Scientific Racism and the Emergence of the Homosexual Body

Posted in Articles, Gay & Lesbian, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive on 2013-10-20 21:44Z by Steven

Scientific Racism and the Emergence of the Homosexual Body

Journal of the History of Sexuality
Volume 5, Number 2 (October, 1994)
pages 243-266

Siobhan Somerville, Associate Professor
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

One of the most important insights developed in the fields of lesbian and gay history and the history of sexuality has been the notion that homosexuality and, by extension, heterosexuality are relatively recent inventions in Western culture, rather than transhistorical or “natural” categories of human beings. As Michel Foucault and other historians of sexuality have argued, although sexual acts between two people of the same sex had been punishable through legal and religious sanctions well before the late nineteenth century, they did not necessarily define individuals as homosexual per se. Only recently, in the late nineteenth century, did a new understanding of sexuality emerge, in which sexual acts and desires became constitutive of identity. Homosexuality as the condition, and therefore identity, of particular bodies is thus a production of that historical moment.

Medical literature, broadly defined to include the writings of physicians, sexologists, and psychiatrists, has been integral to this historical argument. Although medical discourse was by no means the only—nor necessarily the most powerful—site of the emergence of new sexual identities, it does nevertheless offer rich sources for at least partially understanding the complex development of these categories in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Medical and sexological literature not only became one of the few sites of explicit engagement with questions of sexuality during this period but also held substantial definitional power within a culture that sanctioned science to discover and tell the truth about bodies.

As historians and theorists of sexuality have refined a notion of the late nineteenth-century “invention” of the homosexual, their discussions have drawn primarily upon theories and histories of gender. George Chauncey, in particular, has provided an invaluable discussion of the ways in which paradigms of sexuality shifted according to changing ideologies of gender during this period. He notes a gradual change in medical models of sexual deviance, from a notion of sexual inversion, understood as a reversal of one’s sex role, to a model of homosexuality, defined as deviant sexual object choice. These categories and their transformations, argues Chauncey, reflected concurrent shifts in the cultural organization of sex/gender roles and participated in prescribing acceptable behavior, especially within a context of white middle-class gender ideologies.

While gender insubordination offers a powerful explanatory model for the “invention” of homosexuality, ideologies of gender also, of course, shaped and were shaped by dominant constructions of race. Indeed, although it has received little acknowledgment, it is striking that the “invention” of the homosexual occurred at roughly the same time that racial questions were being reformulated, particularly in the United States. This was the moment, for instance, of Plessy v. Ferguson the 1896 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that insisted that “black” and “white” races were “separate but equal.” Both a product of and a stimulus to a nationwide and brutal era of racial segregation, this ruling had profound and lasting effects in legitimating an apartheid structure that remained legally sanctioned for over half of the twentieth century. The Plessy case distilled in legal form many widespread contemporary fears about race and racial difference at the time. A deluge of “Jim Crow” and antimiscegenation laws, combined with unprecedented levels of racial violence, most visibly manifested in widespread lynching, reflected an aggressive attempt to classify and separate bodies as either “black” or “white.”

Is it merely a historical coincidence that the classification of bodies as either “homosexual” or “heterosexual” emerged at the same time that the United States was aggressively policing the imaginary boundary between “black” and “white” bodies? Although some historians of sexuality have included brief acknowledgment of nineteenth-century discourses of racial difference, the particular relationship and potentially mutual effects of discourses of homosexuality and race remain unexplored. This silence around race may be due in part to the relative lack of explicit attention to race in medical and sexological literature of the period. These writers did not self-consciously interrogate race, nor were those whose gender insubordination and sexual transgression brought them under the medical gaze generally identified by race in these accounts. Yet the lack of explicit attention to race in these texts does not mean that it was irrelevant to sexologists’ endeavors. Given the upheavals surrounding racial definition during this period, it is reasonable to imagine that these texts were as embedded within contemporary racial ideologies as they were within ideologies of gender.

Take, for instance, the words of Havelock Ellis, whose massive Studies in the Psychology of Sex was one of the most important texts of the late nineteenth-century medical and scientific discourse on sexuality. “I regard sex as the central problem of life,” began the general preface to the first volume. Justifying such unprecedented boldness toward the study of sex, Ellis explained, “And now that the problem of religion has practically been settled, and that the problem of labour has at least been placed on a practical foundation, the question of sex—with the racial questions that rest on it—stands before the coming generations as the chief problem for solution.” Despite Ellis’s oddly breezy dismissal of the problems of labor and religion, which were far from settled at the time, this passage points suggestively to a link between sexual and racial anxieties. Yet what exactly did Ellis mean by “racial questions”? More significantly, what was his sense of the relationship between racial questions and the question of “sex”? Although Ellis himself left these issues unresolved, his elliptical declaration nevertheless suggested that a discourse of race—however elusively—somehow hovered around or within the study of sexuality.

