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American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism

Nancy Ordover
Copyright Date: 2003
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    American Eugenics
    Book Description:

    The Nazis may have given eugenics its negative connotations, but the practice—and the “science” that supports it—is still disturbingly alive in America. Tracing the historical roots and persistence of eugenics in the United States, Nancy Ordover explores the political and cultural climate that has endowed these campaigns with mass appeal and scientific legitimacy.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9148-7
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xxviii)

    On October 16, 1994, the cover of theNew York Times Book Reviewsported a full-page color graphic of a DNA double helix alongside the headline, “How Much of Us Is in the Genes?” No less than five books on the subject were covered that Sunday, the most prominent beingThe Bell Curveby Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein: “The articulation of issues touching on group intelligence and ethnicity has been neither fashionable nor safe for the last three decades, but these scholars argue that the time has come to grasp the nettle of political heresy, to discard social myths...

  5. I National Hygiene:: Twentieth-Century Immigration and the Eugenics Lobby

    • ImagiNation
      (pp. 3-8)

      Proposition 187 was voted into law in the state of California on November 8, 1994. Challenged in court and ultimately superseded by federal enactments, it sought to bar undocumented immigrants and their children from a host of services, including health care and public education. Service providers would have become mandated reporters, demanding verification of legal residency from potential clients, patients, and students, and turning over the names of any “suspect” individuals to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Just two weeks before the election, National Public Radio reported that a key backer of Proposition 187, the Federation for American Immigration Reform...

    • Calculating Hysteria
      (pp. 9-31)

      Writing on Europe between the two world wars, George Mosse has suggested that racism is a visually centered ideology—stereotyping physical and mental characteristics of outsiders and insisting on recognizable, undeniable, immutable differences between “inferior” and “superior” peoples.¹ American eugenicists, armed with charts, photographs, and even human skulls, were there to provide the visual and mathematical support that rendered racism scientifically valid and politically viable. As national and ethnic and racial identities merged in public and political discourse, eugenic rhetoric acted as court empiricist, justifying, sustaining, and often initiating anti-immigrant attacks in the name of “bettering and protecting” the white...

    • The Immigrant Within
      (pp. 32-44)

      As quick as eugenicists were to declare victory and emphasize their pivotal role in the passage of the Johnson-Reed Act, they were slow to relinquish their hold on immigration issues. The second great eugenicist victory of the 1920s, theBuck v. BellSupreme Court decision declaring compulsory sterilization constitutional, was three years away, and neither Laughlin nor his cohorts, devoted as they were to the concept of eugenic sterilization, were ready to completely abandon their work on immigration restriction. In the years ahead, eugenicists would remain active in the push for further restriction, intensifying their scrutiny of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans...

    • The Pioneer Fund: Scientific Racism and the Eugenic Endowment
      (pp. 45-50)

      For over sixty years, the Pioneer Fund has bankrolled academics with explicitly racist research imperatives. In one way or another, its officers have remained active in anti-immigration efforts—including testifying before Congress during debate on the 1965 Immigration Act—throughout the organization’s life.

      The Pioneer Fund was incorporated in 1937, courtesy of funds provided by Wycliffe Draper, textile magnate and advocate of Black “repatriation.” It was founded and maintained by some of the same men who led eugenicists to victory in 1924, including Frederick Osborn and Harry Laughlin, its first president.¹ The original charter mandated the pursuit of “racial betterment”...

    • “Indiscriminate Kindness” and “Maudlin Sentimentalism”: Fighting the “Philanthropic” Impulse
      (pp. 51-53)

      In 1994, Charles Murray told a reporter for theNew York Times Magazinethat people were no longer poor because of social barriers, but rather because of their inherent lack of intellectual prowess.¹ This argument, appealing to some precisely because it obviates any societal obligation toward the disfranchised, has strong precedent within the eugenics movement. In 1929,Birth Control Reviewran an article by E. J. Lidbetter explaining the persistence of “a race of chronic pauper stocks.”²

      The problems of population are no longer regarded to be essentially as economic, but mainly as biological. In this respect, the teaching of...

    • The Abiding Panic
      (pp. 54-56)

      Race demonization, partially though not exclusively rooted in pseudobiology’s reemergence as a legitimate discourse, accompanied, benefited from, and propelled the round of anti-immigrant legislation that brought the twentieth century to a close. FAIR founder and board member John Tanton penned a confidential memo back in 1988, warning that the continuation of immigration from Latin America would result in the takeover of the United States by “a group that is simply more fertile.”¹ Today, the preoccupation with immigrant fertility is couched in concerns over expenditures rather than in classic eugenicist worries about the depletion of the national gene pool. However, the...

