Maria Barcelona and Brice the Weed Fairy, part one

I’m going to start this blog post off by saying that stoner subculture is the shit.  We look out for each other.

Maria Barcelona (pseudonym for privy-ness) and I land in Denver, Colorado and we make it from the airport to our hotel room before we start scheming.  How could we score some bud?  We are undocumented stoners amidst this magical rocky mountain landia.

Maria Barcelona’s got street smarts.

We get to our $50/night studio hotel at The Homestead—endearingly nicknamed “The Shithole”—and nothing sounded better than lighting a giant mid-afternoon doobie to bear the hot humidity and to get rid of our travel aches.

Then the power goes out.  The whole hotel.  And apparently the whole Denver Tech Center, too.

We start scheming how we’re gonna find some weed but really we’re not scheming what we’re actually doing is getting mentally prepared to scope out fellow stoners among our adventures to the kabob and pita shop and conjure up the risky courage to ask a complete stranger if they got any or know someone who does.

Cuz how else would we do it?

We leave the hotel just as the power goes out and begin trekking to Ali Baba’s kabob shop approximately 0.6 miles away from our humble abode on the other side of the freeway from the conference hotel.

It’s hot and sunny and sticky out, about 3 o’clock in the afternoon.

Allow me to give some backstory.  Maria Barcelona and I meet up in Denver, Colorado for the 25th Annual Society for Disability Studies conference.  And, speaking of disability studies, marijuana ain’t no joke.  Weed is so stigmatized for so many interlocking systematic reasons and frankly it’s bullshit.  Medicinal marijuana is a serious thing and even when it comes to vast embodied experiences like chronic pain, cancer, migraines, PTSD, anxiety, and insomnia, the mainstream still gets their panties in a twist about it.  AND, let me be clear that also, substance use is complicated and some people like to get high, for whatever goddamn reason that may be—and cheers to them.

In terms of a more contemporary historical and rhetorical framework surrounding the deviance that is marijuana consumption, I immediately think of the 1980s and Ronald Reagan M.H.R.I.H. (May He Rot In Hell) with Reaganomics’ mass privatization of social services, U.S. imperialism and clandestine genocides through the Dirty Wars in Central and South America, and the whole “War on Drugs” thing.  I graduated from D.A.R.E. in 5th grade.  Fuck that program trying to instill the fear of god in me when it comes to illicit substance consumptive practices.

Maria Barcelona is a sexy crip of color femme who has immense chronic pain to which I will never truly “know” the extent of her experiences but that’s not the point.  And no one, I repeat NO ONE, should ever have the authority to prevent her from accessing medicinal marijuana and consuming it.  I suppose the pharmaceutical industry and the medical industrial complex (MIC) is missing out, you know, from exploiting her pain with script after script of acetaminophens and hydrocodone.  But that same MIC is the one who won’t cover the costs of new mobility devices that will properly support her hips, legs, arms, back, neck, and other various body parts that are perpetually in never-ending pain.

Me, well, I use ganj for my own psychiatric purposes and impulsive pleasures.

So here we have the crip and the crazy—undocumented stoners across state lines—and we need the goods.

We finish our mid-afternoon lunch and M. Barcelona wants to take the bus back instead of walking.  No prob, so we figure out the route and wait for the 4:12pm bus.  While we wait we actually try hitchhiking, because for a car the 0.6mile distance is but a two-minute detour.  We legitimately try hitchhiking as we wait for the bus but car after car passes us to no avail.

Finally the bus comes and we’re dropped off at the major intersection near The Shithole.  I’m squinting on the street corner and rolling my short sleeves up in the humid heat when abruptly I hear M. Barcelona’s voice asking: do you know where we could get any weed?

I immediately look over and it’s a young kid maybe 20 years old with a black LA baseball cap on and in busboy attire.  He must’ve just got off work.  He looks at M. Barcelona and I and smiles.

