Racism through proxy

Didn’t you know? The racist past of 20th century America wasn’t based upon cultural oppression, poor education and high illiteracy, the loss the economic viability of slavery, religious tolerance and encouragement for slave holding, segregation, rural isolation, or any of those well-known things. Nah. It was based upon eugenics.

Frequently, when seeking a legal precedent for same-sex marriage, advocates will cite the Supreme Court’s rulings against anti-miscegenation laws. Those laws, which existed in a number of states in the early half of the 20th century, prevented people of different races from marrying. The primary Supreme Court ruling in question was Loving v. Virginia which effectively rendered unconstitutional all laws against interracial marriage. Interestingly the specific law it dealt with, the Racial Integrity Act of 1924, wasn’t based on ‘racism’ per se, but on scientific ideas of eugenics, an idea derived from Darwin’s evolutionary theory, a product of the scientific and legal consensus in the 20′s and 30′s.

You got that? Racism – that thing that existed long before the abolitionist Darwin came along – wasn’t really the basis for the Racial Integrity Act. Heck, how can a law be racist if people try to justify in other ways? I mean, no one wanted to quiet down all those civil right leaders because they were black; it was really because they were uppity. Or all those women who wanted to vote? Well, gee, let’s be fair. No one was against them voting because they were women; it was really because they were hysterical. Or those Injuns. Golly shucks, it wasn’t because they looked different and dressed funny; it was really because they were so savage.

What the above blogger – to no one’s surprise, I’m sure, Jack Hudson – is willfully missing is that eugenics was never much of a scientific idea as it applied to humans. When it comes to animals, we use it frequently because we put less value on the lives of, say, livestock. That makes it more acceptable to say it is of high value for a cow to produce copious amounts of milk; we haven’t given the cow much value in the first place, so we have no particularly diminished anything. With humans, we tend to start with a high base value. Whether that’s right or wrong is another question, but it’s what people tend to do.

Let’s say we have two sorts of scales. We have a universal scale we use to measure species against each other. It’s a rather detestable, arbitrary scale, but the reality is that we unconsciously use it all the time (it’s okay to torture a moth, but not a bird, usually). Then we have a local scale which measures individuals against each other. Say each scale runs 1 (low) to 10 (high). On the universal scale we almost always rank humans as having the highest value of 10. We may, however, rank other animals very highly. A baboon, for example, may be a 9. This provides for two distinct base lines; we start humans at a high base value than other animals.

This high base value comes with a number of usual stipulations. Treat all humans fairly, all humans deserve freedom, do not kill any human, etc. But once we apply the local scale, we may put restrictions based upon actions and behaviors. Deranged killers do not deserve their freedom. On the universal scale they’re still a 10 by virtue of being human, but they may rank as a 1 on the local scale.

What eugenics did was change the fundamental ranking of humans; it altered our universal scale ranking. No longer were humans 10 simply by being human. They were instead ranked by the same arbitrary measures used to place baboons and leopards below humans in the first place.

But in order to get to the point of ranking humans as non-humans based upon race – and this is a crazy one – racism had to exist. The prejudices and bigotry of civilizations did not spring from any scientific idea: look at the Christian-induced Dark Ages. A severe lack of science did nothing to stop the de-valuing of individual human lives.

In the time during and after Darwin, racism flourished. From this – not evidence, knowledge of genetics, or any known mechanisms of evolution – eugenics arose. Science was the faux veneer abused to make it all look legitimate. Evolution had nothing to do with the matter. But even if it did, this is all an ugly, dishonest, creationist rhetorical tool. Associate evolution with something bad and, well, it just must be wrong! Just ignore the fact that evolution is a scientific fact, void of anthropomorphic values, while eugenics is nothing but a reflection of racist values.

The rest of this ugly, ill conceived post goes on to quote a philosopher of bigotry, Francis J. Beckwith, about same-sex marriage.

“It is clear then that the miscegenation/same-sex analogy does not work. For if the purpose of anti-miscegenation laws was racial purity, such a purpose only makes sense if people of different races have the ability by nature to marry each other. And given the fact that such marriages were a common law liberty, the anti-miscegenation laws presuppose this truth. But opponents of same-sex marriage ground their viewpoint in precisely the opposite belief: people of the same gender do not have the ability by nature to marry each other since gender complementarity is a necessary condition for marriage. Supporters of anti-miscegenation laws believed in their cause precisely because they understood that when male and female are joined in matrimony they may beget racially-mixed progeny, and these children, along with their parents, will participate in civil society and influence its cultural trajectory.

Most of the emphasis is in the original piece itself, but note mine in bold. By nature. You know what that is? It’s an invocation of Natural Law theory. That’s the silly little theory that says the good is what is natural. What it really tries to do is say that human action is bad because it presupposes that humans are somehow not a part of Nature. But it isn’t honest enough to come out and say it. And what’s worse, it is entirely impotent to explain why same-sex marriage is bad but flying across the country in a giant metal tube is good.

Beckwith is saying the analogy drawn between anti-miscegenation laws and anti-gay marriage laws fails because the former was meant to prevent reproduction while the latter has a different basis. This misses the whole point of the analogy. Historically it’s very important to understand the reasons behind discrimination. Practically it matters less: discrimination is discrimination is discrimination. How one wants to rationalize bigotry doesn’t really matter, what with Lady Justice being blind and all.

But if Beckwith really wants to disseminate the reasons for gay discrimination, the reality is that bigots place their opposition to marriage equality in their religious-based sexual immaturity, their ignorance of what it means to be gay, and the one big thought that goes through their minds, “Yucky!”.

Thought of the day

The force standing in the way of proper science education? The force standing in the way of marriage equality? The force standing in the way of child safety? The force standing in the way of even beginning to find peace in Nigeria and the Middle East?


And is there evidence for its creation stories? Can it offer well-reasoned ethical arguments against gay marriage? Can it justify allowing parents to forego needed medical care for their children? Can it operate beyond its sectarian labels? Can it be reconciled with fundamentally different claims?