“Now I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
The simple sentence with such a powerful message became the famous line of Fannie Lou Hamer, an African-American woman sterilized against her will.
After a number of U.S. laws in the 1900s promoted eugenics, thousands were forcefully sterilized against their will or against their consent. These laws were aimed at preventing those thought to be “degenerates” of society, but it was primarily directed at women of color, mainly African-American, Native American and Puerto Rican women.
A lecture on the “Forced Sterilization of Women of Color” was held Tuesday as part of sex week and the African and African-American Spring Lecture Series.
The presentation, given by ETSU history professor Dorothy Drinkard-Hawkshawe, detailed the long history of the forced sterilization of women of color and the impact it still has on society today.
Drinkard-Hawkshawe not only provided a detailed historical overview of forced sterilization that occurred within the U.S., but she also provided the audience with examples of how these atrocities still impact society today.
“I felt that this was a good topic that people should know about. And I believe that as students who are trying to get an education, they should try to make this a better society,” Drinkard-Hawkshawe said. “I hope that this lecture helped individuals to not only think about this, but do something about it.”
We may not hear or even think about the issue of forced sterilization, but it still continues in other parts of the world and it has had a lasting impact on our society. The long history of abuse by medical professionals has created a strong sense of distrust for many minority women.
“I would say that females have to be more aware of what’s going on, and ask more questions, and don’t just make assumptions.” Drinkard-Hawkshawe said. “Be more alert; we all must do that.”
She encourages us all to educate ourselves about these issues and to recognize the issues that still lie within our society today.
There are even still Supreme Court cases, yet to be overturned, that allowed for forced sterilization.
More recently, an effort in 2011 was made to financially compensate living victims of forced sterilization. Drinkard-Hawkshawe saw this as another troubling concern because it attempted to merely put a monetary cost on something much more valuable than any amount of money: human rights.
“You can’t get your children back. You cannot compensate someone who has had their rights taken away,” Drinkard-Hawkshawe said. “They can never fully be compensated because their right to have children was wrongfully taken from them.”
She challenges us to take the knowledge we learn about these issues and educate ourselves and others while promoting change so that these horrific events do not continue.
“Let us work to end the abuse through our writings, our lectures and through pressure on government officials to end this,” Drinkard-Hawkshawe said.