Living Through Tumultuous Times

When learning about history as a student, I often wondered what it was like to live in the most tumultuous times. Did people realize what was happening around them? And more importantly, why didn’t they do anything to stop the worst in human behavior? After recently learning about a woman named Pauline Binam, I’ve come to realize I am living through one of those times and lament my own ignorance and inaction.

Binam is an immigrant who was being held at a detention center in the South Georgia town of Ocilla. According to NPR, the 30-year-old was seeking treatment for an irregular menstrual cycle. After what she thought would be a routine procedure to remove tissue from her uterus for that condition, doctors informed Binam they also removed one of her fallopian tubes without her consent, the result of which may be an inability to have children.

Afterward, in a scene you would normally see in an action movie, Binam was nearly deported to Cameroon. While she was standing on the tarmac awaiting departure, members of Congress intervened and put a stop to her travel. Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal said it felt like ICE was trying to rush through Binam’s deportation.

Apparently Binam is not the only one to experience this. Many other immigrant women say they’ve been subjected to unwanted hysterectomies and other gynecological procedures at that same facility in our state. More than 170 lawmakers have now signed a letter calling for an investigation into these women’s stories, including one from a whistleblowing nurse at the facility. ICE, however, denies all these claims.

Allow me to emphasize this again: women of color are being sterilized without their consent while being detained because of the color of their skin. Atrocities such as these committed on fellow human beings is not something of the past. This is not a story from Europe during World War II or syphilis experiments last century in Alabama. This is happening now, in our own backyard.

I’ve argued for many years that history is the most important subject offered in school because it gives an exact blueprint of what results come from which actions. Depictions of both successes and mistakes are at our fingertips, yet we groan at having to memorize dates and argue that it’s a waste of time to learn about dead people. And as a result, we repeat the same behaviors that should have been left in our textbooks.

However, I’m learning another subject from our youth is in dire need of the spotlight. A friend recently sent me a video of a young man, outlining the structure of our government to others in an effort to motivate them to vote. The simple explanation of what each branch is responsible for was shocking to me as this too was explained in Civics class. Yet the friend who sent it confessed she needed to brush up on the topic herself. I said I hope she finds this country a great machine, but that we have to pay better attention to its maintenance. That way I have an answer for my son and his children when they ask if I realized what was happening around me now, and why I didn’t’t do anything to stop the worst in human behavior.