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BLACK HISTORY NOTE: EUGENICS 101

TROPES OF (BLACK) MASCULINITY



IN A SECTION of a memorandum prepared by H. E. Ely, Major General of the U.S. Army, he asserted in a section titled: Opinion of the War College that African Americans were genetically incapable of active engagement in military combat as soldiers or officers.

The 1925 document cast Black men as “cowards,” physically superior to white men, but riddled with “venereal diseases and extreme flat feet” making them ineffective in combat, and that Black men remain mentally and intellectually inferior to white men, except where there is a noticeable strain of white blood in them.


Ely concluded: “In the process of evolution, the American negro has not progressed as far as the other sub-species of the human family. As a race, he has not developed leadership qualities. His mental inferiority and the inherent weaknesses of his character are factors that must be considered with great care in the preparation of any plan for his employment in war.”

By labeling Black men as a subhuman (sub-normal) species, the U.S. military could eugenically or scientifically cast them as a threat to the war effort, national security, and the liberty of its citizens. Distinctions in intellectual and moral capacity grew from Stanford-Binet personality tests and the social threading of eugenic psychologists Lewis Terman and Henry Goddard. The results would incorporate gray areas of racial ideology that held that lighter-skinned Black men, while superior to some white men -- especially those from Southern states, represented a weakened and ineffectual leadership base because neither White nor dark-skinned Black men would respect them in roles of authority.

To learn more about Tropes of Black Masculinity, register for an Acumen History short-course this Black History Month below!

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