Over the weekend, Richard Dawkins tweeted about the practice of eugenics, saying that if it worked for cows, horses, pigs, dogs, and roses then “why on earth wouldn’t it work for humans?” For those of you who might not be familiar with the term, eugenics (meaning: born well and invented by British scientist Sir Francis Galton) is the practice of ‘improving’ humans through selective breeding. It developed in the late 19th century largely in response to white elites’ panic that the upper social classes were being diluted by higher birth rates, the alleged ‘inferior races’ and mass poverty for working class people. Of course, elites diagnosed the problems of poverty as the poor choices and genetic make up of ‘inferior’ individuals – rather than exploitative wages paid by the factories they profited from, inadequate housing or the absence of affordable healthcare.
What most people don’t know is that eugenics has been deployed around the world and in some instances remains a practice. While it was a British invention, the US, for example, widely embraced it and federally funded forced sterilization programs took place in 32 states throughout the 20th century. Poor people, those with mental ill-health, people of colour and disabled people were targeted. America’s eugenic program was an inspiration to the Nazis. In fact, right up until the 1970s there was forced sterilization of Native American women, with an estimated 25-50% of Native American women forcibly sterilised between 1970 and 1976. You can read more about all of this here.
Eugenics must be refuted entirely. At its root, what constitutes ‘undesirable’ human traits are entirely societally constructed and aligned with the ways in which systems of inequity have been designed to deem certain groups as inherently inferior. While it might be convenient for us to think this isn’t our concern, this thinking is taking hold more and more. Vigilance is required, as always, to disrupt these ideas before they gain a foothold and stop them in their tracks.