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Project Prevention: The Face of Modern Eugenics: Pt1
Wesley Strong   Aug 5, 2013   Ethical Technology  

James Hughes appeared on Huff Post Live on July 26th to defend the work of the controversial Project Prevention led by its Director, Barbara Harris. Project Prevention focuses on paying largely poor, drug-addicted women to not have children by subsidizing them three-hundred dollars each when they secure some form of long-term birth control. Long term birth control methods include Intra-uterine Devices (IUDs), tubal ligation, sterilization, or for their few male clients, vasectomies.

Hughes expresses his support of this program in the following statement:

"Barbara Harris’ initiative is an ethical one insofar as it reduces the suffering of the people it convinces not to have children, of the potential children they might have had, and of society in general." ~ James Hughes,, July 28th 2013i

Barbara Harris and Project Prevention have rightly been the target of much criticism over the past several years since their founding in 1997. Harris adopted four black children of a crack-addicted Los Angeles mother. Harris sees the problems of prenatal exposure to drugs through a very limited perspective that purposefully excludes the stark realities faced by the mothers. This is at its roots racist and bigoted, which in turn makes Harris' Project Prevention eugenicist in practice if not in nature.

Race and class are the central question at hand and underlie the problems in Project Prevention. Project Prevention, previously known as Children Requiring a Caring Kommunity (CRACK), is almost exclusively focused on people, addicted to crack cocaine, namely women and mothers. Crack is socially perceived as strictly a black problem, specifically a poor black problem, and in many ways it is. Crack is readily available to people in poor urban neighborhoods of color. Many people in these communities seek out drugs to self medicate through problems rooted in poverty.

Project Prevention pays three hundred dollars to each client they "convince" to receive long-term birth control or sterilization. There is a long process through which people must demonstrate their addiction through criminal records and provide evidence of a procedure prior to payout. Project Prevention chooses to focus specifically on illicit drugs and "criminal" behavior. They do not target the greatest contributors to prenatal diseases, namely alcohol and tobacco. They rely on criminal records to confirm addiction, blatantly ignoring the medical and psychological roots of addiction - which would indicate that their "clients" could be reformed. These conditions indicate their targets as poor people of color, those who are most targeted for drug offenses by the criminal justice system.

Drug enforcement in communities of color is much higher than in white or suburban/rural communities. Drug enforcement falls more on people of color than whites in even in suburban and rural communities, despite the fact that drug abuse is relatively the same throughout all sectors of society. Class plays a significant role in drug enforcement. The more power an individual has in society the lower penalties they are likely to face. This is especially true for those who benefit from wealth and white privilege that can pay more to hide their addictions and hide the domestic abuse and other problems that arises from it. Project Prevention is making an active decision to target people of color through disguising their motives with spurious narratives. They propagate right-wing narratives of the "crack-baby", the "drug-abusing welfare mom", and the common assumption that drug addicts are lazy, when often they suffer from some sort of trauma, mental or emotional distress.

Many Transhumanists will look at the work of Project Prevention with glowing reviews and praise as they choose to see what they want to see, largely ignoring the greater context. Free and available access to contraception, birth control, and abortion in all forms and on all levels including counseling should be a guaranteed human right under a reproductive justice framework. Many Transhumanists may also believe in such a framework, yet miss the conflict when it comes to Project Prevention. Project Prevention has very little to do with reproductive justice. Project Prevention is an example of an oppressive system hiding behind some spurious notion of saving children from exposure to illicit substances, presenting an excellent example of classic "white man's burden". Many Transhumanists will choose to see the function without the context.

One simply cannot separate context and political decisions of Project Prevention from their practice without also accepting their rationality and reason for those practices. They pay poor women who live under extremely impoverished conditions to get medical procedures tantamount to coercion. Project Prevention pays people to alter their bodies so they cannot have children. All accepted methods, especially those longer term methods, carry substantial risk. Hormone-based birth control carries a risk of blood clots leading to death, a risk that increases and dosage increases from pills to shots to implants receptively. IUDs can cause infections and perforations, a risk that would adversely affect those who already have a reduced access to quality care. All forms have various side effects and non-reversible forms of birth control or sterilization would likely prevent clients from ever considering having children in the future.