I’m actually going to score a spliff right now, he says.  I have to travel just north of Denver to my buddy’s farm where he grows.

After some casual conversation introducing ourselves, Brice The Weed Fairy pulls his cellphone out of his pocket to take our number.  He laughs.

It’s 4:20, he says.

Some Notes on Eugenics

Osagie Obasogie, Professor at the University of California Hastings Law School, says it well in this sweet new 4-min video by the Center for Genetics and Society (CGS) in Berkeley:

“When I speak with colleges, grad students and professional schools, and I ask them about the eugenics movement, oftentimes they’re not aware how much that movement originated in the United States. Having this deeper context to understand this long history of science being used or misused and abused to justify the oppression of other groups is important to understand how what many people consider to be good intentions can often have bad outcomes for certain populations and certain groups.”



In “Race Under the Microscope,” Emily Beitiks with Biopolitical Times asks us:

“How and why do long-discredited biological explanations of socially-defined race maintain a presence within scientific and medical research? How do misguided research practices and policies lay foundations for technologies, discourses and public understandings that foster biological assumptions about race?”

Why I am glad you asked, Emily. Significantly, what is at stake in a given project like eugenics depends upon the conditions of its arrival. So let’s start with the basics: Sir Francis Galton is known as one of the “founding fathers” of eugenics, he’s also Charles Darwin’s cousin–you know, Darwin, (thinking back to high school biology…) evolutionary theorist, known for his work on what he calls “natural selection.”

Galton claims: “Eugenics is the study of all agencies under social control which can improve or impair the racial quality of future generations.”

What were some founding goals of U.S. Eugenics at the turn of the twentieth century?

  • Create a superior Nordic race.
  • Sterilize 14 million in the U.S. and millions worldwide.
  • Eradicate the “lowest tenth” until only Nordics left.

U.S. Organizations and Funders
Organizations:

  • American Breeders Association, 1903.
  • J. H. Kellogg’s Race Betterment Foundation, 1906.
  • Eugenics Record Office, 1910.

Eugenic record office

  • Galton Society, 1918.
  • American Eugenics Society, 1921.

Gilded Age Funding:

  • Harriman family (railroad).
  • Rockefeller (Standard Oil), also funded Nazi program.
  • Carnegies (steel) funded Cold Spring Harbor, NY eugenics laboratory.

Eugenic Leaders

  • Charles Davenport: zoologist and biologist, wrote the book Heredity in Relation to Eugenics (1911) where he surmises that “all men are created bound by their protoplasmic makeup and unequal in their powers and responsibilities.”
  • Harry Laughlin: publicist, known for his unrelenting advocacy for U.S. eugenic policies of compulsory sterilization legislation. He bethinks, “In the long run, military conquest by a superior people would be highly preferable to a conquest by immigration by peoples with inferior stock endowments.”

Racial Classifications
“Dysgenic”

  • Immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe (enacted strictest immigration laws ever).
  • People of color in the U.S. (segregation and miscegenation laws – sterilization).
  • “Feeble-minded,” poor, uneducated, people with disabilities, blind, deaf, “promiscuous” (segregation and sterilization).

Slight detour: linking the past to the present. Disability, deviance, and “feeble-mindedness.”

  • As a historically contingent and contradictory process, the threat of deviance is stereotyped and pathologized as the cause of criminal and immoral behavior, thus in need of discipline and control so that one’s “deviance” may be protected from society and moreover so society be protected from non-normal bodies and minds. For instance, eugenic ideology renders neurological variations as pathological cognitive impairment, or what is currently known as developmental disability, which presumes an inherent inferiority in mindedness.
  • In her essay “Docile Bodies, Docile Minds,” Licia Carlson investigates the ways in which institutions and asylums at the turn of the twentieth century depended upon and perpetuated the contingent nature of contradictions within the category of mental retardation itself. She writes, “The institutions, as protective and productive sites of disciplinary power, perpetuated the view of feeblemindedness as both a helplessly static fate and an improvable, dynamic condition.” Historically it is believed that, as pathology, such non-normalcy is a hereditary “helplessly static fate” and thus reproducible; hence the hyper-regulation and disciplining of non-normal bodies working through sexuality and reproductive capacity (like Harry Laughlin’s proposed legislations around compulsory sterilization). Pervasive reproductive surveillance of cognitively disabled people continues today, portraying people with neurological variation as infantile sub-humans who remain “unfit” to be proper parents.

