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Monday, September 9, 2013

Response to Carol Downer's "Margaret Sanger Award"

Women's Health in Women's Hands received the following comment on its Facebook page.  It was a response to an announcement of Carol Downer's "Margaret Sanger Award" (awarded by the Veteran Feminists of America).  
You must be so proud..."We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities. The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members." -Margaret Sanger 
Here is Carol Downer's response:
Yes, I am so proud to be getting the Margaret Sanger award, because I know, from extensive reading about Margaret Sanger’s lifelong work to put birth control in the hands of all women, that she was not a bigot and she certainly did not harbor any genocidal tendencies. She did, however, make alliances with those wealthy elites who seek to control population, especially those of people of color, to deal with the dangers of overpopulation, rather than give up their prerogatives. She did make mistakes, but she would not have countenanced anything that would “exterminate the Negro population”, a phrase she was clearly using to mock intemperate accusations that she was anticipating.

I know that she worked tirelessly to urge women of all nationalities, cultural backgrounds and ethnic groups, to use birth control to limit their families. I read the quote that you rely on to show her genocidal tendencies to in fact show her awareness of not only the genocidal implications of use of birth control to wipe out undesirable populations, but also her awareness that those who oppose birth control for nationalistic or religious reasons often yell “racism” to cover their own pro-natalist motivations. She says “we don’t want the word to get out”, not “we don’t want the word to go out”.

If you knew more about Margaret Sanger, you would know that she was a fiery socialist from a working-class background, and her earliest work focused especially on poor people, mostly white working-class women. When wealthy white women took over her organization, directing it in much more conservative direction, she abandoned her grassroots approach. She re-married a very wealthy man, Noah Slee, the inventor of 3-in-1 oil which put her on par with them.

The reason that I continue to admire Margaret, even though she was closely associated with Planned Parenthood, which has a spotty record on forcing birth control on vulnerable populations, and even though she and her very wealthy associate, Katherine McCormick, were the prime movers in the development of the birth control pill, is that I know that she always stuck up for the right of a woman to control her own body--that was her bottom line.

Furthermore, and this is the most important reason that I admire her despite her compromises and mistakes in choice of allies is that I see the leaders in the women’s movement, and other progressive movements, making the same mistakes today--and this includes women of color and the movement that challenges gender stereotypes. They accept funding from the same elites that Margaret did, telling themselves that they can take their money without accepting their influence, and they seem less aware than Margaret was about the political price they are paying for this easy money. I respect and admire these groups as well, despite the mistakes that I believe they are currently making.

I recommend that you educate yourself about the field of population control and the propaganda wars being fought on both sides, those that want to limit population growth and those that want to increase it. Whoever put out that incendiary quote, completely out of the context, had a motive, and I can guarantee you that it was not to promote the rights of people of color or the rights of women.

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