The racism and classism inherent in targeting illicit substance abusers, namely crack users, demonstrates the racial nature of this program. Barbara Harris and Project Prevention are products of a post-1980s era where racism, sexism, and classism are far more nuanced, where eugenics programs can hide behind liberal notions of charity.


This is part one of a multipart article to be published this week in response to comments two weeks ago, posted on IEET on July 28th. I encourage readers to hold comments until the final section is published later this week.


Wesley Strong studied sociology at Central Connecticut State University, where he graduated from in 2008 with honors. Wes was awarded the C. Wright Mills Award for Excellence in Public Discourse.


This is at its roots racist and bigoted, which in turn makes Harris’ Project Prevention eugenicist in practice if not in nature.

You take the moral high ground, Wes, but so do many of the religious (though not to be associative in discussing either religious or secular). Sure, one can perceive a certain amount of racism in all programs. Blacks have been and are treated the worst. The question is or ought to be, ‘will Barbara’s Project Prevention aid poor blacks in the long run?’: it appears so.
You shouldn’t let ideology be of such overriding importance; religious extremists ask,

“what would Jesus do?”;

whereas deceased moderate MLK would ask if he were alive today,

“what will help our people the most in the long run?”

You are not mistaken morally, yet all the same you are not convincing from a pragmatic perspective.

Just to remind you, this is part 1 of a longer piece that will be posted throughout the week. The other sections will make the case that:

1. Project prevention not only wont help communities of color in the long run, but will actually be harmful by blaming the victim and making an active choice to ignore the biggest factor contributing to the problems of drug addiction ni poor communities.

2. The ideological basis under which this program operates is racist to the core and centered on preventing the birth of black and brown children, blaming mothers for conditions that have been historically placed on them, by targeting people of color (not just in the US) with a coercive program that does nothing to address factors that sustain the systems most responsible for the “crisis”.

Also, I intend to demonstrate that the “crisis” they purport is manufactured and that babies of illicit drug users (their main target) and more specifically children of crack users (their main target inside the group of illicit drugs) purposefully ignores the mountains of damage done to children whose parents consumed alcohol, tobacco, and other legal substances during childbirth, because their intent is to focus almost entirely on crack, and direct the blame of childbirth complications on people of color.

It is fairly self evident that they solely focus on people of color, specifically poor people of color, on a basis that is both classist and racist. I am not making a “moral” justification, but an ideological one, based on an ideology which rejects forms of oppression including racism and classism. I could expand on this further in a different space as this should be focused solely on the racist (and subsequently eugenecist) nature of Harris and Project Prevention.

They are racist because they almost solely focus on crack, they are classist because they almost solely focus on poor drug abusers, and they are eugenecist because they use those arguments to rationalize a systemic dehumanization of people of color, specifically women, and revictimize them through a process of shaming and blame. Future sections should do a good job in laying that out clearly.

“I am not making a ‘moral’ justification, but an ideological one, based on an ideology which rejects forms of oppression including racism and classism.”

A good distinction.

“They are racist because they almost solely focus on crack”

Isn’t meth at least as prevalent as crack for both blacks and whites?

“with a coercive program that does nothing to address factors that sustain the systems most responsible for the ‘crisis’ ”

The overarching factor is capitalism, which unfortunately many blacks support because, for understandable reasons, they want quick-but-dirty upward mobility.
Poor minorities often choose a military career, which today offers no honor because nationalism and militarism are now wholly discredited—albeit the Services offer the most ‘respectability’ plus the GI Bill, VA hospitals, and many other benefits. (There’s an entire glossy magazine devoted to benefits for military personnel and their families).


I disagree with your position, and continue to defend Project Prevention as an ethical program. However, we agree that it will - by itself - do nothing to address race and class inequality, or the effects of the Drug War. I said that in the statement I wrote when I appeared on HuffPost Live.

I do take strong issue with your contention that the initiative is racist. These are the stats on the folks who have been served by the Project:

  white- 2,404
  black- 992
  hispanic- 524
  other- 428

The program isn’t racially targeted and has served far more whites than black and hispanic clients. Altho these numbers aren’t proportionate to national representation of ethnicity, they are probably proportionate to the cities in which the program has been established.

