meltdowns and analogies.

last night i had my first serious meltdown over the insurmountable debt that is attached to my name, my legal identity.  the first time i added up all the student loans plus one credit card at the beginning of the summer – i laughed.  i laughed because there’s no way i could pay that shit off.  who woulda thought, a major in creative writing and a master’s in women and gender studies.  at public universities. but now, i’m drowning? water filling my mouth with what used to be maniacal laughter.

my partner, my lover, my best friend- what would i do without him? i didn’t start crying just last night until i tried to utter the words to him: i have a payment.  i said “i have a payment,” but when it came out the tears marched down my face like an army, marching. down my face. i think this is why i started to cry: because i literally do not have the funds in my bank account to pay it.  there’s a fire roaring in front of me, eating the roof over my head, and i have no water to put it out.  all i can do is watch it burn, and destroy any shelter or stability i otherwise tricked myself into thinking i have.

my partner, my lover, my best friend- what would i do without him? he’s there when it really, really counts.  he speaks up when it really, really counts. he analogized my debt and my empty bank account to this: it’s like getting fucked in the ass.  let me try to explain how he so brilliantly and hilariously put it.  student loan debt is like getting fucked in the ass hard, so hard–for the first time, with no lube, no prep, no nothing.  we might call it rape.  i’m a self-identified queer feminist over here and yes i am building upon this analogy using sodomy and rape. i agree with this analogy.  last night i was crying hysterically because i was being fucked so hard in the ass when i didn’t want to be.  but there’s nothing i could do to stop it.  i just have to take it.  then my lover goes on with the analogy, saying, ass-fucking is painful at first, but maybe after awhile it doesn’t hurt so bad, and then you’re like, hmm–this might be pleasurable. later on, down the line once i’ve barely managed to make payments, all this ass-fucking might have been worth it and i won’t feel so horrible for majoring in creative writing and getting a master’s in gender studies.

The PhD and normative time

Recent personal disability-happenings have me reconsidering launching into a PhD program right from my MA.  This shakes me in many ways.  I’m in the fast-lane, ready for my “career.”  What might it mean to wait another year, if not two more, for the long-awaited doctorate?  In the context of disability justice, well, my comrades might simply give me the nod knowing that I gotta do what I must do.  Good days, bad days–crip time is tricky against the normative ebbs and flows of legitimated knowledge production.

Who says I’m not a scholar already, anyway?  Because I am.

In her 2011 Society for Disability Studies Annual Conference paper presentation “Cripping Anti-Futurity, or, If You Love Queer Theory So Much, Why Don’t You Marry It?” Ellen Samuels writes:

At the University of California, Berkeley, where I earned my Ph.D. degree in English, graduate student education is structured by an administrative construct called, with no hint of irony, “normative time,” referring “to the amount of time it takes ideally for a student in a particular discipline to complete a doctoral degree.”

Samuels goes on to quote the book In a Queer Time and Place:

Finding that the normative time model could not fully accommodate my queer, disabled, parental existence, I have sought other temporal models to think through these multiplicities. Judith [Jack] Halberstam offers the concept of “queer time” shaped by “nonnormative logics and organizations of community, sexual identity, embodiment, and activity” (6).  Halberstam’s queerness refers not so much to sexuality as to the “outcome of strange temporalities, imaginative life schedules, and eccentric economic practices” (1).

I am glad that Samuels is starting to think about queercrip time in the academy.  I know many, many other disability scholars have written about this topic, especially as it relates to accommodation in the academy as either grad students or professors.  So I let myself pause alongside my disability-happenings, think with the happenings and not against them, and I actually don’t feel so bad with the thought of letting things settle.  In fact, it feels relieving to validate my own crip time in the academy.  We’ll see what happens.

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.

Ode to Professor Geary and Feminist Theory

“I came to theory because I was hurting—the pain within me was so intense that I could not go on living.  I came to theory desperate, wanting to comprehend—to grasp what was happening around and within me.  Most importantly, I wanted to make the hurt go away.  I saw in theory then a location for healing.” –bell hooks

I hear all the time

about this so-called divide

that we find

between theory and “real life.”

But some of us need theory to live.

There is no divide.

Professor Geary, there you are in feminist theories.  How awesome and lyrically convenient for me that your name rhymes with theory.  (Oh Dr. Geary, neoliberal capitalist theory is so dreary it makes me weary and a little teary!)  One day you said to the class with such sincerity when we were all frustrated with this “concept” of “neoliberalism,” frustrated with corporatization, with the insurmountable odds stacked high against us in hundred dollar bills for cheap thrills causing dire ills—we just couldn’t grasp it, we felt trapped with no way out—all this theory bullshit, all this greed and exploitation; the class was against you ready to throw our hands up and say, Fuck you academe! Fuck you theory! you reassured us: Some people…some people need theory, to live.  And there you are: dry-erase marker in hand, the white board behind you, and all our ten sets of eyes concentrated intently on you.  Some people…some people need theory, to live.  We all breathe in heavily, chests heaving together, exhaling, some of us breaking for a cigarette.

Some people need theory to live.  To resist.  To feel, to understand, to be, to learn, to interact, to thrive, survive, to love, to listen.  Some people need theory to live.

coffee against my lips

it’s cold by now but I still drink it

and the mug tips,

a little bit

slips

out the side of my mouth as I sip,

eyes looking past the mug onto my feminist lit—

coffee tear drops drip

and stain the polemic.

How do I understand this world I live in     we are all connected now     somehow     there’s the internet     there’s airplanes     there’s tourism     there’s the t.v.     there’s movies and there’s dvds and blank cds ripping copies for free     information as a commodity     there’s Google translate     there’s Google     there’s Facebook     we are all connected now     How do I understand it all     this New World Order     where does my milk come from     where do my bananas come from     let’s all preach equality and fair trade     we got Chiquita banana all dressed in a blue oval sticker all the way from an exotic, tropical, faraway republic     How Do I Understand This World I Live In     of contradiction     some people     need   theory     to     live     we are all connected now     somehow     in this era of globalization     turn of the millennium     post-nine-eleven     connected twenty-four/seven     with our bourgeois blackberries and iPhones     feeling all alone but surrounded     how do I understand this world I live in     where can I find the words I need     help me theory     help me explain explicate iterate and reiterate contemplate commiserate     identity     performativity     materiality     this life     that I am living co-existing imagining and producing, my privilege depending on that of another human’s suffering     amidst all this stigmatization of differentiation     perpetuating extremes of love and hate and the rich and the poor and the traumatic and the joyous     help me remake meaning     help me understand this world I live in     help me theory     help me transform and be transformative, imagine an alternative     we are all connected now