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white man balancing the world on his toes while cupid weeps

The study of human genetics emerged from a deep curiosity of our human inheritance that was firmly rooted in white supremacy. Francis Galton, one of the fathers of human genetics, who coined the term “eugenics,” published Hereditary Genius (in which he asserted the genetic “superiority” of the upper classes) in 1869, 35 years after Great Britain ended slavery in British-held colonies and a mere four years after the United States emancipated enslaved African Americans. It is easy to contextualize Galton’s belief in his own superiority. It sprang from age-old hegemonic social structures that protected his power and privilege while preventing others (e.g., women, people of color, the poor) from accessing opportunities in the academy and beyond. Academic science (as opposed to science writ large, which has always been the domain of innovative laborers, caregivers and land stewards) was kept in the hands of a privileged few who believed it to be not only their social right but also their innate right.

Combined with Mendelian determinism, which was wildly popular in the U.S. in the early 20th century, Galton’s worldview... see more