As to the alleged focus on crack the program from its inception has worked with all kinds of substance dependent people. It is certainly not just focused on crack.

one can make a case all programs are inherently racist, which is something Wesley is getting at, though his explanations are not as yet convincing. He promises in future sections to do better.
To stick to the topic at hand, the Project is doing the best it can do with a bad situation… third world situation in a first world nation. Embarrassing for a futurist that opium den-like problems exist in modern nations. Embarrassing that so many feel disenfranchised they would escape via hard drugs.

Last comment from me on this topic because it will go on too long for any purpose which can be seen.

Project Prevention is a propaganda tool of the right wing. Those numbers may be accurate, however, statistics do not always tell the truth.

At best, they underline the intersectional nature of the problems this project. They have stated a focus in urban areas, many of which are densely populated communities of color. Whether they serve people or not is not entirely relevant to their overall effect. Their propaganda still has a shaming impact on the vicitms of poverty and drugs. In fact, these statistics may demonstrate a greater willingness among whites - due to historical distrust of service organizations among communities of color -  to participate in the program than a lack of racist motivation in the ideologies behind the program.

It is also classist, targeting poor people’s reproductive rights, blaming the poor for a crisis that is much bigger than them. There are plenty of wealthy and stable people who also have these problems who have access to abortions and other treatments to address their issues. Poor people don’t have access to these programs because of austerity and racism.

This program is a way to improve statistics without confronting the real problem - the same manuevering done to support austerity [changing unemployment calculations for example]. It’s not a matter of not being able to do everything at once, I am not making that argument. It is the problem of a program such as this making assumptions about drug-addicted mothers and willfully disregarding the greater context under the reductionist logic of “saving children”. She rails about foster care and claims to be saving the “welfare system”, though she is using similar arguments as those who seek to dismantle the system. seems very specious to me. Racism is very nuanced, having served more white people than black people is the statistical equivalent of saying “hey, I’m not racist. I have a black friend.” The propaganda can be damaging enough on its own and discourage people from seeking help.

if the worst thing that comes out of this piece is a serious discussion, I’d be glad with that.

In response to intomorrow: EXACTLY. In a society born out of the heart of racism, everything is inherently racist or has a racial element, and that’s even the case for supposedly “anti-racist” organizations that I belong to. Racism is like a drug addiction for white people. It will always shape what we think about people of color and the assumptions we make about their lives. This is even the case for people who have worked hard throughout their lives to combat racism, they are just better at negotiating the internal conflict between their socialized racism and their ideological opposition to it. Racism is MUCH more nuanced today than it was fifty years ago.

Also, addressing the whole “you can’t do everything at once” thing, we can demand more than what we can do at any one time. PP and Harris are doing exactly what they demand without making a point to focus on what the bigger crisis is. This is a luxury, this is a privilege.

If project prevention provided these services without publicly shaming drug addicts, then we’d have something to talk about.

Wesley, by your definition all efforts to help poor people that don’t address structural reform, or work for socialist revolution, are classist and racist. I don’t think that’s a helpful definition. And it doesn’t distinguish Project Prevention from a job training program or Alcoholics Anonymous.

As a socialist, I agree that all initiatives that don’t address fundamental reform, or aren’t integrated into a longer term strategy for social reform, are limited. But for me that doesn’t make them unethical, just inadequate.

You seem to disregard their self-stated rationale.

I don’t say that advocating for revolution is a condition at all, but a structural analysis on some level, instead of a reductionist analysis, is something we should all demand. Reforms can be revolutionary in some small sense.

Also, to note, Many job training programs and “anonymous” style help groups have problems with racism and classism because they are filled with people, and people are racist, and people in power or with privilege are usually classist. That’s a reality that’s hard to escape. That’s a whole other ballgame.

Also, I never stated that programs that don’t have a systemic analysis / don’t demand revolution are inherently classist or racist. I am saying that every white person born into and raised in a racist society is inherently racist. Harris makes multiple assumptions and statements that are racist in nature. Her major funders are racists. Their ideology for offering these incentives are on a basis that is shaming drug addicts and poor people in major cities, which makes their target group predominantly people of color. I’m just calling a spade a spade.

