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

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

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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 mirrored in attempts to control the bodies and reproduction of poor women, whose poverty is portrayed as a result of their lack of control over their own reproduction, an argument which at once frees social systems from responsibility for poverty and justifies the state in assuming control over women's bodies. These pressures fall particularly hard on women of color, whose bodies are already constructed as deviant, and subject to the control of the state. These political maneuvers and positions retain
the historical features of eugenic theory while presenting a new veneer, hesitant to argue outright for the inferiority of particular racialized or classed bodies.

This represents a change in avenue of attack, not a broad ideological shift from historic eugenic arguments. Similarly, the search for the "gay gene," while a relatively new scientific concept, is highly reminiscent of previous understandings of queer sexuality, which located deviance in physical and/or hormonal "abnormalities." The idea that queer people's queerness is loc...


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...deviance of poor women's bodies, then the American legal, political and social systems are not at fault, and do not need to be remedied. If queer people have queer bodies, then queer people are readily identifiable, and the boundaries between queer and normal people are therefore concrete, which relieves the cultural anxiety over a normal person slipping into deviancy. Eugenic ideology depends on an impulse to solidify boundaries by casting out the deviant group on whom society's failings can be blamed, as well as faith in technological fixes to social problems. These impulses, understood in their historical context, loom even larger, and the necessary political response can be obscured by rhetoric of free choice and national improvement. Ordover serves to pull the rhetoric away, placing recent eugenic movements in their proper historical and political context.

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