America & Its Unfit: Eugenics Then & Now


Disoriented by the “unwashed” immigrants arriving every day, New Yorker Madison Grant’s screed The Passing of the Great Race (1916) sounded the alarm for elite Anglo American Protestants. The Eugenics Record Office emerged in the breach of this Gilded Age moment of great extremes—immense wealth and immense urban and rural poverty. “Slum clearance” was framed in a social Darwinist language of progress. Forced sterilization was justified in the name of “social efficiency.” Closing the gates was their survival defense. Creating institutions segregating those deemed “feebleminded,” “degenerate,” and “unfit” was part of a new meritocratic system of social ranking.

Today, how have we pushed back these top-down exclusionary policies? How does this era continue to shape our political and cultural institutions? This two-day convening presented opportunities for problem-posing and strategy-building. Poets, musicians, scholars, performers, writers, and organizers came together to explore what we need to do now to create change.

See the full convening’s schedule.