James, I have read some of your arguments and political stances, which are better than most transhumanists I’ve observed/read. I am personally critical of some of your positions and it seems to me that our differences on this issue fall very closely along those lines. If your point in addressing this issue is largely for reasons of women’s health, it befuddles me why you would support this project which rejects any serious acknowledgement of their impacts on women’s health, in favor of saving some mythical future child under assumed conditions that don’t hold true to reality.

Wesley, I addressed this issue because I was asked to be on HuffPost Live to discuss it. As I said then, I defend the program but don’t think it addresses fundamental causes of poverty, drug abuse or child abuse.  And it has never been a program I advocated for. Instead I have worked for universal health care, drug decriminalization and extension of the social wage, all of which would do more for more poor kids of substance abusing parents.

Yes, many institutions have problems with race and class, but that is different from saying that a program is irredeemably racist and classist. I’m sure there are AA groups where African-Americans feel more or less comfortable, and I’m sure that working class people are more likely to avail themselves of religious 12 step programs while affluent folks see psychiatrists and go to recovery spas, but that doesn’t make AA racist, classist or unethical.

Your analysis here illustrates what I consider a common weakness in Left analysis. X exists in a society that sucks, therefore X sucks. That is the same analysis that leads to Left Luddism: All technologies that exist in racist, classist, patriarchal society will inevitably be used to beat down the subalterns.  So perhaps that is the thread between my defense of PP and my broader technoprogressive concerns. I think you are running on yuck factor logic here, and simply labeling things racist and classist without critically parsing the issues.

But I’ll let you finish up with the second and third pieces.


I appreciate your candor here. There is a level of nuance that must be addressed. Spaces can be inherently racist and racist by design and structure while at the same time containing people of color who feel comfortable in those spaces. I am not condemning (or at least don’t mean to condemn) “X” because “society sucks”, but thanks for the reductionism. This program represents a system that is far more nuanced and requires more deconstruction. In order to not “be racist” one can’t simply have a lack of open racism, but must combat and deconstruct it, otherwise it is just latent and will arise in many situations and ways. That’s the result of being socialized into a racist society. This may be easy to explore in a less complex context. There most definitely is a level of intersectional oppression based on race, class, and gender that must be confronted, which is what I am attempting to do.

I admittedly began thinking about writing this after reading your comments and your comments certainly brought this idea to the fore, however my intention was to make this piece directed at IEET’s audience, not specifically calling out/attacking you beyond those comments. (I don’t think you are mentioned in the rest of it at all, just recognizing the point of origin).


When you say

“In order to not “be racist” one can’t simply have a lack of open racism, but must combat and deconstruct it, otherwise it is just latent and will arise in many situations and ways.”

You are in fact explicitly saying that everyone and every institution which is not explicitly working to end racism is objectively racist. That is an ultra-left approach to parsing social reality. It is the logic that leads the Left to constantly splinter because, if the other sectlet doesn’t agree with you on the role of hummus in the struggle in Cyprus, then they are objectively reactionary and must be expelled.

In other words I think you could do more to deconstruct your concept of an institution’s political impact. I urge you to read Poulantzas - social institutions are not monolothically one thing or the other. They are terrains of struggle. I.e. the Democratic Party is not a racist or an anti-racist institution, it is an arena within which racist and anti-racist forces struggle, and within which anti-racists have increasingly had the upper hand.

Even a small nonprofit represents the confluence of multiple political and economic forces.  There are clearly people involved with PP who are concerned that it not be, and not be perceived to be, racist or classist, which is why they publish their service statistics and their FAQ. And I’m sure there are people that support the initiative for all the wrong reasons. The question is not whether PP is a complex social phenomena, but whether it does anybody any good at all. I don’t think you’ve really addressed that amidst the effort to detail its complicity with race/class inequality and the Drug War.

Well, the whole way they classify their “statistics” is racist. It groups whites, blacks, “hispanics” - which is a heavily problematic term, and “other”. Like, they literally said “other” in statistics about race. I wasn’t planning to bring this up cause I imagine you’d think it is petty, but they do something there that is entirely racist. I mean, who identifies as the “other”? who do they actively decide to make the “other”? Not to mention when you group it as “whites” and “non-whites”, the difference is marginal at best and easily explained within historic distrust.

