Of Idiots and Sages
How much is your child worth?
How much is your grandchild worth?
These are not trick questions. They arise from the news that North Carolina recently announced cash compensation to thousands of survivors of their State sterilization program that ran from 1929 to 1974—an astonishing 45 years!
North Carolina was but one of many mostly Southern states that sterilized people whom it considered as “defective.” In this, they were supported by authorities as august as the U.S. Supreme Court, which, in its now-infamous Buck vs. Bell (1927) decision, found that a state could properly sterilize its citizens, and citizens had no constitutional right to oppose it, for, in the words of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Three generations of imbeciles are enough!”
A North Carolina task force recommended payment of $50,000 for each survivor.
North Carolina shouldn’t be the whipping boy here, for such practices took place nationally with Federal government support. Historians and scholars Mary Frances Berry and John Blassingame, in their 1982 work, ‘Long Memory’ The Black Experience in America, (NY Oxford University Press) tell us that as late as the 1970s, the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare were “forcing 100,000 to 150,000 people to be sterilized annually”! (p.353) Over 90 percent of these people were Black.
This horrific state practice and the U.S. Supreme Court’s chilling reasoning in support thereof, gives us some insight into how social prejudices and attitudes percolate into all sections of society—and despite their self-evident madness are seen by seemingly enlightened sectors as perfectly reasonable—only to be later tarnished as repellent with the passage of time.
If a state, or nation, could sterilize its own so called “citizens,” deny people the right and ability to have children, what is such a state (or nation) but a dictatorship of arrogance and power?
One day, perhaps sooner than we suppose, we shall look back at the phenomenon of mass incarceration and the prison industrial complex as proof of a mad society.
Perhaps such a future state will pay reparations—(oops—er, I mean compensation) to their survivors in 75 or 80 years.
If any survive.
—PrisonRadio.org, January 11, 2012
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