  6. II Queer Anatomy:: One Hundred Years of Diagnosis, Dissection, and Political Strategy

    • Science as Savior
      (pp. 59-69)

      In February 1999, theAtlantic Monthlyran an article on the work of Paul Ewald and Gregory Cochran, a biologist-physicist team who have theorized that homosexuality, along with heart disease, cervical cancer, and mental illness, may be caused by a germ rather than a gene. This assertion is in direct opposition to a host of recent claims on the cause of homosexuality and gender “deviance”: Simon LeVay’s 1991 announcement that a cell group in one portion of the brain’s hypothalamus is twice as large in straight men than in gay men; J. Michael Bailey and Richard Pillard’s 1992 contention that...

    • Delineating Deviance: Moral Imperatives, Hereditarian Hypotheses, and the Letter of the Law
      (pp. 70-82)

      It almost goes without saying that seeking a cause or cure for homosexuality confers on it the mark of deviance and that the medical or psychiatric pathologization of homosexuality serves to normalize heterosexuality. The National Institutes of Health did not, after all, house the search for a straight gene, except, perhaps, by default. It is not surprising then that the term “homosexual,” coined in 1869 by Hungarian physician Karoly Maria Benkert, gained currency before the term “heterosexual.”

      Any examination of eugenics and the construction of homosexuality is complicated by the shifting vocabulary of the last 130-odd years. Like the highly...

    • Biological Apologists: Appeals and Miscalculations
      (pp. 83-87)

      In 1992, Randy Shilts (author ofAnd the Band Played On) toldNewsweekthat the discovery of a genetic basis for homosexuality “would reduce being gay to something like being left-handed, which is in fact all that it is.”¹ It was an interesting choice of metaphor, in light of the fact that scientists have indeed been hard at work documenting left-handedness among gays and lesbians. Researchers at McMaster University claim that lesbians are twice as likely to be left-handed than straight women due, perhaps, to an “atypical brain organization” created by irregular hormone levels.² Another study asserts that while the...

    • Gender, Race, and the Strategy of Metaphor
      (pp. 88-101)

      The journalist covering Hamer’s and LeVay’s findings forNewsweekreported that lesbians “are warier of the research.” He attributed this hesitancy not to questions aboutwhythere is such a fixation on finding a gay gene, anger over funding priorities that finance causation studies and underfund AIDS and breast cancer research, or a panicky sense of déjà vu, but to lesbians’ “conspicuous absence from most studies.” The article cited Penny Perkins of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, who called the omission “part of society’s intrinsic sexism,”¹ and Frances Stevens of the lesbian magazineDeneuve(nowCurve), who remarked,...

    • Homosexuality and the Bio/Psych Merge: An Additive Model of Causation Theories
      (pp. 102-118)

      Popular wisdom holds that, post-Freud, eugenic and other biology-based theories of homosexuality gave way to psychoanalytical explanations. As perilous, and sometimes fatal, as psychiatry and psychology have been to gays and lesbians, it would have been a luxury had this been the only framework queers had to contend with.¹ It did not dislodge hereditarian or evolutionary theories any more than biological explanations eclipsed the rhetoric of sin and vice—biology might delineate a propensity, but it did not mean that the afflicted should not be expected to exert self-restraint. Sexual outcasts were stigmatized anew each time another causation theory emerged....

    • AIDS, Backlash, and the Myth of Liberatory Biologism
      (pp. 119-124)

      If scientific hypotheses during a militant gay rights movement could not offset homophobia in the 1970s, the designation of queers as a distinct psychobiological type could not be anything but disastrous to the LGBT community during the AIDS crisis. The early responses to AIDS in the United States and the way AIDS was explained to the American people were logical extensions of the construction of queers up to that point. The medical paradigm of homosexuality accommodated new information but was not seriously challenged by it.

      Before AIDS became part of the medical and then popular lexicon, newspapers reported on a...

  7. III Sterilization and Beyond:: The Liberal Appeal of the Technofix

    • Liberal Loopholes
      (pp. 127-132)

      In the fall of 1996, four students at the University of Minnesota demanded the removal of a Margaret Sanger poster from the campus library. The four, all members of Campus Republicans, maintained that their objection to the display (and to the student center’s birth control literature that exhorted Minnesota students to “Be Like Margaret Sanger”) was unrelated to the Planned Parenthood founder’s birth control activities. Junior Tom Gromacki stated, “We felt the university should not be glorifying her racist views.”¹ The reference was to Sanger’s promotion, and often aggressive embrace, of eugenic ideology and practice.