Of course nothing in monolithic. Of course there may be people in PP who think they are doing the right thing and “try” not to be racist, sexist, classist, etc. Of course there is an amount of “terrains of struggle” in all this. Just like the NRA and the republican party and the pro life movement and the democratic party (which has historically been the graveyard of the left on numerous occasions) contain a small space for “struggle” that derivates from their lines. I would argue that this is really quite small and mostly negligible in these cases, and maybe to some extent larger in PP’s cases. I couldn’t disagree with you more about the Democratic party, however, in terms of “anti-racists ... increasingly [have] the upper hand.” Hard to make that one stick. The party (Republicans too) has overseen US Imperialism (only objecting when a Repub is in office), which is almost entirely targeted at people of color. I mean, maybe some people who call themselves anti-racist are there, possibly even attempting to do good work, but they certainly aren’t “winning”. Not sure in what context that classifies as winning or in what context you are referring to.

When I am speaking in the context of the “one”, I am speaking on the individual level. As someone who is a practicing anti-racist, who understands white culture and whiteness, and the struggle it takes to confront those socializations. It’s easy in comparison to being a person of color in a racist society, however, you are still likely to be influenced by racist thought throughout your whole life. It is inescapable. You can do the work to recognize and challenge your own socializations, but it is unlikely that you could elliminate that thought completely.

My read on Harris is that she is not doing this for reasons she deems as racist, however there is racist thought interacting and directing their work and process. That is the insidious nature of racism. If you don’t bother to hunt it down, it sneaks its way into your thought process without you even knowing, especially when you make the assumption up front that you aren’t racist (as a white person born into a racist country).

And no, the left isn’t divided because this group believes this and this group believes that. The left is largely divided at this point for two historic reasons. 1. Stalin, the CP, and their subsequent undemocratic parties and purges and 2. the democratic party. Young members of the left often get culled off to join the ranks of the Democrats, often due to their immaturity when it comes to left politics, and the left in general is still recovering and regrouping after fallout from multiple expellations in the 1980s, largely due to the failed politics of leninism and the party-centric model for building revolution (which requires a unified dogma which is what you seem to be referring to).

Much of the serious left, though they may not be in one singular organization, does work together on many fronts and in many ways. There is shared criticism, but that should be expected and an accepted part of any serious politic. Some party-centric groups go about it in a way that is counterproductive, but that largely seems to be waning in recent years. A good number of the recent political victories on the left can be directly attributed to left organizations and their interventions. Wisconsin, Occupy, Chicago Teachers, Response to Trayvon, all have had substantial left involvement, all have been pretty successful in their own right.

@Intomorrow: “Isn’t meth at least as prevalent as crack for both blacks and whites?”

If it is, that would only further bolster Wes’ point of racist motivations: crack is seen as a stereotypically “black” drug (with sentences as much as 100 times harsher than ones for a comparable amount of cocaine, reminscent of how gin alone used to be illegal as it was seen to be the choice of the then-not-yet-considered-white Irish).

However, Wes’ allegations’ bite has been almost entirely neutralized as he apparently regards virtually everything as racist because it involves people. Yawn…

ugh, again white men fail to understand racism. Please quote the part where I say definitively that “all people are racist”. I don’t, but thanks for the reductionism and purposeful over-simplification (which white people use to rationalize a disregard for structural racism)

There are spectrums of racist attitudes from your neo-nazi and Klan member to your latent liberal racism, to true anti-racists who still struggle with internal racism in some degree. There is a good chart floating around that demonstrates this point here:

More importantly, structures can be racist by design, given the ideological basis on which they are founded and how they operate in society. Racism is a structural phenomenon which in turn replicates social attitudes.

I am not surprised, however, that this point is missed on many of the IEET folks. White people, men in particular, often reject this critical analysis because it would require them to be critical of themselves.

Systems of power that target poor marginalized communities of color and shame them for problems that they have little power over are racist and classist. In this case, they are also sexist due to its use of that strategy to restrict reproductive rights through coercive incentives targeted at people in poverty.

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