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

By Nancy Ordover | Go to book overview

Introduction

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.”1 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

-xi-

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