It’s difficult for the average person of color – particularly a Black person – to reconcile their skin color with the intrinsic biases both within and outside of their race. But as Shantella Sherman, a U.S.-based race scholar has documented, a person’s appearance – hair texture, skin tone, thickness of lips, nose, and hips – all represent markers of their character, or so the turn-of-the-century science eugenics would have one believe.
And according to Sherman, who earned a doctorate in American history with specialties in Women & Gender Studies and the American Eugenics Movement, though largely disproven, eugenics has made a resurgence in everyday lives of Black people throughout the Diaspora. Sherman book, In Search of Purity: Popular Eugenics and Racial Uplift among New Negroes, 1915-1935, analyzes the reinterpretation and propagation of eugenics among African Americans.
“When headlines across the globe speak of groups of pregnant African women taking pills to shut down the melanin production in their bodies and keep their unborn babies from being born with dark skin, or of black and brown footballers being jeered at and having bananas thrown at them, there has to be some investigation into why black skin remains associated with inferiority, evil, and immorality,” Sherman said. “My goal in talking about popular eugenics is to expand the dialogues had in classrooms into living rooms and offices so that we unlock these messages and work to destroy their power.”
Sherman, a student of Dr. Frances Cress Welsing’s (author of the groundbreaking work, The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors), said at the core of issues surrounding race, bias, and entitlement is a dubious scientific belief that black-skinned people are a different species, akin to primate or orangutans, and do not deserve the same rights or protections under the law, as whites.
“I have conducted weekly lectures – 3 to 5 hours at a time for years – and inevitably someone will come up afterwards and say, ‘Surely, white people don’t believe we are animals.’ But it is written into our laws and social policies, so yes, many believe that black genes are somehow corrupt and corrupting. And when it comes to Black women, our bodies represent the reproduction of the genetically inferior and so, our bodies must be held captive, restricted, placed under duress, mocked, and publicly ostracized,” Sherman said. “Today, we call it misogynoir – the wholesale hatred of Black women; years ago, Zora Neale Hurston, simply called us ‘the mules of the world.”
Sherman will conduct the 37th Queen Nzingha Lecture, Thursday, October 18 at University College London’s Christopher Ingold Auditorium XLG2 (20 Gordon Street, London WC1H 0AJ). For more information and to register, go to Eventbrite. https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/eugenics-breeding-out-the-blacks-nzingha-lecture-37-tickets-50004532904