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Eugenics and the Authority of White Institutions

By Diana Martinez

 

The use of authority is a cornerstone to how white supremacy was able to declare other people they did not identify with as less desirable and violate the consent of the people of color. They used the authority of institutions to carry out their ideology into policy and programs. They used the authority of the “science” of eugenics which was really a pseudo-science and the self-proclaimed moral authority to delude themselves of being rightful in their beliefs and actions.[1] This authority became institutionalized in places where women of color had little power and were not heard.

White supremacists used the authority of medical institutions and mixed it with eugenics to commit a form of genocide of several groups of people of color. Here, it is the self-proclaimed authority of white supremacists to justify actions done unto people without their full consent that is the corner stone of being able to enact the white supremacist policies into programs. The goal of the eugenics movement was to use forced sterilization to breed out whom they perceived as “undesirable people'' and to preserve the dominance of the population they deem as superior, which was based on their concepts of race.[2]

White people, already in the position of power, established themselves as the superior and the default against everyone else who was not close in proximity to their definitions of white. So, anything that deviated from the standard of white was subject, according to the several definitions of the word. One of the definitions of “subject” means that someone is dominated, controlled, or influenced over by another. A subject is also defined as one who is under the sovereignty and rule of a monarchy; they must do as the monarch dictates. A subject has no autonomy or choice. A subject is also the central focus or the variable that is manipulated in a scientific investigation that receives the passive reception of those creating and delivering the experiment. In science the subject is acted upon and tested. People of color were, and still are, treated as subjects in various ways. In these cases, people of color were in positions of less education and less choices of medical resources.[3] Many of them were deprived of choice and the autonomy of their own bodies, which had large consequences and effects over their lives.

When people of color attempted to exert some authority and choice over their own bodies, they were intimidated and coerced. The people implementing the eugenics movement policies had a sense of entitlement and authority over not just over other people’s bodies and life choices on a deeply personal level, but on a macro level it affected the overall population of the people of color. It was a means of population control to keep democracy in the favor of white people so that they stay as the majority population in the nation and remain as the stronger voting demographic block.[4] The eugenics movement targeted large portions of Black, Latinx, Puerto Rican women, Indigenous women, and the mentally disabled populations for sterilization.[5] This is a type of genocide. It is not killing living beings at gunpoint or gassing people in baths. However, its goal is still to get rid of the various people of color.

Women were the most affected by this project; however, men were also targeted in smaller numbers. In the 1910s and 1920s the California Asexualization Acts resulted in tens of thousands of people becoming sterilized; the majority of whom were working class women of color -Black, Latina, and Indigenous women.[6] Throughout the 1930s to the 1970s one third of the entire population of women in Puerto Rico underwent sterilization. It was so commonplace in Puerto Rico, it was called “La Operación.”[7] In North Carolina 65 % of the sterilizations were African American and Black women even though they are only 25% of the state population.[8] California was so notably aggressive in enforcing sterilization; it got the United States notable recognition from Adolph Hitler. Hitler had commented about the sterilization programs, “There is today one state in which at least weak beginnings toward a better conception [of citizenship] are noticeable. Of course, it is not our model German Republic, but the United States.”[9]

To go more in depth on this topic of eugenics and sterilization and more topics concerning healthcare and inequality, keep updated to find out when our new training Racial Inequality in Healthcare will be released. We will go more in depth about sterilization as well as racial disparity in pain management, experimentation on people of color, criminalization of drug use vs. treating drug abuse as a health issue, and many more topics. White supremacist ideology has gone through a long historical process many people are not aware of. These ideas have a strong influence on how we think about healthcare, disease, and each other. This training will cover the history that influences our current problems with racial disparity in the healthcare system. The issues that are addressed in this training may be quite a lot, but it is a fraction of many issues that persist.

Sources:

1.Manjeshwar, Sanjana. “America’s Forgotten History of Forced Sterilization” Berkley Political Review: UC Berkely’s Only Nonpartisan Political Magazine, November 4, 2020. https://bpr.berkeley.edu/2020/11/04/americas-forgotten-history-of-forced-sterilization/#:~:text=Black%20women%20were%20also%20disproportionately%20and%20forcibly%20sterilized,Fannie%20Lou%20Hamer%2C%20a%20renowned%20civil%20rights%.

