The 1870s gave rise to continental powers such as America And Germany. They gained strength through the idea of imperialism which strongly revolved around acquisition of colonial powers. The supposed purpose was to bring culture to the uncivilized people across the globe.
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It is now commonly know that there were colonies that were heavily abused under this false pretense. George Washington William, a civil war soldier and writer on African American history, exposed the behavior of King Leopold in his writings The Open Letter. Colonial racism likely had an effect, or rather laid the foundation, for eugenics, the science of improving a population by controlled breeding to experience desirable traits, across neighboring powers. The United States was one of many countries to express interest in eugenic policies. The colonial experience left condescending residue that can be seen in the later policies and their bias towards race, poverty, and disability. It can be seen that colonial racism is linked to eugenics; however, a more accurate depiction is that eugenics is an evolution branching from colonial racism.
The condescending residue refers to the remaining bias that can be seen in the culture of the American people at the time of the eugenics movement. The most accurate depiction that can be given is false superiority stemming from multiple categories with race being rather prominent. At the beginning of imperialism, it was declared that the mission was to spread the knowledge of the civilized world. It was in a sense considered missionary work to help those that are less fortunate. The white race was considered the supreme race and they started colonial racism, the act in which Africa and other territories were charted up and divided among dominant white powers. The implication is that the people are irrelevant and will even benefit from a takeover of their land. After all, the European powers stated they would bring culture, education, and religion to the territories and help them to flourish. George Washington William was one of the many who fell for the deceit of imperial leaders such as King Leopold, who governed the Belgian Congo. In fact, George Washington William believed in King Leopold so much, that he visited the Congo to write an article about it. He was eager to see how the king’s plans were put into effect; however, he was shocked to learn that the people of the Congo were greatly oppressed. George Washington William states that the people of the Congo complain that their land has been taken from them by force; that the Government is cruel and arbitrary, and declare that they neither love nor respect the Government and its flag.
The view of the minority people of the imperialist powers were taken was not very pleasant to say the least. This is where the topic of colonial racism comes into play. King Leopold took the natives’ land to further empower his country, without acknowledging their presence. In fact, their presence can even be seen as irrelevant with respect to the grand idea of colonialism. The idea was that these huge powerhouses such as England, Belgium, Germany, and even the U.S. were competing in terms of strength and the colonies were merely a stepping stone. The colonies provided their rulers with raw materials as well as a boost to the economy. Boris Barth in Imperialism recalls that the terminology of referring to a takeover as a civilizing mission was purely cynical colonial propaganda. It did however subliminally encourage the ideology of European powers reigning supreme in basic aspects of daily life, such as culture,technology and education.
If such beliefs are to be made, then it is valid to extend such to a racial hierarchy where the Europeans put themselves at the top. Following this logic, the other ethnicities of Africa were viewed as beneath them and can be viewed as simple labor. It is even shown by the punishment distributed to the colonized, such as the beating of prisoners by dried hippopotamus skin, as recorded by George Washington William. It is even documented that some of those colonized were sold as slaves. In The Open Letter it states that King Leopold’s government is engaged in the slave-trade, wholesale, and retail. It buys and sells and steals slaves. The people are then not only viewed as beneath the colonizers, but rather a delicacy or livestock. The colony and its people were simply measures of wealth and were treated as such, with no laws against the heinous treatment being executed. The common occurrence of mistreatment of the colonized people led to George Washington Williams coining the phrase crimes against humanity. It is the acknowledgement that the victims are human and therefore have human rights which rank above any law of any ruling country.