In this article, I offer speculations on how late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century discourses of race and sexuality might be not merely juxtaposed, but brought together in ways that illuminate both. I suggest that the concurrent bifurcations of categories of race and sexuality were not only historically coincident but in fact structurally interdependent and perhaps mutually productive. My goal, however, is not to garner and display unequivocal evidence of the direct influence of racial categories on those who were developing scientific models of homosexuality. Nor am I interested in identifying individual writers and thinkers as racist or not. Rather, my focus here is on racial ideologies, the cultural assumptions and systems of representation about race through which individuals understood their relationships within the world. My emphasis lies in understanding the relationships between the medical/scientific discourse around sexuality and the dominant scientific discourse around race during this period, that is, scientific racism.

My approach combines literary and historical methods of reading, particularly those that have been so crucial to lesbian and gay studies—the technique of reading to hear “the inexplicable presence of the thing not named,” of being attuned to the queer presences and implications in texts that do not otherwise name them. Without this collective project to see, hear, and confirm queer inflections where others would deny their existence, it is arguable that gay and lesbian studies itself, and particularly our knowledge and understanding of the histories, writing, and cultures of lesbians and gay men, would be impoverished, if not impossible. In a similar way, I propose to use the techniques of queer reading, but to modulate my analysis from a focus on sexuality and gender to one alert to racial resonances as well.

My attention, then, is focused on the racial pressure points in exemplary texts from the late nineteenth-century discourse on sexuality, including those written by Ellis and other writers of the period who made explicit references to homosexuality. I suggest that the structures and methodologies that drove dominant ideologies of race also fueled the pursuit of scientific knowledge about the homosexual body: both sympathetic and hostile accounts of homosexuality were steeped in assumptions that had driven previous scientific studies of race. My aim is not to replace a focus on gender and sexuality with that of race but, rather, to understand how discourses of race and gender buttressed one another, often competing, often overlapping, in shaping emerging models of homosexuality.

I suggest three broadly defined ways in which discourses of sexuality seem to have been particularly engaged, sometimes overtly, but largely implicitly, with the discourse of scientific racism. All of these models pathologized both the nonwhite body and the nonheterosexual body to greater or lesser extents. Although I discuss these models in separate sections here, they often coexisted, despite their contradictions. These models are speculative and are intended as a first step toward understanding the myriad and historically specific ways that racial and sexual discourses shaped each other at the moment that homosexuality entered scientific discourse…

…The Mixed Body

The emergence of evolutionary theory in the late nineteenth century foregrounded a view of continuity between the “savage” and “civilized” races, in contrast to earlier scientific thinking about race, which had focused on debates about the origins of different racial groups. Proponents of monogeny, on the one hand, argued that all races derived from a single origin. Those who argued for polygeny, on the other hand, argued that different races descended from separate biological and geographical sources, a view, not coincidentally, that supported segregationist impulses. With Darwin’s publication of Origin of the Species in 1859, the debate between polygeny and monogeny was replaced by evolutionary theory, which was appropriated as a powerful scientific model for understanding race. Its controversial innovation was its emphasis on the continuity between animals and human beings. Evolutionary theory held out the possibility that the physical, mental, and moral characteristics of human beings had evolved gradually over time from apelike ancestors. Although the idea of continuity depended logically on the blurring of boundaries within hierarchies, it did not necessarily invalidate the methods or assumptions of comparative anatomy. On the contrary, the notion of visible differences and racial hierarchies were deployed to corroborate Darwinian theory.

The concept of continuity was harnessed to growing attention to miscegenation, or “amalgamation,” in social science writing in the first decades of the twentieth century. Edward Byron Reuter’s The Mulatto in the United States, for instance, pursued an exhaustive quantitative and comparative study of the mulatto population and its achievements in relation to those of “pure” white or African ancestry. Reuter traced the presence of a distinct group of mixed-race people back to early American history: “Their physical appearance, though markedly different from that of the pure blooded race, was sufficiently marked to set them off as a peculiar people.” Reuter, of course, was willing to admit the viability of “mulattoes” only within a framework that emphasized the separation of races. Far from using the notion of the biracial body to refute the belief in discrete markers of racial difference, Reuter perpetuated the notion by focusing on the distinctiveness of this “peculiar people.”

