"YOU WILL NOT REPLACE US!" The Eugenics Origins of Contemporary White Supremacist Thought
This talk will introduce the audience to the eugenics movement, a pseudoscience popular in the United States and Europe from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Eugenics posited that race and racial difference were the keys to understanding all of human history. Eugenics was unique to racial ideology in its position that there was no one “white race”—that white Europeans and Americans were divvied up among better and lesser white races. Most well known as the science behind the Nazi’s “Final Solution”, eugenics was also embraced by many in the United States, and was particularly influential in the framing of the Johnson-Reed Act of 1925, which shaped immigration policy in the U.S. for decades. This act gave preference to immigrants from “better” white races—those from western Europe and Great Britain—over immigrants from so-called lesser white races from eastern and southern Europe. Eugenics ideology fell out of fashion in the U.S. in the years up to and including the rise of the Nazis in Germany, but tenants of eugenics still influence many whites’ thinking today.
The insurrectionists—ostensibly uprising in order to restore Donald Trump to power after what they conceived (or pretended to conceive) was a corrupt election—notably did not chant “you will not replace him.” They chanted “you will not replace us.” Various politicians and pundits on the right, including former President Trump, have steadily stoked white racial grievance in appeals to a certain segment of the white voter base. This talk will explore how this white racial grievance and the slow but steady erosion of white privilege shaped the events of January 6.
Jean Griffith is an associate professor and chair of the Department of English, where she teaches courses in twenty- and twenty-first century American literature and culture. Her scholarly articles on race, gender, and whiteness are included in two volumes on Mississippi writer Eudora Welty “New Essays on Eudora Welty, Class, and Race” and “Eudora Welty, Whiteness, and Race” as well as in journals such as “Studies in the Novel” and “Western American Literature.” Her book, “The Color of Democracy in Women’s Regional Writing,” was published by The University of Alabama Press in 2009. Griffith is currently at work on a book-length cultural history of orphans, orphanages, and family separation titled “Imagining Orphans: Children, Poverty, and Difference in American Culture.” A passionate advocate for the humanities, Griffith loves helping students find their own voices and express themselves intelligently in writing.