In the latest issue of Dissent Magazine, Michelle Chen explores how eugenics thought shaped American immigration policy in the 1920s and beyond.
“Eugenics did not invent whiteness. Well before they intersected with evolutionary theory, ideas of race and racism had been central to colonialism and slavery and had been used to justify the genocide of indigenous peoples. But eugenics built on earlier philosophies of human nature by tying genetics and racial identity to notions of modernity and progress. Linking hereditary traits to intelligence or temperament helped reconcile the ideal of democracy—a principle theoretically based on inclusion and equality—with a culture that dehumanized the Other. This rationalization of privilege aimed to keep the economic hierarchy humming, enforce the illusion of meritocracy, and simultaneously curb the social mobility of supposedly inferior groups.”
The plaster columns, vinyl cabinets, and aged walls have been torn down, peeled off, and repainted. The filing cabinets, desks, and detail items stored away. The last traces of the recreated Eugenics Record Office that filled our gallery space here at the A/P/A Institute these past months are on their way out. The good news? The project is far from over.
Here’s what will be going on with Haunted Files in the coming months:
Before the exhibit came down, we commissioned detailed professional documentation of the space. In the coming months, we’ll be working with Tisch ITP students Ziv Schneider and Ken Amarit to develop an immersive digital representation of our Eugenics Record Office, complete with an accessible archive of the files contained in the exhibit. Want to revisit a lecture, field report, or correspondence you saw during your trip? You’ll be able to search tags and themes to pull up each and every document from the exhibit!
We’re hard at work planning our conference America and its “Unfit”: Eugenics and Now, which takes a broad historical lens to examine the history of American eugenics, and the evolving impact of its legacy in our present moment of meritocracy, exclusion, and so-called security. It’s set to take place on Friday, September 25 and Saturday, September 26. Mark your calendars and stay tuned for further details!
We can’t thank you all enough for your support of this project. From those who planned or participated in class visits, to walk-in visitors and public program attendees, to all those who worked with us in the development of the exhibits — the critical conversations about science, history, race, ability, and identity that you’ve made space for have allowed Haunted Files to thrive. We look forward to tapping into the same energy in the coming months!
We’re happy to share professional documentation of “The Normal”: Images from the Haunted Files of Eugenics, a public installation that was on view at the NYU Kimmel Windows Gallery from October 31, 2014 through January , 2015. The installation drew from public displays and propaganda of the American eugenics movement, which distilled the “objective” research of institutions like the Eugenics Record Office into visceral imagery and familiar racial, gendered, and ableist stereotypes.
Click the image below to see images from the installation. Image credits: GION Studio.
Join us next Thursday, November 20th, 7-9pm, as artists, activists, and academics discuss the legacy of eugenics and the countermovement of community organizing through readings, performance, music, and analysis. Featuring poet and activist Sonia Guinansaca (New York State Youth Leadership Council and CultureStrike), historian and lawyer Paul A. Lombardo(Georgia State University), author and activist Dr. N. Ordover (American Eugenics: Race, Queer Anatomy, and the Science of Nationalism), writerTommy “Teebs” Pico (absentMINDR), social justice activist and expert Loretta J. Ross (co-founder, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective), musician, writer, and educator/activist Sonny Singh (Red Baraat), and composer and producer Sxip Shirey.
Haunted Files: The Eugenics Record Office is featured on this weeks AudioFiles, a podcast produced by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Producers Frank Green and Julia Alsop take listeners on an in-depth tour of the exhibit.