It was in a sense the idea of Social Darwinism that connects eugenics and colonial racism. Eugenics is the science of improving a population by increasing the occurrence desirable traits thereby weeding out the weak. It is a direct application of the Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. In full view of the situation at the time the imperialist powers were using propaganda to inspire nationalism. The government decided that they must improve from within and thus establishing eugenic policies. “Eugenics seeks to improve the natural, physical, mental, and temperamental qualities of the human family,” by the Eugenics Archive Office goes into further depth with the analysis of the general public. The Eugenics Archive Office was created as a hereditary database to help map genes that would be passed out from two individuals mating. It is initially seen as completely different from colonial racism until certain traits are brought to light. The brochure goes on to say in the introduction that it will act with an eye to racial progress, encouraging the reproduction of the ‘best blood. The introduction to the hereditary advertisement implies that certain people, or rather races, are inferior to others. It is in this sense with respect to race that colonial racism plays a crucial role to further policy development. One example of such racial policies displaying the inferiority of minority races in America would be the laws against interracial marriage. Paul Lombardo in Eugenic Laws Against Race Mixing states that by 1915 twenty-eight states had made marriage between black and white people invalid. The idea of colonialism continued on into the twentieth century eugenic beliefs with respect to the pure blood. The idea was that mixed breeding would taint their blood and lower their status. It further establishes the colonial racism evident in the eugenic policies in America. The belief of superiority during this time due to race is advertised through scientific racism which is a pseudoscience validating racism. It was in a sense a form of propaganda to further reinforce the thinking at the time. One example of the scientific racism in play here is the examination of the skull of different species. The skull of white people is shown to have a larger forehead region than those of minorities, implying that they are capable of higher level thinking (Simmons 10/18/18). The similarities between colonial racism and eugenics do not end here, and the ideas of colonial racism translate into policies concerning disabilities and poverty as well.
All aspects of an individual’s life were tabulated and archived to determine how fit an individual was both mentally and physically. It is rather logical when following the trend of eugenics to prevent weakened civilians from breading. The Eugenics Archive requests for previous family illness such as tuberculosis and special talents such as the ability to play an instrument. It is safe to assume that the people who had a history of illnesses would be informed, or rather encouraged, to not have children. The policies developed to prevent such mating greatly reflected and even matched colonial racism. It was the belief that the superior race had control over the masses with no regard of others. One of the severe measures taken to prevent certain people or races from breathing was the practice of forced sterilizations. The article Eugenic Sterilization Laws by Paul Lombardo stated that by 1924 there were nearly 3,000 involuntary sterilizations that had already been performed. A sterilization is a permanent method of birth control leading to complete infertility. The original case of 3,000 involuntary sterilizations is already extreme, especially since at this point in time the government was intervening in the private lives of many people and basically taking on the role of God. A very poor case can be made justifying such behavior; however, a large number of these cases were due to the classification of being mentally ill. In most cases people were deemed to be feeble minded after committing a crime or sexual infidelity. The second scenario was especially common for women. The punishment of permanent infertility is extreme and can even be related back to the whipping of those who disobeyed colonial rule in the Belgian Congo. The severity of sterilization carried over to the families social status.
Eugenics is in a sense a design to better society and was used as a scapegoat for some issues at the time including poverty. Colonial racism does not reflect much on these policies other than the false impression of superiority. The sterilization previously mentioned would also take place on orphans and those who were homeless. It is mentioned by the Eugenics Record Office that economic and social factors were greatly considered when it came to mating policies. The lower class was seen to be a waste of space especially after the Great Depression in which the capitalist economy collapsed. The common belief at the time was that the civilians suffering in poverty did it to themselves by having too many children while being unable to take care of themselves. It is fairly similar to the colonial rule where the colonized people were assigned certain roles requiring heavy labor. It was assumed through propaganda that these inhabitants were natural workers and even happy to complete these tasks.
The government shrouded villainous intent through colonialism and eugenics and the true history of both reflected on their policies. Nationalist surges along with imperialism taking over the civilized world in the 1870s led to continental powers such as America And Germany. They gained strength through the acquisition of colonies for the extraction of raw materials to boot their economy as well as practically free labor. The supposed purpose was to bring culture to the uncivilized people across the globe, however, they were merely treated as livestock and were severely mistreated. George Washington Williams relayed the full effect of colonial racism and its direct impact on the current policies at the time. He even establishes the new benchmark calling such atrocities as crimes against humanity by addressing the king’s blatant disregard for the colonized people. Colonial racism later laid the foundation for eugenics. The colonial experience left condescending residue that can be seen in the later policies.. Eugenics is clearly similar to colonial racism through their mutual racial discrimination and disregard for those not belonging to pure blood. Eugenics, however, differs with respect to the mass discriminated against and its implementation of policies with regards to race,poverty and disabilities.
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