Turning the Century: Essays in Media and Cultural Studies

By Carol A. Stabile | Go to book overview

8
Race Betterment and Class
Consciousness at the Turn of the
Century , or Why It's Okay to
Marry Your Cousin

KELLY HAPPE

Many ancient superstitions about marriage and heredity disappear when present eugenical knowledge is studied. One of these is the danger of "cousin marriages." This superstition has so affected the minds of men that such marriages are prohibited by law in many states. Here is an example of the hardship that half-knowledge can sometimes work , for there is just enough of truth in the superstition to give plausibility to it. The truth it contains is this: where near relatives marry , the laws of heredity operate to intensify and perpetuate both their good traits and their weaknesses , and to bring out recessive traits that otherwise might be permanently masked. 1

The American eugenics movement has been well documented by social historians , who characterize it as an unfortunate legitimization of racist and classist ideologies by a small yet effective coalition of scientists , policymakers , and professionals. Its origins date back to the late 1880s , when theories of human heredity became prominent; and the period between 1905 and 1930 is thought to be the time when eugenicists wielded their greatest influence. 2

The history of prominent eugenicists and their legislative successes is only part of the story , however. Situated within the bounds of what hegemony theorists term "civil society ," eugenicist ideology was much more than an aberration of a putatively objective scientific methodology of biology. In effect , eugenicists' argu-

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