Abstract

While ideals of racial purity may be out of fashion, other sorts of purity ideals are increasingly popular in the United States today. The theme of purity is noticeable everywhere, but it is especially prominent in our contemporary fixation on health and hygiene. This may seem totally unrelated to issues of racism and classism, but in fact, the purveyors of purity draw upon the same themes of physical and moral purity that have helped produce white identity and dominance in the US. Historically, this is where the purity rhetoric gets its power. To invoke purity ideals in the US is to mobilize this genealogy of racialized associations. Today's zealous preoccupation with hygiene is part of our living heritage in a racist culture.

Just as ideas of race and racial purity were debunked by biologists long before the public would begin to question them, ideals of extreme hygienic purity linger with us, even flourish, despite scientific evidence of their futility and harm. Why are we still so enamored with purity? Because, to some extent, our very self-conceptions are at stake. Other scholars have described how our process of self individuation is based upon exclusion. The unique contribution of a genealogical approach to this issue is that, instead of merely locating the problem in ideologies held by others, it can evoke self-recognition and self-transformation. We will tend to assume the problem lies elsewhere until we learn to recognize ourselves in practices that reproduce cultural ideals. As inheritors of this racist culture, we are all lovers of purity, and we are all responsible for rethinking this value.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1535-5306
Print ISSN
1085-6633
Pages
pp. 1-26
Launched on MUSE
2010-06-04
Open Access
No
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