150,000 Black Women Were Forced Into the Eugenics Program in the 1970s

Andrei Tapalaga

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People protesting against the Eugenics program in 1974Wikimedia Commons

Since the start of eugenics in the 19th century, it has been one of the most debated ideologies within modern history, at least from an ethical perspective. The idea of human sterilization was invented by British explorer Francis Galton who was inspired by Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Due to the rise of hereditary diseases, natural selection in his eyes seemed like the best medical practice in combating these diseases and a way to “remove these diseases for future generations.”

During the same period of time, people around the world started to combat racism and fight for human equality as one racial prejudice seen within minorities was the higher chance of diseases or hereditary disease being spread although the medicine within the 19th century didn’t permit for an accurate check of hereditary diseases within one’s organism.

The world of medicine (especially western) has its own section of racial prejudice where it seems to treat patients of different color differently, as if they are a totally different species, presenting (in the eyes of the western doctors at the time) more vulnerability towards hereditary diseases whilst having a higher resilience to pain, as presented in some of my works.

The biggest efforts for the eugenics program took place in America and mostly pointed towards the African American and Hispanic citizens as well as mainly towards the female population. In my eyes, taking away a woman’s ability to give birth is pretty much like taking away her femininity and the most beautiful gift that God has given to women.

Eugenics within 20th century America

The 20th century was a long-lasting fight for the African American citizens of the United States as well as other minority groups that were seen as different due to their physical appearance. The racial prejudice and the fight for equality had become the tensest during the 1960s, especially with Martin Luther King’s movement within the United States.

Sterilization within the United States publicity began around the 1910s, aimed to be applied by all the States of America. Although it was very much supported by the government, this program was very much influenced by racial groups such as the Neo-Malthusians who believed that the world is overpopulated and that is what will lead to its ecological collapse.

By 1913 many norther states were already allowed by law to perform eugenics sterilization purely based on eugenic motives (avoidance of hereditary diseases)

Within the eugenics program, their idea was that poverty is created due to overpopulation, and since most African Americans at the time were part of the lower class, it should be them to be sterilized above everyone else. The focus was not just on poverty, but on the finest genes and having the finest baby be born. The white population within America really made a big thing out of it by even having contests such as the “Fitter Family” contest or “Better Baby” contests.

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Winning family of a Fitter Family contest stand outside of the Eugenics Building[1] (where contestants register) at the Kansas Free Fair, inWikimedia Commons

The idea was not so much focused on creating or having the “perfect race,” but more like developing and reproducing “the perfect white human.”

At first, the group focused more on educating people below the poverty line about contraceptives and sexual education. Seeing that it wasn’t working, the people within the group being quite powerful, influenced the government towards a eugenics program (amongst many other external influencers).

The population was really easy to influence and indoctrinate with the idea behind the eugenics program especially with the rise of all diseases and epidemics within the US during the 20th century. Another issue was that the population didn’t really understand with exactitude in what conditions hereditary disease can be transmitted. This gave them another reason to become more racially inclined in the late 1940s and approve on an ethical level of the eugenics program when it came to people of a different color.

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Hereditary Genius 1869 by Francis GaltonThe British Library

People did not care about the history of eugenics, such as the use of eugenics by the Nazis to remove the Jewish population within Germany in the late 1930s, early 1940s, something which also focused on the correlation between eugenics and racism. The idea of human sterilization started by Francis Galton has racism at its pillars, as with the idea of eugenics, he wanted to create the “perfect race,” this argument is presented by him in his book Hereditary Genius published in 1869.

Threats against the law and human rights

Since 1933 and up to 1974, between 100,000 and 150,000 black women have taken part within the eugenics program, most of them being forced and threatened by doctors and other racist groups. A small number were actually persuaded to deliberately take part in the program with small incentives or via other persuasive means. This is very much an argued number as many of the women that took part were forced and done off the record.

What is even more interesting is that the eugenics program continued even after forcing people into the eugenics program became illegal within the United States in 1974. This just adds up to the long list of human rights that have been taken from the women of color within America, but the main focus should be on how the world was ok with eugenics in the first place.

Forceful sterilization still endures today within America, mainly in female prisons. A survey taken in 2011 by the state of California showed that between 1997 and 2010 approximately 1,400 women within California prisons were forced into the eugenics program.

Having the ability to give life is the most human ability in my opinion, just like everything in this world has the right to reproduce and retain its legacy, so we should all. Sadly, knowing that forceful eugenics still takes place in some parts of the world and seeing the world wanting to take away a woman’s ability to give birth just makes me want to lose hope in humanity.

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