This essay offers a literary history relevant to contemporary methods of surveillance attached to genetic identities. It reads Mark Twain’s Puddn’head Wilson into emergent juridical and scientific panics regarding identity and indicates how our nation’s obsessive regard of race has provoked science-based public policies that are designed to protect and maintain an identifiable whiteness. The construction of DNA databanks at the historically black Howard University, the isolate prison populations in Guantanamo, and those immigrant and native populations subject to nouveau biologic forms of state scrutiny reify the historic interests of US culture in the discernment and targeting of the racialized other in the midst of the US populace. Science and the law have historically cooperated in these identitarian projects, and the fact of our national fiction, like Twain’s novella, is evidence of this preoccupation.
– Karla F. C. Holloway