from cultural differences than an IQ test allows for. In other words, the IQ test has been shown to not be effective across all races and cultures, so back in the day when that wasn’t understood, who did it weed out? In North Carolina- poor African-American women.
Wallace Kuralt, a government bureaucrat wrote in the March 1967 journal of the N.C. Board of Public Welfare, “Here, at last, was a method of preventing unwanted pregnancies by an acceptable, practical, and inexpensive method.” He topped it off with: “The poor readily adopted the new techniques for birth control.”
Know what? Not true! People were coerced, intimidated, and threatened into undergoing tubal ligations, hysterectomies and surgical castrations. Now they’re back and speaking out saying it wasn’t okay.
In North Carolina, a panel appointed by Gov. Bev Perdue recommended that living victims of the state’s eugenics sterilization program be financially compensated for the despicable act of the state who decided they were not fit enough to have and raise children. The panel asked for $50,000 to go to each victim. Only 72 people have come forward at this point.
I don’t have 50k lying around, so sounds like a lot of money. But how much is a decision for your own body worth? What is the price of knowing someone thought they’d clean up humanity by not letting you reproduce? What is the cost of not being able to biologically have children because some decided to play God? So, $50,000… it’s not that much!
North Carolina victims are speaking up and are waiting to see if they will be compensated.
Check out the video of Elaine Riddick, one of the victims who speaks out in North Carolina. It can’t be easy to stand up and speak out about something like this. She’s fierce! Props to her!
The Winston Salem Journal has a good article as well: