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Examining the History of Scientific Racism

Harvard Professor brings lecture to UMBC

Harvard Law professor and distinguished scholar Dr. Evelyn M. Hammonds gave a lecture on Wednesday, November 12th, discussing the history and current-day intersection of science, medicine, anthropology and sociopolitics in race in the United States.

   Dr. Evelynn Hammonds, Director of the Program for the Study of Race and Gender in Science and Medicine at Harvard University’s Hutchins Center for African and African-American Research, took to the stage of the University Center ballroom on Wednesday night to give a lecture on W.E.B. Du Bois and the history of racism in scientific research.

Throughout the lecture, entitled “W.E.B. Du Bois and the Challenge to Scientific Racism,” Hammonds discussed the achievements of Du Bois and his influence on the world. This includes his involvement in the creation of the NAACP and civil rights activism.

Hammonds particularly focused on how Du Bois, whom she described as the “leading intellectual of African American history,” set out to gather significant amounts of data to combat widespread, pseudo-scientific notions of race.

Hammonds discussed Du Bois’s Eleventh Atlanta University Study, which served as the first significant approach to health problems and biological study of the “negro,” as well as the first example of African American intellectualism that challenged scientific racism.

According to Hammonds, the Eleventh Study dealt with the most difficult issues with scientific racism through the presentation of a large body of scientifically ascertained fact, instead of the “large mess of so-called ‘Negro problems.’”

Du Bois’s efforts unfortunately faltered due to unreadiness for the data and the hostility of white individuals toward his work. Thus, ultimately disillusioning his faith in science.

The lecture was sponsored by the Department of Africana Studies and co-sponsored by other organizations, including the Social Sciences Forum, the Office of the Dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences and the Gender and Women’s Studies Department.

Dr. Tyson King-Meadows, chair of the Africana Studies department, provided opening and closing remarks for Hammonds’ lecture.

King-Meadows encouraged students to “power up” their studies and become involved in the Africana Studies department in order to make a difference.

Prior to the lecture, the UMBC Jubilee Singers and Gospel Choir performed renditions of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and “God is Great,” both of which were very well received by the crowd.

James Wiggins, a 1975 UMBC alumnus, also attended to present the three student recipients of UMBC’s Second Generation Scholarship, meant to provide support for individuals who have shown commitment to the advancement of minorities.

Hammonds was formally introduced by Dr. Maleda Belilgne, Assistant Professor of the Africana Studies Department.

Hammonds recognized that, even now, there is still significant focus on racial structure and categories in health and medicine that has yet to dissipate.

However, Hammonds is still optimistic about the possibility of a post-racial world.

“We may still be mired in that set of racial notions today,” said Hammonds. “But I think we’ll reach a point where we’ll find another way.”

Hammonds’s lecture served as food for thought for many of the students and faculty in the audience.

“It’s difficult to believe that even though I go to a diverse university surrounded by so many open-minded contemporaries,” said junior political science major Molly Wilson, “there are still so many people conflating race with things like socioeconomic status and region.”

At the end of her lecture, Hammonds looked to the future and posed an important question: if we eliminate race, what will we replace it with?