American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism
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Nancy Ordover argues that current attempts to regulate marginalized social groups are eugenicist movements couched in new language. While "today, the preoccupation with immigrant fertility is couched in concerns over expenditures rather than in classic eugenicist worries over the depletion of the national gene pool" (54), that supposed strain on the national economy presented by immigration is still located in immigrant's reproduction, although it is less frequently explicitly the "whiteness" of the nation that is threatened. This fear of reproduction by people cast as a drain on the nation is ...view middle of the document...
The optimistic belief that the discovery of such a gene would naturalize homosexuality, and form a legal basis for equal rights has no merit when the "gay gene" is simply the newest incarnation of the pathologization of the queer body.
These debates create and reaffirm notions of who constitutes the nation, and who can be excluded. This "physical and ideological construction of the nation is a project that can never be completed, requiring constant monitoring and patrolling of literal and figurative borders" (6). Eugenics, she argues, employs and
rationalizes "both 'inclusive' and 'exclusive' racism" (xv), exclusive racism being racism that attempts to eliminate marginalized or oppressed groups from the nation, and inclusive racism that which attempts to reify oppressive structures and hierarchies within the nation.
Eugenic arguments build on themselves, depending on already formed social hierarchies on which to base new ones. One eugenics advocate noted that "over 2,000,000 immigrants [are] below the average Negro" (26) on a series of IQ tests, the racist and eugenic history of which are well documented. The construction of African Americans as inferior served to further alienate immigrants from the nation, for they fell below what was actively constructed as the bottom of the American social ladder. Analogies such as these, Ordover argues, are essential to a eugenic rational; "enshrined" social prejudices and hierarchies are transposed onto a second issue, while simultaneously reinforcing the first. The very power of such analogies rest their ability to "bring together a system of implications, whereby other features previously associated with only one subject in metaphor are brought to bare on the other" (100). Here, anti-immigrant sentiment was given a helpful structure of American inferiority and superiority with which to understand immigration.
With the case of the active control and limiting of poor women's reproduction, Ordover outlines the limits of liberalism, and the possibilities it holds for collusion with eugenicist philosophies and practices. "While liberal philosophy can encompass a critique of institutional biases and injustice, it remains grounded in a belief that these can be offset by individual exercises of choice and responsibility, for example, birth control use" (128). She cites as particularly troubling the increasing tendency for judges to sentence poor women to jail terms, and offer birth control or sterilization as an alternative sentence, financial incentives for women on welfare to accept Norplant, and the targeting of "developmentally delayed women, women with drug addiction, and women in...