Miscegenation was, of course, not only a question of race but also one of sex and sexuality. Ellis recognized this intersection implicitly, if not explicitly. His sense of the “racial questions” implicit in sex was surely informed by his involvement with eugenics, the movement in Britain, Europe, and the United States that, to greater or lesser degrees, advocated selective reproduction and “race hygiene.” In the United States, eugenics was both a political and scientific response to the growth of a population beginning to challenge the dominance of white political interests. The widespread scientific and social interest in eugenics was fueled by anxieties expressed through the popularized notion of (white) “race suicide.” This phrase, invoked most famously by Theodore Roosevelt, summed up nativist fears about a perceived decline in reproduction among white Americans. The new field of eugenics worked hand in hand with growing antimiscegenation sentiment and policy, provoked not only by attempts for political representation among African-Americans but also by the influx of large populations of immigrants. As Mark Haller has pointed out, “Racists and [immigration] restrictionists . . . found in eugenics the scientific reassurances they needed that heredity shaped man’s personality and that their assumptions rested on biological facts.” Ellis saw himself as an advocate for eugenics policies. As an active member of the British National Council for Public Morals, Ellis wrote several publications concerning eugenics, including The Problem of Race Regeneration, a pamphlet advocating “voluntary” sterilization of the unfit as a policy in the best interest of “the race.” In a letter to Francis Galton in 1907, Ellis wrote, “In the concluding volume of my Sex ‘Studies’ I shall do what I can to insinuate the eugenic attitude.”

The beginnings of sexology, then, were related to and perhaps even dependent on a pervasive climate of eugenicist and antimiscegenation sentiment and legislation. Even at the level of nomenclature, anxieties about miscegenation shaped sexologists’ attempts to find an appropriate and scientific name for the newly visible object of their study Introduced in 1892 through the English translation of Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, the term “homosexuality” itself stimulated a great deal of uneasiness. In 1915, Ellis reported that “most investigators have been much puzzled in coming to a conclusion as to the best, most exact, and at the same time most colorless names [for same-sex desire].” Giving an account of the various names proposed, such as Ulrichs’s “Uranian” and Westphal’s “contrary sexual feeling,” Ellis admitted that “homosexuality” was the most widespread term used. Far from the ideal “colorless” term, however, “homosexuality” evoked Ellis’s distaste for its mixed origins: in a regretful aside, he noted that “it has, philologically, the awkward disadvantage of being a bastard term compounded of Greek and Latin elements” (p. 2). In the first edition of Sexual Inversion, Ellis had stated his alarm more directly: “‘Homosexual’ is a barbarously hybrid word.” A similar view was expressed by Edward Carpenter, an important socialist organizer in England and an outspoken advocate of homosexual and women’s emancipation at this time. Like Ellis, Carpenter winced at the connotations of illegitimacy in the word: “‘homosexual,’ generally used in scientific works, is of course a bastard word. ‘Homogenic’ has been suggested, as being from two roots, both Greek, i.e., ‘homos,’ same, and ‘genos,’ sex.” Carpenter’s suggestion, “homogenic,” of course, resonated both against and within the vocabularies of eugenics and miscegenation. Performing these etymological gyrations with almost comic literalism, Ellis and Carpenter expressed pervasive cultural sensitivities around questions of racial origins and purity. Concerned above with legitimacy, they attempted to remove and rewrite the mixed origins of “homosexuality.” Ironically, despite their suggestions for alternatives, the “bastard” term took hold among sexologists, thus yoking together, at least rhetorically, two kinds of mixed bodies—the racial “hybrid” and the invert.

Although Ellis exhibited anxieties about biracial bodies, for others who sought to naturalize and recuperate homosexuality, the evolutionary emphasis on continuity offered potentially useful analogies. Xavier Mayne, for example, one of the earliest American advocates of homosexual rights, wrote, “Between whitest of men and the blackest negro stretches out a vast line of intermediary races as to their colours: brown, olive, red tawny, yellow.” He then invoked this model of race to envision a continuous spectrum of gender and sexuality: “Nature abhors the absolute, delights in the fractional. . . . Intersexes express the half-steps, the between-beings ” In this analogy, Mayne reversed dominant cultural hierarchies that privileged purity over mixture. Drawing upon irrefutable evidence of the “natural” existence of biracial people, Mayne posited a direct analogy to a similarly mixed body, the intersex, which he positioned as a necessary presence within the natural order.

