Daily Archives: September 5, 2009

Biological Aspects of Race

For those of you who are interested, the American Association of Physical Anthropologists has a brief and pointed statement on the biology of race which might help in getting a handle on the fundamental incoherency of the Race Concept.

Other works which offer lucid and compelling analyses of race include Joseph L. Graves’ The Emperor’s New Clothes, Stephen Jay Gould’s The Mismeasure of Man, and Ashley Montagu’s Man’s Most Dangerous Myth to name only three.


Carrie and Emma Buck. Carrie was forcibly sterilized by the state of Virginia after being committed to the Virginia Colony for Epileptics and Feeble-Minded. She was placed in that institution, where she gave birth to a daughter, after being raped at the age of 17 by her foster parents’ nephew. In 1925, Buck’s guardian brought suit against Virginia, a case which traveled all the way to the Supreme Court. Oliver Wendell Holmes, writing for the decision against her, famously accepted the principle of “negative eugenics” with the remark, “Three generations of imbeciles is enough.”

Ironically, in the initial stages of American eugenics people of color were spared the medical violence of compulsory sterilization because Race Science had already decided that they were inferior and thus not worth “saving.” Many felt that the “white” race, on the other hand, had to be defended against racial degeneration. Thus white women suspected of promiscuity or “feeble-mindedness”– a catchall category used to describe anyone thought to be abnormally unintelligent– were the primary victims of eugenics laws. These same laws would model the legal framework for the sterilization of millions of European Jews, Roma, and Slavs in Germany. Even after WWII the US continued to sterilize the “unfit,” though by this time the focus had shifted to women of color. In her autobiography Lakota Woman, for example, Mary Crow Dog relates the story of her sister, who was sterilized without her consent while undergoing an operation. The last forcible sterilization occurred in the state of Oregon in 1981.