The Reality of Eugenics




By Frank Green and Julia Alsop

A new exhibit at NYU is trying to get people to think about eugenics—so that they realize how much eugenics continues to inform the way we see the world. Credit: Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU.

A new exhibit at NYU is trying to get people to think about eugenics—so that they realize how much eugenics continues to inform the way we see the world. Credit: Asian/Pacific/American Institute at NYU.




U.S. history is inextricable from the history of eugenics. We passed an immigration law in 1924 to keep out Asians and Jews and Southern Europeans because we wanted to keep their genetic material out of this country. And we sterilized people who were already here if we thought their kids might have mental problems.

Today, we associate that sort of thing with the Nazis. But NYU’s Asian/Pacific/American Institute reconstructed Long Island’s eugenic’s office to remind people that eugenics is still with us. That we abort the vast majority of fetuses that’d be born with down syndrome is kind of eugenical — it’s eugenical that we screen the unborn at all. Eugenics is fundamentally about trying to fit people into a worldview, rather than shaping the world around the people. And we’re still doing that.