Race Hygiene: Black Eugenics and Health Inequality

20 Oct 2022
4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

3335 Dwinelle Hall

Event Type

Ayah Nuriddin

As part of a multi-faceted approach to struggles for racial justice, African Americans in the first half of the twentieth century embraced the possibilities of eugenics for achieving racial equality. I argue that they mobilized what I call black eugenics, which I define as a hereditarian approach to racial uplift that emphasized social reform, public health, and reproductive control as strategies of biological racial improvement. It emerges from a longer tradition of black political organizing for racial equality and the beginnings of black engagement with medicine and science as a result of greater educational opportunities after Reconstruction.  African Americans were interested in using eugenics to challenge ideas of racial susceptibility to disease, particularly to infectious diseases like tuberculosis and syphilis, which were rooted a long history of racial science that marked African American bodies as diseased and depraved. By crafting their own public health and mental health interventions, African American physicians, scholars, and reformers embraced a vision of eugenics that argued for better environmental conditions, education, and access to health care as ways to biologically uplift the race. In doing so, they sought to disprove that racial susceptibility was an inherent quality of the race. This would show that eugenically inflected public health and mental health work could improve the collective stock of the race and ultimately its future.

This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  CSTMS