Arts & Culture

Eugenics: Breeding out the Blacks – Nzingha Lecture No. 65

3:00 pm - 5:00 pm | 31 May 2020
Online | Free

In our 65th Queen Nzingha lecture, 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.

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.

Eugenics, the “science of better breeding,” has dictated the sexual and social practices of Americans for more than 100 years — it affects social constructs and preferences that grew out of eugenic laws that centre around race hygiene, including skin complexion and hair texture preferences, grooming, and overall deportment.

This is an online lecture via Zoom. Link will be supplied via registration. Register here

Dr Sherman is the author of In Search of Purity.

This lecture is brought to you by Black History Walks

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.

Image Credit: The painting “The Redemption of Ham” by Modesto Brocos features a black grandmother, mixed-race mother, white father and white baby. The grandmother stands to the left with her hands raised in prayer, praising God that her grandson is white. Wikimedia Commons


  • Hello,

    I hope all is well. I attended this talk back in 2018, which I thoroughly enjoyed. I would very much like to attend this session again, but can see it has sold out. Please can I ask you to send a notification to everybody registered if they know they won’t be attending the session on Sunday, they can cancel the tickets. I know I’m guilty of signing up to events, but don’t attend.

    Kind regards


    • Hi, I’m well thanks, hope you’re okay. If you join the waiting list, you’ll be notified if any spaces become available.

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