Minority Mental Health

Eugenics Sterilization Legislation

A 1913 illustrative depiction of state level eugenic sterilization laws, courtesy of the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine

Racial disparities clearly highlight the unequal distribution of resources in addition to the unequal quality of the resources provided. This injustice is evidenced through the exploration of the historical use of federal psychiatric hospitals for marginalized groups in the United States. Within the institutions created using the limited resources dedicated to minorites, horrific injustices were systematically carried out through repeated violations of human rights- rights that were suppressed due to minorities' heightened situational vulnerability. Patient accounts discuss the displacement, racism, sexism, and ableism, as well as eugenic practices experienced during their time as patients. These injustices demonstrate the need to bring awareness to these silenced voices in hopes that these atrocities may never be repeated. The drastic levels of injustice become clear when contextualizing institutions through an historical lens, however, these abysmal conditions were produced as recently as the last century and continue to be produced in places where the lights of justice don’t shine. Unfortunately, these places are systematically manufactured to disproportionally affect marginalized groups because of their enhanced vulnerability from generations of oppression.

Sterilization Pamphlet

A pamphlet from 1950 extolling the benefit of selective sterilization published by the Human Betterment League of North Carolina, courtesy of North Carolina State Documents Collection

The vulnerability of marginalized groups allows for the manipulation of laws that cater towards the oppressors, such as in the precedent-setting case Buck v. Bell, which in 1927 voted 8 to 1 for allowing forced sterilization on those deemed “mentally deficient” or “feeble-minded.” This was implemented under the guise of helping insitutionalized individuals, fostering the term “protection of sterilization.” This inappropriate abuse of power set the scene for decades of medical atrocities protected by law, with an incredibly high disproportionality against women of color. As recently as 1981, the date of the last legally documented case of forced sterilization protected by the law, the atrocities were still being well documented. The oppressing class had devised a system in which they were in their legal bounds to enforce oppression based on scientifically biased and flawed eugenics, and the eugenics statute was not officially repealed until later in 1983. These practices, while extensive in marginalized communities, were further concentrated in situations of heightened vulnerability, such as within psychiatric institutionalization.