2. Ko, Lisa. “Unwanted Sterilization and the Eugenics Programs in the United States” PBS Independent Lens, January 29, 2016. https://www.pbs.org/independentlens/blog/unwanted-sterilization-and-eugenics-programs-in-the-united-states/

3. Nittle, Nadra Kareem “The U.S. Government’s Role in Sterilizing Women of Color: Black, Puerto Rican, and Native American women have been victimized.” Thought Co., February 4th, 2021. https://www.thoughtco.com/u-s-governments-role-sterilizing-women-of-color-2834600

4. Rutecki, George W., “Forced Sterilization of Native Americans: Late Twentieth Century Physician Cooperation with National Eugenic Policies” Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity, October 8th, 2010. https://cbhd.org/content/forced-sterilization-native-americans-late-twentieth-century-physician-cooperation-national-

5. “Native Voices: 1976 Government Admits Unauthorized Sterilization of Women” U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health, Date accessed September 21st, 2021. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/nativevoices/timeline/543.html

6. “Women in ICE Custody say they were Unwanted Hysterectomies” Now This, September 18th, 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFmYhBboc1w

7. Manian, Maya. “Immigration Detention and Coerced Sterilization: History Tragically Repeats Itslef.” ACLU, September 29, 2020. https://www.aclu.org/news/immigrants-rights/immigration-detention-and-coerced-sterilization-history-tragically-repeats-itself/

8. “ICE, a Whistleblower and Forced Sterilization.” National Public Radio: 1A, September 22, 2020. https://www.npr.org/2020/09/18/914465793/ice-a-whistleblower-and-forced-sterilization

9. Kevles, Daniel J. “Eugenics and Human Rights.” U.S. National Library of Medicine: national Institute of Health. August 14th, 1999. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1127045/

10. Friauf, Betsy and Phillips, Michael (2017) "A Serviceable Villain: Eugenics, The Fear of the "Underman," and Anti-Democratic Discourse in Texas Thought and Culture, 1900-1940," East Texas Historical Journal: Vol. 55 : Iss. 2 , Article 3. 2017. https://scholarworks.sfasu.edu/ethj/vol55/iss2/3, https://scholarworks.sfasu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2785&context=ethj

11. Ramsden, Edmund. “Social Demography and Eugenics in the Interwar United States” Population and Development Review Vol. 29, No. 4 (Dec., 2003), pp. 547-593 (47 pages). Population Council. Accessed September 21, 2021 https://www.jstor.org/stable/1519699

[1] Nadra Kareem Nittle “The U.S. Government’s Role in Sterilizing Women of Color: Black, Puerto Rican, and Native American women have been victimized.” Thought Co., February 4th, 2021. https://www.thoughtco.com/u-s-governments-role-sterilizing-women-of-color-2834600 [2] Daniel J. Kelves, “Eugenics and Human Rights.” U.S. National Library of Medicine: national Institute of Health. August 14th, 1999. [3] Maya Manian, “Immigration Detention and Coerced Sterilization: History Tragically Repeats Itslef.” ACLU, September 29, 2020. https://www.aclu.org/news/immigrants-rights/immigration-detention-and-coerced-sterilization-history-tragically-repeats-itself/ [4] Betsy Friauf and Michael Phillips, "A Serviceable Villain: Eugenics, The Fear of the "Underman," and Anti-Democratic Discourse in Texas Thought and Culture, 1900-1940," East Texas Historical Journal: Vol. 55 : Iss. 2 , Article 3, 2017. https://scholarworks.sfasu.edu/ethj/vol55/iss2/3

[5] Nadra Kareem Nittle “The U.S. Government’s Role in Sterilizing Women of Color: Black, Puerto Rican, and Native American women have been victimized.” Thought Co., February 4th, 2021. https://www.thoughtco.com/u-s-governments-role-sterilizing-women-of-color-2834600 [6] Sanjana Manjeshwar, “America’s Forgotten History of Forced Sterilization” Berkley Political Review: UC Berkely’s Only Nonpartisan Political Magazine, November 4, 2020. https://bpr.berkeley.edu/2020/11/04/americas-forgotten-history-of-forcedsterilization/#:~:text=Black%20women%20were%20also%20disproportionately%20and%20forcibly%20sterilized,Fannie%20Lou%20Hamer%2C%20a%20renowned%20civil%20rights% [7] Ibid. [8] . Ibid. [9] Ibid.

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