Mixing It Up

Observations and ideas about race, ethnicity and mixing.

Eugenics and Toni Morrison’s Home

Part of what interested me most from these readings so far is Francis Galton’s definition of eugenics as “science which deals with all influences that improve the inborn qualities of a race; also with those that develop them to the utmost advantage” (79). This makes it seem so clinical, unbiased, and harmless—even inarguable. If the only goal of this so-called “science” is to improve the human race, how bad could it be? The mobilization of science in this way is extremely dangerous as it shrouds the inherent racist biases in what are supposed to be facts and legitimate scientific methods.

At the same time of reading this text, in another class I read Home by Toni Morrison which deals with many things, one of which being eugenics. One of the main characters, Ycidra, is employed by a white doctor in Georgia to help schedule his appointments and keep track of his scientific work. Ycidra discovers that this doctor is heavily interested in eugenics and is mainly “helping” the poor community of Atlanta. He administers shots and medicines he concocted himself to Ycidra. She nearly dies, however after a recovered she learns that she will never be able to have children. Morrison’s Home sheds light on the atrocities committed in the name of a false science as Ycidra is a victim of the forced sterilization of black women as a direct result of eugenics programs in the United States.

Reading these two texts side-by-side was enlightening because reading Galton’s “Eugenics: its Definition, Scope and Aims” allowed me to understand the thinking of people who believed in its message and how these racist ideologies were presented to the public through the ruse of science, and Home by Toni Morrison humanized the issue further by illustrating the experience of an unsuspecting woman who was abused by a doctor that justified sterilizing her without her knowledge or consent because, in his opinion, it was for the good of the human race.

2 Comments

  1. I was also very interested in our Galton readings! As a Biology major, I took Genetics last semester, and after learning actual scientific facts about genes and their association with race, looking at Galton’s ideas was humorous. However, it is very interesting to learn about how viewpoints and what is believed to be scientifically true has changed over time. It makes me think that perhaps some scientific things that we assume to be true today may be shown to be false in the future when science is more advanced.

  2. I think the study of genetics is equally fascinating and scary. As a neuroscience major, I am aware of the discoveries being made every day in the field of science and specifically eugenics. Sometimes I step back and think, “there is always more to learn, there is always something we don’t know”. I use this as a driving force in my studies, and it seems like you do too! When you break down every human, we are all made up of billions of cells. There is so much to learn, and hopefully (as you put it: racist biases), will not deter the scientific accomplishments being made every day.

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