Margaret Sanger is finally getting some of the brickbats she is due. Even the head of Planned Parenthood recently acknowledged that Sanger’s actions and associations were blatantly racist.
But there is a pushback among some progressive that admits she may have been an outright eugenicist — but so many were in those days, don’t you know, as if that were an excuse. But at least she wasn’t an actual racist!
That’s the take of Politico’s Bill Scher, writing in RealClearPolitics. He waves off her embrace of eugenics (quoting historian Thomas C. Leonard) because it was “mainstream; it was popular to the point of faddishness; it was supported by leading figures in the still-emerging science of genetics; it appealed to an extraordinary range of political ideologies, not least to the progressives.” So, yes she was “ableist,” but not racist!
When you see all the evidence that Sanger rejected white supremacy, opposed discrimination and worked to overcome segregation, it’s easier to show how such statements are taken out of context. But when Planned Parenthood inaccurately suggests Sanger was a racist, putting statements in context becomes much harder. That doesn’t just damage Sanger’s reputation, it damages the efforts to prove the past and present goals of the reproductive rights movement are not intrinsically racist.
Well, that depends on how the term is defined. Certainly under current understandings of racism, she would easily qualify for the dreaded designation.
None other that Edwin Black, author of the authoritative history of the eugenics movement, War against the Weak, blasted Sanger for her close association with blatant racists. Black is an admirer of Sanger’s push for birth control, but as an historian with integrity, he admitted she enabled racism. Here are some excerpts. Get this, from page 127 (my emphasis):
Sanger was an ardent, self confessed eugenicist, and she would turn her otherwise noble birth control organizations into a tool for eugenics, which advocated mass sterilization of so-called defectives, mass incarceration of the unfit, and draconian immigration restrictions. Like other staunch eugenicists, Sanger vigorously opposed charitable efforts to uplift the downtrodden and deprived, and argued extensively that that it was better that the cold and hungry be left without help, so that the eugenically superior could multiply without competition from “the unfit.” She referred repeatedly to the lower classes and the unfit as “human waste” not worthy of assistance, and proudly quoted the extreme eugenics view that human “weeds” should be exterminated.
And this from page 133:
Sanger surrounded herself with some of the eugenics movement’s most outspoken racists and white supremacists. Chief among them was Lothrop Stoddard, author of The Rising Tide of Color Against White World Supremacy. Stoddard’s book, devoted to the notion of a superior Nordic race, became eugenic gospel. It warned, “‘Finally perish!’ That is the exact alternative that confronts the white race . . . . If white civilization goes down, the white race is irretrievably ruined. It will be swamped by the triumphant colored races, who will eliminate the white man by elimination or absorption. . . . We now know that men are not and never will be equal.”
We are known by the friends we keep, no? If one welcomes a pernicious racist as a valued colleague into one’s movement, if one happily hangs out with such a person, the defense that she was not “personally” racist rings as hollow as a Jack O’ Lantern pumpkin.
Black sums up on page 135:
Even though Sanger was not a racist or an anti-Semite herself, she openly welcomed the worst elements of both into the birth control movement. This provided legitimacy and greater currency for a eugenics movement that thrived by subverting progressive reforms to achieve its goals of Nordic racial superiority and ethnic banishment for everyone else.
Sanger enabled racists. Sanger gave them respectability. Sanger befriended them. Sanger viewed them as valued colleagues. Her wicked social Darwinism would have had a devastating and disproportionate impact on minority communities.
These days, that equals “racist.” Bottom line: Sanger rejected human exceptionalism and the intrinsic equality of all of us. That is indisputable and without defense. She deserves all the scorn she is finally receiving.