The biggest lie that White feminism ever told is that White women are only victims, and aren’t guilty of engaging in and happily, autonomously perpetuating White supremacist violence against Black bodies. Sherronda J. Brown eloquently explains why this narrative is not only false, but dangerous, and how one of Hulu’s most popular series, The Handmaid’s Tale, based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, continues another old tradition: appropriation of Black women’s suffering. This essay contains extensive discussion of reproductive violence and some mention of sexual violence.
North Carolina has more living victims of forced or coerced sterilization than any other state in the U.S. There are around 7,600 known cases that were performed through a government-run eugenics program that culminated in 1974. A task force convened in 2011 to determine how the thousands of people who were forcibly sterilized by the state would be granted monetary reparations. Their preliminary report to the Governor includes testimony from victims given at the hearing, some of whom were teens or preteens at the time of their sterilization.
“Now I don’t know if North Carolina wants to hear this or not but this is North Carolina’s holocaust. We need a wall. We need a library,” said Australia Clay. Her testimony was one of the many transcribed in the report. She spoke up for her mother, who was forced into a mental institution by her husband after a nervous breakdown due to domestic abuse and postpartum depression. He received fifty dollars for committing her. It was in this institution where she was sterilized against her will and held for twelve years.
The eugenics movement was mass-scale reproductive violence, built upon white supremacy, racism, classism, xenophobia, and ableism. Nationwide, an estimated 60,000 men, women, and children were sterilized; determined to be “unfit” due to their race, ability, and/or low socioeconomic standing. Latinx, Native American, and Black people were among those most heavily targeted by this horrific movement and the practice has continued into this century. There are likely many, many more cases that were never properly recorded.
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