Every nation has stories its politicians at times wish were swept under the rug and forgotten; for example, slavery, or the Trail of Tears. Eugenics programs, at one time legal in up to 31 states, could be added to this list. These programs were based on the idea that certain negative behaviors or conditions (e.g., poverty, promiscuity) were genetically based and could be passed from one generation to the next. The solution? In North Carolina, at least, government approved sterilization, an often forced procedure not declared illegal until 8 years ago (Kessel & Hopper, 2011).
This case illustrates just how much power is placed in the hands of government organizations, and how easily that power can be abused. And, although I recognize it is often unfair to judge the past by today’s standards, what about the 19 other states? Where were the government organizations of these states to lobby and oppose a statute they did not adopt? Perhaps state residency drew a line in the sand, where the 19 states without a eugenics program perceived residents of the other 31 states as an out group they had no personal responsibility towards. But then where were the protests to national organizations that could lobby for reform? In this case, strong boundaries between groups may have allowed the North Carolina government to institute a program not universally accepted, and ultimately abuse their power.
A next step? To keep the stories of such misuse of power alive so history is not repeated, and to be vigilant for such abuses of power at all levels, including in businesses and sports organizations.
Kessel, M., & Hopper, J. (2011, November 7). Victims speak out about North Carolina sterilization program, which targeted women, young girls and blacks. Microsoft/National Broadcasting Company. Retrieved from http://rockcente r.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2011/11/07/8640744-victims-speak-out-about-north-carolina-sterilization-program-which-targeted-women-young-girls-and-blacks