Despite Carpenter’s complaint about “bastard” terminology, he, like Mayne, also occasionally appropriated the scientific language of racial mixing in order to resist the association between homosexuality and degeneration. In The Intermediate Sex, he attempted to theorize homosexuality outside of the discourse of pathology or abnormality; he too suggested a continuum of genders, with “intermediate types” occupying a place between the poles of exclusively heterosexual male and female. In an appendix to The Intermediate Sex, Carpenter offered a series of quotations supporting his ideas, some of which drew upon racial analogies: “Anatomically and mentally we find all shades existing from the pure genus man to the pure genus woman. Thus there has been constituted what is well named by an illustrious exponent of the science ‘The Third Sex.’ … As we are continually meeting in cities women who are one-quarter, or one-eighth, or so on, male … so there are in the Inner Self similar half-breeds, all adapting themselves to circumstances with perfect ease.” Through notions of “shades” of gender and sexual “half-breeds,” Carpenter appropriated dominant scientific models of race to construct and embody what he called the intermediate sex. These racial paradigms, in addition to models of gender, offered a Carpenter a coherent vocabulary for understanding and expressing a new vision of sexual bodies…

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British Eugenics and ‘Race Crossing’: a Study of an Interwar Investigation

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive, Social Science, United Kingdom on 2011-10-07 02:40Z by Steven

British Eugenics and ‘Race Crossing’: a Study of an Interwar Investigation

New Formations
Number 60 (2007)
pages 66-78

Lucy Bland, Professor of Social and Cultural History
Anglia Ruskin University, United Kingdom

In 1937 a polemic entitled Half-Caste was published, heralding ‘the richness of hybrid potentiality’. Written by a self-defined Eurasian called Cedric Dover its opening pages indicated the extent of prejudice facing those of mixed race:

The ‘half-caste’ appears in a prodigal literature. It presents him … mostly as an undersized, scheming and entirely degenerate bastard. His father is a blackguard, his mother a whore … But more than all this, he is a potential menace to Western Civilisation, to everything that is White and Sacred…

This ‘prodigal literature’ included novels and ‘a vast mass of pseudo-science’ developed by ‘eugenists, anthropologists, sociologists and politicians’.  In the book’s Preface, written by British scientist Lancelot Hogben, it was eugenics that was singled out for condemnation: ‘An influential current of superstition (called National Socialism in Hitler’s Germany and Eugenics in England) claims the authority of science for sentiments which are the negation of civilised society’. Yet despite the negative tone of the Preface, and the reference to ‘pseudo-science’, Dover was clearly not uninfluenced by eugenics.  He cited a number of British eugenists in his ‘Acknowledgements’, and he dedicated his book to Ursula Lubbock (Mrs Grant Duff) an active member of Britain’s Eugenics Society. He also admitted: ‘I subscribe without qualification to the prevention of undeniably dysgenic matings … but not to the conceit that colour and economic success are indices of desirability’. His invocation of a different index of ‘desirability’ other than economic success was reminiscent of other socialists who espoused eugenics on their own terms.  Eugenics was sufficiently protean to be harnessed to different ideological beliefs, ranging from the ultra conservative to the social-reformist and socialist. What was new and unique about Dover’s particular take on eugenics was the centrality of the ‘half-caste’, who ‘must be regarded … as a portent of a new humanity—a portent to be encouraged by the stimulation of eugenical mixture …’

In contrast to his own positive eugenical reading, Dover recognised that most other exponents of eugenics in interwar Britain took a very different view of the ‘half-caste’, namely, as ‘potential menace to Western Civilisation’. Why did these eugenists (and indeed many of the British establishment) hold such a view? What did they think were the implications of the presence of the ‘half-caste’? What or who was unsettled by the presence of mixed race people? One way of exploring these concerns is through an analysis of a project set up by the British Eugenics Society to investigate what they called ‘race crossing’. An examination of this project not only throws light on the prevailing discourses on race differences and their measurement, whiteness, and Englishness, but it also enables us to test historian Barbara Bush’s claim that eugenics was ‘a strong element of inter-war racism’, and to get a clearer sense of the role played by British eugenics in the discussion and regulation of race…

