Eugenics, Kavanaugh, and Trump administration politics
I was with a friend in North Carolina as the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh unfolded, and stopped by the NC Eugenics Board historical marker completely by accident. I looked up at it in reverence to the victims and cold anger at the utter denial of bodily autonomy and the ableism and the classism and the racism and the other discrimination.
I look solemn in another picture I took with me in it for a reason. Because coercion and involuntary sterilizations of disabled people, people of color, poor unwed mothers, etc. were the norm protected by state laws and haven’t been fully taken off the books in some states. All states have a reckoning with eugenics in some form. Some more than others, some still more than others. It was not an isolated movement. It was not a one-off deal, a bunch of supporting scientists with no following.
I got close and looked at it. And even if I touched it, maybe, I wouldn’t get as close to the memory of eugenics as still-living survivors of the 20th century wave of sterilization and the sometimes still-standing institutions. But in other ways, eugenics is alive and well and we have a present-day set of scenarios unfolding. In May 2017, I talked about being against eugenics, and for a future that includes disabled people for Blogging Against Disablism Day:
And Jones is right. Eugenics ideology is rampant, but I have not yet seen any political figures actually proclaiming themselves a eugenicist. Eugenics has a bad, discredited name to it now, and it’s more persuasive to masquerade under the guise of “Make America Great Again” then outright call oneself a eugenicist. It’s more convincing to cloak eugenicist views in words and actions that make people feel proud, to appeal to people using discriminatory views without ever saying one is endorsing eugenics.
I didn’t even get into Brett Kavanaugh-kind of ideas at that juncture. I hadn’t gotten there yet, because the sheer amount is massive and a lot to touch on in one post. I have a well-read interest in the history and condemnation of eugenics, now and then: I know what it does. What it can do beyond what it is doing now. I am scared by Brett Kavanaugh’s total disregard for disabled people’s – and everyone’s – bodily autonomy. I am scared by the people who so easily think like he does. And so much more.
I am scared of an ultra-right wing Supreme Court. Eugenic sterilization laws were laws. They were legal. They were upheld by the Supreme Court in an 8-1 ruling. We need to be worried about what becomes legal. But I am also furious, and not going to stop screaming about eugenics, now and then, and justice and equity and rights from the rooftops, and so much more. It does matter: here’s a list of local, state, national, and international progressive wins since the election.
If you can, you should, too. We cannot write eugenics off to the past when the 20th century specter is looming large – and has already arrived in some ways. And eugenics doesn’t always look like the horrors of Nazi Germany the American 20th century movement inspired, though sometimes it can. (It is not always easy to recognize eugenics when it is cloaked under so many different names and language. In a future post, I will attempt to gather together some signs.)
If you have the ability, when you can, name eugenics. Call things eugenics when they are, including political actions and attempted laws and repeals of laws. Take care of yourself, but if you are in a position to do those things, anything less is a disgrace to allow it to slip into tacit acceptance into most people’s minds. To have it not be an ideology and movement and pseudoscience that is fought against is a disgrace to past and present survivors of eugenics.