Three UNC Charlotte researchers discussed the recent debates surrounding North Carolina’s defunct eugenics program at a breakfast at the YWCA Central Carolinas last week.The topic is timely, as some believe state lawmakers could begin talking in February about whether to offer reparations to victims. North Carolina could become the first state to provide compensation to victims of eugenics.Daniel Grano and Margaret M. Quinlan, UNC Charlotte communications studies professors, and graduate student Elliot Hamer have studied discourse about North Carolina’s eugenics program for about a year, including recent political discussions about reparations.North Carolina sterilized 7,600 men and women between 1929 and 1974. Social workers and county health employees often recommended people for sterilization after deciding they were too poor, mentally “feeble” or not able to raise children.The program primarily targeted women and minorities.The eugenics program returned to the news in 2003 when the N.C. Senate voted to repeal state eugenics laws and issued an apology to victims. In 2012, the Senate did not address a proposed reparations package offering as much as $50,000 to each victim, citing a tight budget. The reparations package had been approved in the N.C. House.“Governor (Pat) McCrory has expressed support for a reparations measure, and (N.C. House Speaker) Thom Tillis also has expressed a desire to bring a bill back up,” Grano wrote in an email.“There should be bipartisan support, just like last time, but there are complicating factors, especially a significant freshman class of legislators who will be new to the debate and the legislative efforts.”In their research, Grano, Quinlan and Hamer have looked at arguments for and against compensating victims and how the language used compares to reparations discussions surrounding other issues, such as slavery.The YWCA invited the UNC Charlotte trio to talk at its event because their work fits with the organization’s mission to empower women and eliminate racism.“The issue of eugenics clearly focuses on women and their choices being taken away from them,” said Kirsten Sikkelee, YWCA CEO. “As an advocate for women’s rights, that’s important to us.”The audience of about 40, which included social workers, stayed and asked questions long after the appointed 45-minute discussion period and were interested in practical steps they could take to promote reparations, Sikkelee said.“It’s clear that people feel like something should be done,” she said. “People were talking practically about reaching out to representatives to let them know they support … reparations.”North Carolina is one of 32 states to have practiced eugenics. The state’s near passage of a reparations bill in 2012 was “extraordinarily rare,” Grano said.Reparations often bring about discussions of whether the current generation should pay for the injustices of the past.“Even if reparations does eventually happen, that in no way completely closes the past or erases the state’s history away,” Hamer said. “The largest goal to come out of this is to make sure programs like this don’t happen again.”Grano said one way to address eugenics today is to consider the link between the past and the present.“People who see that past and present as connected see a … connection in the human condition and a link between themselves and the previous generations,” he said.“The ability to feel connection and shared welfare is a value we see in people who advocate for reparations,” he said.Because talks about reparations could come up soon in the state legislature, the UNC Charlotte researchers have encouraged people to contact state representatives with their opinions.“With so many new legislators coming on board, there will have to be a renewed educational efforts, and renewed advocacy,” Grano wrote in an email. “It’s always important in policy debates to figure out where leverage points and points of resistance are, and to direct your voice toward those areas of resistance or fill gaps in misunderstanding.” For more information about the YWCA, visit www.ywcacentralcarolinas.org.
Sunday, Feb. 03, 2013
YWCA hosts eugenics discussion
Legislature may address reparations
Marty Minchin is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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