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German science and black racism—roots of the Nazi Holocaust

Posted in Africa, Articles, Europe, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive on 2011-09-21 21:48Z by Steven

German science and black racism—roots of the Nazi Holocaust

The FASEB Journal (The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology)
Volume 22, Number 2 (2008)
pages 332-337
DOI: 10.1096/fj.08-0202ufm

François Haas, Associate Professor
Department of Rehabilitation Medicine
New York University

The Nazi’s cornerstone precept of “racial hygiene” gave birth to their policy of “racial cleansing” that led to the murders of millions. It was developed by German physicians and scientists in the late 19th century and is rooted in the period’s Social Darwinism that placed blacks at the bottom of the racial ladder. This program was first manifested in the near-extermination of the African Herero people during the German colonial period. After WWI, the fear among the German populace that occupying African troops and their Afro-German children would lead to “bastardization” of the German people formed a unifying racial principle that the Nazis exploited. They extended this mind-set to a variety of “unworthy” groups, leading to the physician-administered racial Nuremberg laws, the Sterilization laws, the secret sterilization of Afro-Germans, and the German euthanasia program. This culminated in the extermination camps.

If the physician presumes to take into consideration in his work whether a life has value or not, the consequences are boundless and the physician becomes the most dangerous man in the state.

Christopher Willhelm Hufeland (1762–1836)

ALTHOUGH THE SLAUGHTER OF INNOCENTS has been a repeating theme throughout human history, only the Nazi-led extermination of millions of people deemed undesirable was framed in the scientific context of “racial hygiene.” At the core of Nazi philosophy was the view of the nation as a living organism. Using Herder’s concept of Volk, Hitler viewed German society as an organism with its own health. “Our people is also a biological entity… German people forms one great relationship, a blood society… This biological unity of people will be known as the people-body.” Because individual human beings were regarded as functional or dysfunctional parts of this larger whole and thus affecting the health of the people-body, racial hygiene became seminal to Hitler’s thinking. As Bavarian Cabinet Minister Hans Schemm declared in 1934, “National Socialism is nothing but applied biology.”

The rise of science-based medicine combined with physicians’ roles in national health reform during the late 19th century to give physicians first-time political leverage and continuous and unprecedented levels of public recognition. Hitler and the Nazis reached out early to physicians:

I could, if need be, do without lawyers, engineers, and builders, but… you, you National Socialist doctors, I cannot do without you for a single day, not a single hour. If…you fail me, then all is lost. For what good are our struggles, if the health of our people is in danger?

Physicians responded in kind (Table 1 ): “The National Socialist Physicians’ League proved its political reliability to the Nazi cause long before the Nazis seizure of power, and with an enthusiasm, and an energy, unlike that of any other professional group.”

Central to this affinity was the 19th century etiologic notion evolving from Social Darwinism that certain diseases (e.g., mental illness, feeblemindedness, criminality, epilepsy, hysteria, alcoholism) are genetically determined. The physicians who had developed this theory—primarily psychiatrists, neurologists, and anthropologists—became Germany’s eugenicists and authored the country’s racial policy, and it was primarily these physicians and their disciples who eventually led the Nazi government’s policy of ethnic cleansing. This program evolved in a series of discrete steps of ever-increasing barbarism that emerged during the German colonial period in Africa and terminated in the extermination camps of the Holocaust…

The African colonies and concentration camps also served racial scientific inquiry. Post-mortems were performed to study causes of death and bodies of executed prisoners were preserved and shipped to Germany for dissection (Fig. 1 , (14) ). A 1907 chronicle reported that: “A chest of Herero skulls was recently sent to the Pathological Institute in Berlin, where they will be subjected to scientific measurements.”

Probably the most well-known study was the physician Eugen Fisher’s evaluation of Basters, the mixed-blood children of Dutch men and Nama women. He argued that “Negro blood” was of “lesser value” and that mixing it with “white blood” would destroy European culture, and advised that Africans should be exploited by Europeans as long they were useful, after which they could be eliminated…

…In 1920, Doctor F. Rosenberger wrote in the Medical Review, “…Shall we stand in silence and allow it to happen that in the future the banks of the Rhine shall echo not with the songs of beautiful and intelligent white Germans, but with the croaks of stupid, clumsy, half-animal and syphilitic mulattos?” This reiterated the threat first articulated during Germany’s colonial period that racially mixed offspring (called Mischlings) will destroy the purity of the German white race. As Colonial Secretary Solf had incited people in 1912, “You send your sons to the colonies: do you want them to return with wooly-haired grandchildren?…Do you want your girls to return with Hereros, Hottentots and bastards?. …We are Germans, we are white, and we want to stay white…