      Sanger’s contributions to “voluntary motherhood”...

    • Buck v. Bell and Before
      (pp. 133-136)

      Several dynamics emerge in discussing the campaign of involuntary and eugenic sterilization of the “unfit” in the United States. First is the ideology of “racial hygiene,” predicated on the “betterment and protection” of the white race by various means, including restrictive immigration, antimiscegenation laws, and surgical intervention. Dr. B.A. Owens Adair, writing in 1922 , called sterilization “the only method by which the river of life may be purified.” Next there is the use of sterilization as a punitive measure directed not only at the incarcerated and the institutionalized, but also at those pronounced guilty of burdening the state with...

    • Margaret Sanger and the Eugenic Compact
      (pp. 137-158)

      Margaret Sanger’s involvement in eugenics is no secret. Linda Gordon, Angela Davis, and others have challenged the idealized image of Sanger and problematized her motivations.¹ While many feminists and women’s health care advocates were instrumental in exposing the fallout from Sanger’s early alignment with eugenics, there were many who did not rise to the challenge—some out of fear of exposing birth control’s political history to hostile lawmakers and anti-choice lobbyists, others out of deference to Sanger’s perceived labors on behalf of gender equity, self-determination, and redress of economic and personal privation. This admiration is a very liberal impulse, for,...

    • Physical Fallout: Racism, Eugenics, and Liberal Accomplices after World War II
      (pp. 159-178)

      In the years and decades after World War II, the ideological association between eugenically informed birth control and class standing was solidified. The physical fallout of sterilization’s placement within the arena of welfare policy was borne increasingly by women and girls of color. Nonconsensual tubal ligations and hysterectomies—proposed by legislators, enacted by individual doctors, and often upheld by the courts—were frequently rationalized by economic considerations. Fewer poor children, the reasoning went, would translate into more money for individual families and considerable savings to public coffers. This in no way precluded the selection of sterilization candidates based overtly on...

    • New Technologies, Old Politics: Norplant and Beyond
      (pp. 179-194)

      In the last decade, new, temporary sterilization methods have come to the fore, assuming a role strikingly similar to their predecessors. Norplant and the freshly rehabilitated Depo-Provera were designated as tubal ligation and hysterectomy’s heirs apparent, reaching out to liberals and conservatives by promising socioeconomic, if not medical, miracles.¹ The incorporation of Depo-Provera and Norplant into a framework that posits population control as remedial to poverty overseas is consistent with a liberal belief system that supports similarly premised policies in the United States.² These technologies have joined their forebears, making their appearance in courtrooms, welfare “reform” debates, and the bodies...

    • Disability and Eugenics: The Constant Consensus
      (pp. 195-201)

      From the passage of the earliest sterilization statutes, warnings have been issued on the repercussions of eugenicists’ assaults on the “feeble-minded.” Eugenics opponents noted that women and people of color were frequently and erroneously so designated, and cautioned that endorsements of compulsory sterilization of the disabled would lead to an everwidening circle of candidates among other reviled groups. Ironically, while physically and developmentally disabled women have historically been among the most prone to eugenic attack, their precarious position has rarely been viewed as anything other than an alarm, a call to safeguard the rights of nondisabled, though otherwise marginalized, individuals...

    • Quinacrine, the Next Wave
      (pp. 202-205)

      Fast on the heels of Norplant and Depo-Provera came quinacrine, initially developed in the 1920s as a treatment for malaria, now a means of chemical sterilization.¹ As of this writing, no regulatory agency in the world has approved quinacrine as a birth control method. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of women in Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Egypt, Croatia, Chile, Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Pakistan, Iran, Venezuela, and Vietnam have all undergone insertions, including at least one hundred women on a Vietnamese rubber plantation who were told they were having their IUDs checked, and then inserted with quinacrine without their knowledge.²

      While intrauterine use...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 206-216)

    While I was still in the early stages of my research, a friend gave me Charles Boston’s send-up of sterilization statutes and it has remained tacked up over my desk ever since.¹ It offered a little comic relief, as I immersed myself deeper and deeper in the less than uplifting story of this country’s eugenics past. More than that, it served as a reminder of the historical continuity of dissent. The necessary longevity of that challenge is itself a warning on the tenacity of eugenics.

    It is tempting to relegate U.S. eugenics to its early twentieth-century heyday, or to ascribe...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 217-274)
  10. Index
    (pp. 275-298)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 299-299)