America’s Secret History of Racial Cleansing

by Kristy Mercado on May 4, 2006

By the middle of the 20th century, the state of California had over 20,000 forced sterilizations on its record. A common procedure in the early 20th century, this push ”to sterilize” held racial cleansing connotations that did not weaken, even after the end of Nazi Germany. Eugenic Nation by Alexandra Minna Stern traces back the historical roots of using science to perpetuate and uphold racial and cultural superiority in the United States, focusing mainly on the state that embraced its use more than any other, California. Chapter after chapter reveal stories and historical antidotes that were anything but subtle about the racism, colorism, and ethnocentrism that drove California’s past and culturally shaped how it is experienced today.

I was first drawn to this book because of my mixed race background. Most of our parents lived during a time in the U.S where anti-miscegenation laws banned interracial mixing, illegalizing the children of those who defied the ban until 1968. No matter what background you may be coming from, Eugenic Nation holds a history that is personally vital to all of us but never taught in schools.

More important than revealing the past, Stern illustrates how aspects of our everyday mimic the shameful acts and ideologies of that time. At the peak of eugenics, anyone who scored under a certain score on an IQ test underwent forced sterilization. These tests were criticized for being biased in order to benefit U.S born Caucasians. In the same vein, school standardized testing and policies like “No Child Left Behind” assign people worth according to test scores that also have been accused of being biased. Instead of sterilization for U.S-Mexico border crossers, they face being hunted down by La Migra or complete disappearance at Ciudad Juarez. Stern strategically uses these parallel lines to bridge the reality of the reader to the period of eugenics.

Making sense of how social structures came to be can function as the first steps away from those very structures. Eugenic Nation is an invaluable tool to untangle the knots that overwhelm those dedicated to changing our modern day caste system and confuse those who’ve been affected by mainstream media’s portrayal of these issues.

Useful Tips for reading Eugenic Nation :
• Do not be deterred with the scattering of dates and acronyms that are unfamiliar to the average reader. There’s a list of what the abbreviations stand for in the front of the book that can help if it’s important. Since there is a focus on a certain time period, specific dates tend to blend into each other.
• I found it more beneficial to read for the overall message rather than the memorization of each event described.
• While eugenics was thought to be based on science, it’s important to remember that it is a social construct created to lift a certain group up by putting other groups down. Scientific vocabulary is used throughout the book in talking about eugenics but does not hold any legitimacy. Comprehension of it is not necessary to get the complete value from the book.

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