Yesterday NBC posted this story on a long-running eugenics program in North Carolina, which authorized the sterilization of people without their knowledge and consent. It includes both a heart-wrenching look at the victims’ stories (particularly that of Elaine Riddick, who was sterilized after giving birth to a baby conceived in rape) and a discussion of the political ramifications with the current state governor, Beverly Perdue. Unfortunately, NC is just one of 31 states that had such programs to prevent “defectives” from reproducing and the stories of eugenics victims in other states are not so well-known. In any case, the story ties in to our discussions about the importance of scientific thinking about the body and how it is used to justify intervention and alteration. While the stories mentioned by MSNBC do not included those people with physical “deformities,” it would not surprise me to find out that these people were also targets of these programs.
When people hear that I’m researching and teaching on the grotesque body, the reaction is usually a mixture of surprise and genuine curiosity. Recently, I was having one of these conversations with an acquaintance. Somehow we started talking about “strong man” competitions and how they are typically dominated by northern Europeans. Then we talked about the prevalence of (eastern) Africans in long-distance running and similar phenomena. While we agreed on the diagnosis (yes, Kenyans have been very successful of late in long-distance running), our explanation for this type of athletic prowess in certain ethnic/national/racial groups was vastly different. His theory? It’s all genetics. Africans, he said, are genetically determined to be successful in sports that require endurance rather than strength- if anything, they can be “just bodybuilders,” not weight-lifters. Europeans are naturally stronger, but not good at running. Oh, and Americans are fat because we get it from the British… When I expressed my profound skepticism Read the rest of this entry »