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A Race about Race: Race, Inter-Race and Post-Race in the Study of Human Genetics

Posted in Articles, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2011-01-20 04:49Z by Steven

A Race about Race: Race, Inter-Race and Post-Race in the Study of Human Genetics

Afterimage: The Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism
Volume 30, Number 2 (September/October 2002)

Paul Vanouse, Associate Professor of Visual Studies
The State University of New York, Buffalo

In 1929, Charles B. Davenport, Director of the Biological Laboratory at Cold Spring Harbor in New York, co-published Race Crossing in Jamaica, a 512-page study on the “problem of race crossing, with special reference to its significance for the future of any country containing a mixed population.”  The island of Jamaica was chosen for its isolated pockets of “pure-blooded negro, mulatto and White” of similar economic class. The method of evaluation entailed primarily anthropomorphic and psychological examinations of hundreds of subjects from these three groupings. Anthropomorphic examinations included 60 measurements of body regions, including face breadth, cranial capacity and relative height in varied positions. Psychological tests included the Knox moron test and the criticism-of-absurd-sentences test. The book concluded that Blacks and Whites differ in both physical and mental capacities and that among the Browns, while some are equal to or superior to their progenitor races, “there appear[s] to be an excessive per cent over random variation who seem unable to utilize their native endowment.” In a concurrent solo publication of the same title, Davenport states this conclusion more forcefully. A population of hybrids “will be a population carrying an excessively large number of intellectually incompetent persons.” In this publication he also suggests one method to make cross-breeding permissible: “If only society had the force to eliminate the lower half of a hybrid population then the remaining upper half of the hybrid population might be a clear advantage to the population as a whole, at least so far as physical and sensory accomplishments go.”

Davenport is probably the most influential and prolific eugenic scientist in the United States, but his texts were hardly the forerunners of racist science. An often discussed, early predecessor is Paolo Mantegazza, whose iconic Morphological Tree of the Human Races (1890) is a branching timeline of human development reaching its pinnacle with the Aryan race. In 1883, Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, actually coined the term “Eugenics” (good in birth) as a science dedicated to improving human stock by getting rid of so-called undesirables and increasing the number of desirables. In its contemporary usage, Eugenics is defined as “a science that deals with the improvement (as by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed,” a distinctly more encompassing concept than Galton’s. Yet, it is ultimately the socially conservative approaches of its main promoters (separation, segregation and sterilization) that we associate with the term. “Negative Eugenics,” as it has been terme d, is concerned with limiting who can breed and with whom. For example, as Davenport laments, because of racial intermixing: “The standard races of mankind are rapidly disintegrating.”  Improvement and conservation were key contradictory goals in many of the early eugenic writings on race. (It should be noted, however, that Eugenics was in no way limited to racial concerns, and, indeed, many of the most heinous sterilization campaigns in the U.S. involved persons convicted of crimes or deemed “feebleminded.”)

Davenport’s Jamaica study sought to definitively disprove the theory of “hybrid vigor,” which was espoused by laissez-faire social Darwinists who felt that, in keeping with the theory of evolution, the fitness of the human race would be ensured because weaker, recessive genetic material would naturally be weeded out. Hybrid coupling, in Davenport’s opinion, is only viable if undesirable offspring can be eliminated, whereas conservative inbreeding produces more reliable results and preserves the integrity of the existing racial groups. As theorist Paul Gilroy has noted, the concept of race was invented during colonization to justify sub-human treatment of enslaved and colonized peoples and to reify concepts of nation and national identity. The stigmatization of racial intermixing was promoted to keep these boundaries stable. It is no surprise then that conservative, negative Eugenics was welcomed and fostered across the most fervent nationalist enterprises, especially those of the U.S., Germany and England…

Purchase the article here.

