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

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

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

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


Traces the history of eugenics ideology in the United States and its ongoing presence in contemporary life. The Nazis may have given eugenics its negative connotations, but the practice--and the "science" that supports it--is still disturbingly alive in America in anti-immigration initiatives, the quest for a "gay gene, " and theories of collective intelligence. 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. American Eugenics demonstrates how biological theories of race, gender, and sexuality are crucially linked through a concern with regulating the "unfit." These links emerge in Ordover's examination of three separate but ultimately related American eugenics campaigns: early twentieth-century anti-immigration crusades; medical models and interventions imposed on (and sometimes embraced by) lesbians, gays, transgendered people, andbisexuals;,and the compulsory sterilization of poor women and women of color. Throughout, her work reveals how constructed notions of race, gender, sexuality, and nation are put to ideological uses and how "faith in science" can undermine progressive social movements, drawing liberals and conservatives alike into eugenics-based discourse and policies.


You talk of your breed of cattle
And plan for a higher strain
You double the food of the pasture,
You heap up the measure of grain;
You draw on the wits of the nation
To better the barn and the pen,
But what are you doing, my brother,
To better the breed of men?

—Rose Trumball, “To the Men of America”

On October 16, 1994, the cover of the New York Times Book Review sported 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 being The Bell Curve by 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 and come to grips with statistical evidence.” With this plaudit, the Times reviewer valorized a recent incarnation of a less than novel ideology: scientific racism. The Bell Curve merely restated old claims, chief among them being that intelligence can be quantified (by IQ tests), that African-Americans score an average of fifteen points lower than white Americans on these tests, and that genes are accountable for this rift.

A few pages later was a review of Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland's The Science of Desire, which also dealt with heredity, honing in on Hamer's . . .

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