“Eugenic”

  • Eugenicists believed in an extremely narrow definition of “fitness.” A eugenic family was (according to THEIR definitions!) intelligent, healthy, Nordic (or at least Teutonic or Anglo-Saxon), and prolific breeders.

Social context: Immigration
Massive immigration: fears of disease, many Americans feared labor competition from cheaper immigrant labor, rise of socialism, labor unrest (hmm… sound familiar? U.S./Mexico border, anyone?).

Immigration Laws
1920, Eugenicist Harry Laughlin testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Immigration and Naturalization.

  • “Immigrant women are more prolific than our American women.”
  • Immigrant “blood” threatened to “weaken the stock” of Americans.

Immigration Restriction Act of 1924

  • Halt the immigration of supposedly “dysgenic” Italians and eastern European Jews.
  • Number of immigrants from each country in proportion to their % of the U.S. population 1890 census (northern and western Europeans).
  • Quota of southern and eastern Europeans reduced from 45% to 15%.
  • Repealed by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.

Eugenics Popularization: Church, EDUCATION, Fairs, Films, Conferences, Books.

Prestigious U.S. universities like Stanford, Yale, Harvard, The University of Chicago, and Princeton were pioneers in eugenic “scientific” knowledge production, and many eugenic practices continue today in genetic testing.

Eugenics and disciplinary knowledge production

Fitter Families Contests, from eugenicsarchive.org:

  • When one considers the strong contribution of agricultural breeding to the eugenics movement, it is not difficult to see why eugenicists used state fairs as a venue for popular education. A majority of Americans were still living in rural areas during the first several decades of the 20th century, and fairs were major cultural events. Farmers brought their products of selective breeding — fat pigs, speedy horses, and large pumpkins — to the fair to be judged. Why not judge “human stock” to select the most eugenically fit family?
  • This was exactly the concept behind Fitter Families for Future Firesides — known simply as Fitter Families Contests. The contests were founded by Mary T. Watts and Florence Brown Sherbon — two pioneers of the Baby Health Examination movement, which sprang from a “Better Baby” contest at the 1911 Iowa State Fair and spread to 40 states before World War I. The first Fitter Family Contest was held at the Kansas State Free Fair in 1920. With support from the American Eugenics Society’s Committee on Popular Education, the contests were held at numerous fairs throughout the United States during the 1920s.

Texas State Fair, large family winner of the Fitter Families Contest, 1925

  • At most contests, competitors submitted an “Abridged Record of Family Traits,” and a team of medical doctors performed psychological and physical exams on family members. Each family member was given an overall letter grade of eugenic health, and the family with the highest grade average was awarded a silver trophy. Trophies were typically awarded in three family categories: small (1 child), medium (2-4 children), and large (5 or more children).
  • All contestants with a B+ or better received bronze medals bearing the inscription, “Yea, I have a goodly heritage.” Childless couples were eligible for prizes in contests held in some states. As expected, the Fitter Families Contest mirrored the eugenics movement itself; winners were invariably White with western and northern European heritage.

Let’s conclude with some Edwin Black:

Hitler and his henchmen victimized an entire continent and exterminated millions in his quest for a co-called “Master Race.”
But the concept of a white, blond-haired, blue-eyed master Nordic race didn’t originate with Hitler. The idea was created in the United States, and cultivated in California, decades before Hitler came to power. California eugenicists played an important, although little known, role in the American eugenics movement’s campaign for ethnic cleansing.