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a woman holds up a sign protesting sterilization of women

"Women welfare rights activists holding signs protesting
proposed forced sterilization bill outside Tennessee courthouse, 1971,”
Southern Conference Educational Fund (SCEF)

White skin, blonde hair and blue eyes: the archetype of the Aryan race, deemed by German dictator Adolf Hitler to be the pinnacle of humankind. While the putative master race draws associations with Hitler’s persecution and genocide of European Jews, this linchpin of Nazi ideology has historical foundations within the U.S. decades before Hitler’s rise to power. From forced sterilization to legal policy preventing procreation, eugenics has been the dark, overlooked underbelly of American and Californian history.

Coined in the late 19th century, the term “eugenics” refers to the pseudoscience of improving the human race by “breeding out” disease, disabilities and undesirable characteristics. In its distilled form, eugenics involves eradicating genetically “unfit” individuals and preserving those who align with the Nordic complexion. Eugenicists posited that “feeblemindedness,” criminality and poverty were genetically transmissible, and they controlled the reproduction of “inferior” populations such as people of color, immigrants and the disabled.

“During the peak of eugenic popularity, eugenicists often shared a baseline... see more