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From Eugenics to Genomics: A History of the Race Concept and Its Impact on Contemporary Health Disparities

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2010-07-24 02:12Z by Steven

From Eugenics to Genomics: A History of the Race Concept and Its Impact on Contemporary Health Disparities

American Public Health Association Annual Meeting
San Diego, California
2008

Michael Yudell, PhD, MPH, Assistant Professor, Department of Community Health and Prevention
Drexel University

At the dawn of the 21st century, the idea of race—the belief that the peoples of the world can be organized into biologically distinctive groups, each with their own physical, social, and intellectual characteristics—is understood by most natural and social scientists to be an unsound concept. The way scientists think about race today, after all, is different than it was in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement when some promoted black genetic inferiority as an argument against egalitarian social and economic policy, and certainly different than one or two centuries ago as scientific justifications for slavery and later Jim Crow were articulated. In other words, race, its scientific meaning seemingly drawn from the visual and genetic cues of human diversity, is an idea with a measurable past, identifiable present, and uncertain future. These changes are influenced by a range of variables including geography, politics, culture, science, and economics.

Today, despite the growing consensus among scientists that race is not, in fact, a useful classificatory tool, an understanding of human difference and diversity remains a hallmark of contemporary scientific practice, and thus presents a seeming contradiction—how can one study human difference without talking about race? On the one hand, beginning in the 1930s, advances in population genetics and evolutionary biology led many to conclude that the race concept was not a particularly useful or accurate marker of biological difference. By the 1970s, many prominent biologists, including the geneticists Richard Lewontin and L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza, came to see the race concept as a deeply flawed way to organize human genetic diversity that is inseparable from the social prejudices about human difference that spawned the concept in the 18th century and have accompanied its meaning since. Historians and social scientists believe that race is socially constructed, meaning that the biological meaning of race has been constrained by the social context in which racial research has taken place…

…During the first three decades of the 20th century, eugenicists and many geneticists fiercely advocated “the belief that human races differed hereditarily by important mental as well as physical traits, and that crosses between widely different races were biologically harmful.” American eugenicists dedicated considerable resources to the study of black-white differences during the first three decades of the 20th century, and sought to apply these ideas to the public sphere. Well-respected geneticists wrote openly that “miscegenation can only lead to unhappiness under present social conditions and must, we believe, under any social conditions be biologically wrong.” In his seminal work on race and intelligence, Race Crossing in Jamaica (1929), Charles Davenport, a Harvard trained biologist and the titular head of the American eugenics movements from the outset of the 20th century until the 1930s, wrote “we are driven to the conclusion that there is a constitutional, hereditary, genetical basis for the difference between the two races [whites and blacks] in mental tests. We have to conclude that there are racial differences in mental capacity.” In their influential text Applied Eugenics (1933), eugenicists Paul Popenoe and Roswell Hill Johnson, who endorsed segregation as a “social adaptation,” wrote “that the Negro race differs greatly from the white race, mentally as well as physically, and that in many respects it may be said to be inferior when tested by the requirements of modern civilization and progress.” Moreover, they suggested “negroes, both children and adults, have been found markedly inferior to white in vital capacity… Differences in temperament and emotional reaction also exist, and may be more important than the purely intellectual differences.” It must be stated that the genetic claims of racial difference advocated by eugenicists—from differences in intelligence to disease rates to musicality—have all been shown to be false.

Eugenic propagandists gave race an unalterable permanence; neither education, nor change in environment or climate, nor the eradication of racism itself could alter the fate of non-whites. In the United States, the impact of eugenics on matters of human difference was felt widely. In Virginia, as head of the State’s Bureau of Vital Statistics, eugenicist and white supremacist Walter Plecker helped to shape the State’s segregation policies. For example, Plecker helped push Virginia’s anti-miscegenation Racial Integrity Act of 1924, and used that law to expose individuals he believed were passing as white in an attempt to stop what he feared to be the mongrelization of the races…

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Blood Will Tell: Scientific Racism and the Legal Prohibition Against Miscegenation

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2010-02-21 00:19Z by Steven

Blood Will Tell: Scientific Racism and the Legal Prohibition Against Miscegenation

Michigan Journal of Race & Law
University of Michigan Law School
Volume 5, Issue 2 (Spring 2000)
pages 560-609

