Eugenics: Breeding out the Blacks and White Supremacy

Sunday 4 February 2024

Lecture on the link between eugenics and the control of Black women’s bodies. Dr Sherman is the author of ‘In Search of Purity’.


In our 125th Queen Nzingha lecture, (updated to reflect current US reproductive politics) Dr. Shantella Sherman will explore the science of eugenics and its relation to current theories about Black women’s bodies, including their character, aptitude, morality, and social fitness. We will also link to fashion, beauty and media and Roe vs Wade.

While eugenics has been officially set aside as a pseudo-science, its popular legacy, which includes colourism, body politics, and marriageability, continue to inform how Black women and girls are viewed nearly 150 years later. Few people understand how pervasive eugenics is, or how it has been integrated into popular films and television series for decades.

From the lament of turn-of-the-century scholars like Robert Shufeldt who proclaimed the Black woman “naturally immoral, immodest, and primed for carnal intercourse before reaching puberty,” to the purity myths documented by present-day researchers that render Black women genetically incapable of being proper wives, mothers, and citizens — Black women have become the standard-bearers of dysgenicism.

Eugenics positioned Black women as natural breeders of poverty, crime, mental and intellectual weakness, and national impurity. This lecture uncovers the roots of Black dysgenicism within biological theories of savage inheritance, criminality, sexual deviance, and disease that now saturate American popular culture in news broadcasts, film, music, and television.

This is an online lecture via Zoom. Link will be supplied via registration please check junk mail

About the Nzingha lecture series: Queen Nzinga was an African Queen who fought against the European invasion of southern Africa (Congo/Angola). The Queen Nzinga lecture series feature African female academics / holders of expert knowledge, speaking on topics of their choice. The Nzinga lecture series provide a regular platform for women of African descent to highlight important issues in an academic setting.

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