The Eugenics Movement
1. What is the Eugenics movement? Identify its objectives. Was it successful? Why did it develop in the 19th century? Was it scientific? How did it fit the received paradigm? Who were the victims? Could it happen again?
The Eugenics movement arose during the 19th century and grew in popularity during the 20th century. The movement was an attempt to quantify human worth and decide who should reproduce and who should not. The word eugenics is a derivative of the Greek word eu, which means good and the suffix genes meaning born.
The term was invented by Sir Francis Galton in 1883. Galton was a cousin of Charles Darwin. Eugenics has had different meaning to different people. The meanings range from prenatal care to euthanasia. The term is frequently used to refer to social movements and policies. In a broad sense its intent is to improve human gene quality. It can be described as controlled breeding of humans. It was not confined to any one country but spread throughout the world. The victims of this philosophy were poor, mentally ill, blind, promiscuous women, homosexuals and entire racial groups. These individuals were often selected for sterilization. It was supported by a number of prominent individuals including, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Winston Churchill. The most infamous supporter was Adolph Hitler who practiced it in exterminating the Jewish people.
The policy was not successful as Hitler and the Nazis were reviled for their beliefs and actions. It is unlikely to happen again because society is too enlightened at this stage of history.
2. Do races exist? What is the scholarly critique of “race?” Why is “race” still used by social scientists?
Race, in its common usage describes differences of skin color and physical attributes. It has been expanded to include language, nationality, and religion. In 1758, a Swedish scientist named Carolus Linnaeus coined this phrase to differentiate between ethnic groups with the intent of justifying the exploitation of one group by another, primarily African and Native American slaves. Race is an idea that has become so fixed in American society that the use of the word persists still. There is only one human race and over time, we have learned that life originated in Africa. There is a major difference between the biological and sociological views of race.
In the 1940’s, scientists began to realize that the racial map of human beings did not match what they were learning of human genes. Scientists agree with the idea that people look different, the differences are due to environmental factors. Groups have physically changed as environmental conditions warranted. Skin color, for example is essentially an adaptation to the amount of sun in the environment. People from regions with lots of direct overhead sunlight, like Africa, tend to have darker skin than people from cloudy or oblique sunlight regions, like northern Europe. Since melanin protects the skin from harmful ultraviolet radiation, people with more melanin in tropical areas tend to live longer, and produce more children, than people who were melanin deficient. Sunlight also stimulates vitamin D production. Europeans are light skinned in order to absorb reduced sunlight in their environment.
3. Explain social psychological and structural theories of racism, describing the major elements of each.
Psychological theories of racism are exhibited by the notion of superiority of racial groups. One group believes they are inherently superior in every way. These are ideas which are reinforced and put into action by structural racism. Psychological racism is the dislike for another group based on appearance or cultural differences. The disliked is usually based on superficial traits such as hair texture or eye color.
Structural theories of racism prevent minorities from reaching certain heights in society. These ideas keep minorities in limited educational settings and in less challenging occupations. They restrict access to certain neighborhoods and services. The term red-lining is an expression of the practical use of structural racism. Both forms of racism are really about power: issues of economics, political power, and domination.
Almost all countries in the world adopted some form of eugenics taking a psychologically racist idea to fruition by creating structural racism. One example of such racism was the practice of removing aboriginal children from their parents in Australia with the belief that they could not survive if raised by their native parents.
4. Compare Cuban and Mexican immigrants with regard to secondary structural assimilation. What structural and historical factors would explain the greater “success” of Cubans.
Cuban Immigrants have been eager to migrate to the United States since Fidel Castro became the ruler and instituted a socialist government. He imposed stifling laws and restrictions on the Cubans which negatively impacted their quality of life. Cuba is very close to Florida so there are frequent attempts to make the journey to the United States.
The general rule is that once an individual reaches American soil and is out of American waters, they are allowed to remain in the U.S. This policy is known as the wet-foot dry- foot policy. It is very controversial. Many Cubans who make it to Florida have relatives to assist them with assimilation. Miami is very heavily influenced by Cuban immigration.
There is more acceptance of Cubans because of the dislike of the United States for the Castro regime. Castro attempts to prevent his citizens from leaving.
Unlike Cubans, Mexicans occupied areas of the United State prior to the creation of the country. Many areas such as Texas and Arizona belonged to Mexico at one time.
The multicultural influence of Mexican Americans is rich and complex. It reflects the influences of Spain, Mexico, and indigenous cultures. Mexicans have had a conflicting history of immigration to the United State. Like Cubans, they also have family structures within the United State to assist with assimilation. They have worked on many structural projects in the history of building the country. Mexicans have met with more difficulty in assimilation because some Americans feel they are immigrating in very large number and straining the social support systems of the country. This is due to several factors: economic troubles in Mexico, the lure of work in the United States, the lack of effort by the Mexican government to prevent its citizens from leaving. The numbers of Mexican immigrants in California and Texas have surpassed the million mark causing serious sociological problems for those states.
5. Compare Blacks and Cubans with regard to access to cultural and physical capital.
Blacks were brought to this country in chains and enslaved for 400 years. After slavery, they were further subjected to systemic racism which denied them opportunities easily earned by new immigrants. White immigrants to the United States are given more opportunity that Blacks based on skin color.
Because Blacks have a physically identifying trait of skin color, it is very difficult for them to assimilate into White society. Cubans have lighter skin which offers them greater racial acceptance than darker skinned African Americans. Many Cubans are Black. Black Cubans are discriminated against in the same manner that African Americans are. Racism exists throughout Cuban society as it does in American society. Cuba was a part of the New World exploration by the Europeans during which they established their dominance in regard to cultural and physical standards.
Unfortunately, society today still has remnants of this ignorant thinking which is related to the misuse of the theory of eugenics.
Black Cubans, by many measures, have made great advances in the past four decades, their progress often cited by officials as one of the signal accomplishments of President Fidel Castro’s revolution. For example, officials report that in this country of 11 million people, there are more than 13,000 black physicians by comparison, in the United States, with a black population four times as large, the 1990 census counted just over 20,000 black doctors, according to the leading U.S. association of black physicians.[i]
Intermarriage between whites and blacks is commonplace in Cuba. Race relations, especially among individuals, are much more relaxed and amicable than in U.S. neighborhoods–and unlike in the United States, virtually all Cuban neighborhoods are racially integrated.