My take after reading American Eugenics

After reading American Eugenics by Nancy Ordover I begin to have a greater appreciation of the ideology behind the different forms of oppression that we as minorities in this country face. In the book Ordover eloquently explains the pseudo American science that the American elite used as justification for their elevated status and the marginalized position of oppressed populations. As a result the justification behind racism and social exclusion of communities like the African American population had what was appeared to be a scientific underpinning. The basis of eugenic theory was that marginalized communities had something that was genetic or biologically dysfunctional that prevented them from succeeding in the supposed “free society” of America. So in a sense they were deemed to have a disabling body that excluded them from acting like normal citizens in this country. Although Ordover explains the ludicrousness of this philosophy she doesn’t adequately challenge the inherit philosophy that having a disabled body is always to be avoided and thus cannot fully criticize the ableism that underpins all eugenics.


The one major critique that I have of the book is that she dedicated only one chapter on how eugenics affected the disability community. This was disappointing giving the topic and given the fact that ableism is the basis of the eugenics analysis of all other populations. It is basis behind twentieth century scientists’ desire to discover “the Gay gene” or nineteenth century scientists’ interest in the debunk science of phrenology that tried to determine if people with different ethnicity had different brain sizes. The commonality between these dubious science the targeted populations had something innate in their bodies that made them inferior. The reason why eugenics scientists did not have to explain how people with disabilities were inferior was because it was self-evident to them. The disability community was then stigmatized as the ultimate marginalized society that everyone avoids belonging to. This philosophy reverberates in all parts of society and most certainly affected Ordover’s analysis in dealing with the disability community and eugenics.


What I Ordover would have touched on in her analysis is that people with disabilities having lives that our just as worthy of living as any other. She did explain this society’s tendency to sterilize  people with disabilities because there is a common consensus that people with disabilities are child-like and therefore cannot care for children themselves. What I wanted was a critique of the common consensus regarding people with disabilities. I wanted her to say flatly that there was no human life that was unworthy of regulating their own reproduction. Because if people with disabilities can have their right to parenthood protected then it will be easier for other marginalized populations to protect their reproduction capabilities. It is the primal fear people have of people with disabilities that gives fuel to the eugenics movements’ philosophy of the imperfect body that needs to fixed. As a result any analysis of eugenics and its affect on society should have the social construction of the disabled body as one of the argument’s main focus.

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