The PJ Tatler

How to write about eugenics without mentioning Progressives, Margaret Sanger or Planned Parenthood

The BBC is running an article on its news website on the legacy of the eugenics-inspired forced sterilisations carried out in North Carolina in the middle decades of the last century.

It’s a powerful piece, which begins with an account of how a 13-year-old African-American girl was deemed to be ‘feeble-minded’ and sterilised after she was raped and made pregnant by a neighbour. There’s a fair bit of background on the eugenics movement, and it’s interesting stuff as far as it goes.

There is, however, very little in the way of political context. The article might have mentioned, for example, that eugenics was a pet project of the American Progressive movement, the forebears of the modern liberal-left; or that one of the leading lights of eugenics was Margaret Sanger, who founded the organization that became Planned Parenthood and who remains a hero to liberals, and feminists in particular; or that North Carolina was run by Democrats during the period when forced sterilisation policies were in full swing, as were other southern states in which the practice was prevalent. If reporter Daniel Nasaw wanted to bring the story up to date he might even have written about how the racial aspect of eugenics and forced sterilization is perpetuated in the disproportionately high number of abortions of African-American babies.

There is, however, one political reference in the piece. Campaigners are calling for compensation to be paid to surviving victims of forced sterilisation, but, the report explains: ‘The conservative Republicans in control of the state legislature are already poised to slash transport, healthcare and education funds, so it seems unlikely lawmakers will authorise as much as $58m in reparations.’

So there you have it. The bad guys here are stony-hearted Republicans (and conservative Republicans to boot!) who might not wish, in the depths of a recession, to pay out millions of dollars of public funds to victims of an admittedly barbaric policy; never mind that said policy was based on racism and pseudo-science promoted by liberals, and implemented at the state level by Democrats. (And note how deftly Nasaw slips in the line about Republicans cutting funding for the liberal sacred cows of healthcare and education.)

Such is the grossly distorted lens through which millions of visitors to the British-taxpayer-funded BBC’s website, from all around the world, view American politics and history every day.