Keith Edward Sealing, Dean of Students
Widener Law School, Widener University

Laws banning miscegenation endured in the colonies and the United States for more than 300 years. When the Supreme Court declared all such laws unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia in 1967, sixteen such statutes and constitutional provisions were still in effect. Scientific racism determined a hierarchy within the White race that placed the Teutonic at the top, the Anglo-Saxon as the heir to the Teuton, and the American as the current leading branch of that line. Prior to the Darwinian revolution, two competing scientific theories, monogenism and polygenism, were applied to justify miscegenation statutes. The “monogenists” believed that all men descended from a single ancestor and were of the same species. This theory comported with the Bible and the story of Ham, as interpreted literally by the fundamentalists. The “polygenists” saw Blacks as a separate and inferior species descended from a different “Adam,” and, thus, saw slavery as qualitatively no different from the ownership of a horse, and miscegenation as approaching bestiality. These beliefs and attitudes endured well into the Twentieth Century, supported after 1900 by the eugenics movement. This article focuses on anti-miscegenation statutes as applied to former slaves and others of African descent, particularly in the South. This article first examines the miscegenation paradigm in terms of a seven-point conceptual framework that not merely allowed but practically demanded anti-miscegenation laws, then looks at the legal arguments state courts used to justify the constitutionality of such laws through 1967. Next, it analyzes the Biblical argument, which in its own right justified miscegenation, but also had a major influence on the development of the three major strands of scientific racism: monogenism, polygenism and Darwinian theory. It then probes the concept upon which the entire edifice is constructed—race—and discusses the continuing vitality of this construct. Next, this article turns to the major strands of scientific racism and briefly develops more modern theories that continued the racist tradition well into the Twentieth Century. The article then looks at the effects of scientific racism on the thoughts and actions of the founding fathers and the Reconstruction-era Congress before turning to the long line of state cases upholding miscegenation statutes, in part by relying on scientific racism. Finally, it discusses the cases that questioned the constitutionality of anti-miscegenation statutes, Perez v. Lippold and Loving v. Virginia.

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Engineering American society: the lesson of eugenics

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, Social Science, United States on 2010-02-08 00:08Z by Steven

Engineering American society: the lesson of eugenics

Nature Reviews Genetics
Volume 1, November 2000
pages 153-158

David Micklos
DNA Learning Centre
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, New York

Elof Carlson, Professor Emeritus
State University of New York, Stony Brook

We stand at the threshold of a new century, with the whole human genome stretched out before us. Messages from science, the popular media, and the stock market suggest a world of seemingly limitless opportunities to improve human health and productivity. But at the turn of the last century, science and society faced a similar rush to exploit human genetics.  The story of eugenics—humankind’s first venture into a ‘gene age’ — holds a cautionary lesson for our current preoccupation with genes.

Eugenics was the effort to apply the principles of genetics and agricultural breeding towards improving the human race. The term “eugenics”— meaning well born —was coined in 1883 by Francis Galton, a British scientist who used data from biographical dictionaries and alumni records at Oxford and Cambridge Universities to conclude that superior intelligence and abilities were traits that could be inherited.

Most people equate eugenics with atrocities that were committed in Nazi Germany for the sake of racial purity. In this context, eugenics is easy to dismiss as purely aberrant behaviour. However, the story of eugenics in the United States is, perhaps, more important than that of Nazi Germany as a cautionary tale to take with us into our new century.  Here we describe the tale of the subtle ways in which the science of genetics was, by degrees, transformed from an agricultural experiment into a popular movement to engineer American society. The fact that eugenics flourished in the land of liberty, involved numerous prominent scientists and civic leaders, and made its intellectual home at the forerunner of the now prestigious Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory shows just how far America fell from grace during this period…

Race mixing. Laws against interracial marriage had existed in some states since colonial times, but their number increased after the Civil War. The idea that race mixing, or miscegenation, causes genetic deterioration was proposed by Joseph Arthur Gobineau and other anthropologists in the late nineteenth century. It is worth noting that eugenicists’ conception of race included the classic divisions by skin colour, as well as differences in national origin.  Most lay-eugenicists subscribed to the Biblical idea of ‘like with like’ and that the ‘half-breed’ offspring of parents from two different races were genetically inferior to the parental stock. Davenport’s compilation in 1913 showed that 29 states had laws forbidding mixed-race marriages.  Although these laws were not always enforced, heavy fines and long prison terms showed how seriously American society considered miscegenation to be at that time.

As in the case of immigration restriction, eugenicists were more than willing to provide a supposed scientific rationale for existing
racial prejudice. In his influential book, The Passing of the Great Race, Madison Grant warned that racial mixing was a social crime that would lead to the demise of white civilization. Eugenicists actively supported strengthening pre-existing laws and enacting of new ones, including the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924. The Virginia Act and all other similar state laws were struck down by the United States Supreme Court in 1967 in Loving versus Commonwealth of Virginia

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