[News] ICE whistleblower shines new light on a racist history we refuse to reckon with

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 18 19:35:44 EDT 2020



Danielle Campoamor - September 16, 2020 

On Tuesday evening, a harrowing report surfaced after a nurse in
Georgia, Dawn Wooten, [2]accused Immigrant and Customs Enforcement
officials at the Irwin County Detention Center of denying detainees
there essential health care and sending women to a doctor who allegedly
performed unnecessary "mass hysterectomies." 

"I had several detained women on numerous occasions that would come to
me and say: "Ms Wooten, I had a hysterectomy. Um, Why?'" Wooten told
MSNBC's Chris Hayes [3]. "I had no answers as to why they had those

Forced sterilization and other reproductive health crimes against Black,
brown, poor, Indigenous and incarcerated people occurred long before
Donald Trump made his grand escalator entrance 

Reaction to the whistleblower complaint filed by Wooten was swift.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has demanded an investigation [4] into
Wooten's allegations. There were renewed calls to abolish ICE [5]by
prominent members of Congress. Political talking heads described the
allegations as "Nazi Germany-type cruelty happening in Trump's America."

The truth, though, is that forced sterilization and other reproductive
health crimes against Black, brown, poor, Indigenous and incarcerated
people occurred long before Donald Trump made his grand escalator
entrance and announced his presidential candidacy in 2015 by calling
Mexicans rapists and criminals. If these reports are true, America is
not so much mimicking the Nazis as it is building upon a long and racist

This isn't simply ancient history, either. Just a few years ago, in
2017, a Tennessee judge offered inmates reduced sentences and early
release dates if they "voluntarily agreed" to have a vasectomy or a
birth control implant [7]. 


>From 2006 to 2010, physicians working for the California Department of
Corrections and Rehabilitation performed tubal ligations on 148 [9]women
after they gave birth while incarcerated, as reported by Reveal. From
1997 to 2010, these forced sterilization procedures were paid for by
California taxpayers, to the tune of $147,460. According to Reveal,
advocates and other inmates allege at least some of these surgeries were
coerced. The number of people coerced or forced into sterilizations in
California prisons and mental institutions [10] is most likely much
higher, however, due to the prevalence of the practice in the 20th

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While the incarcerated are a particularly vulnerable population,
American officials have targeted and taken advantage of women of color
for decades, whether or not they're in prison. The United States'
treatment of its Indigenous people, rooted in centuries of colonialism,
is just one egregious example. 

In 1970, the Family Planning Services and Population Research Act
[11]was passed, which subsidized sterilization for patients who relied
on Medicaid or received their health care through the Indian Health
Service. The law led to the sterilization -- sometimes without the
patients' knowledge or understanding and as the result of pressure or
coercion -- of a reported 25 percent of Native American women of
childbearing age [11] over six years. 

This legacy of colonialism also affected the health care -- or lack
thereof -- provided for women in Puerto Rico, where sterilization rates
soared in the 1930s and well into the 1970s. 

And of course, the brutality of doctors like J. Marian Sims, the "father
of modern gynecology," is now well known. Sims, who up until two years
ago had a statue in Central Park honoring him, conducted gynecological
experiments on enslaved Black women [12] without the use of anesthesia.
Sims tortured these women, justifying his use of Black bodies as test
subjects by arguing that Black people do not feel pain. His legacy lives
on today in the hidden biases still harbored by the medical
establishment; studies suggest half of white medical students believe
Black people have thicker skin or less sensitive nerve endings [13] than
white people. 

Thus outraged Americans do a disservice by comparing Dawn Wooten's
allegations with the atrocities committed by Hitler and his ilk. This is
an American practice. And pretending forced sterilization is a byproduct
of the Trump administration alone is an exercise in revisionist history.

Elected officials passed racist laws denying Black women reproductive
justice long before this president took aim at Roe v. Wade. 

Those in positions of power were harming Puerto Ricans long before the
president of the United States threw paper towels at them. [14] 

Elected officials passed racist laws denying Black women reproductive
justice long before this president took aim at Roe v. Wade. [15] 

Immigrant women have been assaulted and degraded, their bodies used as
experiments [16] and political chess pieces, way before this president
and his administration tore babies away from their mothers. 

This country committed grave human rights violations against Indigenous
peoples for centuries before this president started calling a white
Democratic senator "Pocahontas." [17] 

Trump is not a bug in the American system, but an essential feature.
Black, brown, immigrant, Indigenous, poor and incarcerated women have
been this country's go-to _cavia porcellus_ -- used to perfect
gynecological exams, birth control methods, and other reproductive
health care procedures before they're made safely available to the
affluent and white. And they've been shouting about these atrocities for
centuries, only to be met with resounding silence and callous

It is no surprise that the person who blew the whistle on these alleged
mass sterilizations was a Black woman. But will anything change? Now
that would be really surprising. 


Danielle Campoamor has been published in Teen Vogue, Harper's Bazaar,
CNN Opinion, Playboy, Newsweek, BuzzFeed and Marie Claire, among others.


[3] https://twitter.com/JoshuaPotash/status/1306039969690025985?s=20
[5] https://twitter.com/IlhanMN/status/1305937254553133056?s=20
[6] https://twitter.com/ananavarro/status/1305849734343557120?s=20
[11] https://time.com/5737080/native-american-sterilization-history/
[13] https://www.aamc.org/news-insights/how-we-fail-black-patients-pain
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