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Widening the Story - Artifact 2

Eugenics as a Doctrine of White Supremacy: Creating the Conditions for Inequality


A slide from Dr. McConkey’s Eugenics course, depicted below, shows an exhibition called “Our Face from Fish to Man.” The exhibition took place at the American Museum of Natural History. It was curated by scientist W.K. Gregory in 1929.

The exhibit arranged living species in ascending evolutionary order: from fish to reptiles and then from small mammals to primates to man. The chart depicted an Aboriginal man from Tasmania as less evolved than a European white man. This represents a race-based application of Darwin’s theory of evolution.

As a eugenics educator, Dr. McConkey’s slide functioned as an active agent in creating the conditions for inequality. It shows an example of how eugenicists used scientific racism to produce white supremacy. As an educational tool, the slide was designed to justify the controlling and devaluing of all life to prioritize and benefit white settler human lives.

Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) altered Darwin’s idea of natural selection to human biology. Spencer coined the term “survival of the fittest,” and the concept of Social Darwinism. This concept assumes that a human being can be completely independent and self-sufficient. Yet, human beings have always relied on one another for survival. And within a ᐊᓂᔑᓇᐯᐠ (Nishnaabeg) ᐊᐦᑭᐃᐧ ᐃᔑᓇᒧᐃᐧᓇᐣ (worldview), as Leanne Betasamosake Simpson writes, “existence is ultimately dependent upon intimate relationships of reciprocity, humility, honesty, and respect with all elements of creation, including plants and animals.”1(footnote)

Social Darwinism placed the European white and propertied man as the most evolved. As such, Social Darwinism helped justify the European colonial “civilizing” mission.

It also established systems that increased social inequality, devalued difference, and dehumanized those tagged as different. It then blamed those who were negatively impacted by these policies and perspectives for not being self-sufficient and independent.

Through his eugenics slides, McConkey appears to have instructed learners to think within a ᐊᐦᑭᐃᐧ ᐃᔑᓇᒧᐃᐧᓇᐣ (worldview) that seeks to control all life forms and extract profit from it.

Artifact Cluster 2b


A large file held in the McLaughlin Library’s Archives contains McConkey’s Genetics and Eugenics lecture notes and also includes the course text lists, the exam, and the newspaper clippings, some of which are shown here.2(footnote) These documents further demonstrate McConkey’s role in constructing and disseminating knowledge of a world that devalues non-human life to justify profit-seeking and white settlement.

This eugenic settler ᐊᐦᑭᐃᐧ ᐃᔑᓇᒧᐃᐧᓇᐣ (worldview) is vastly different than ᐊᓂᔑᓇᐯ (Nishnaabe) philosophies that stress the value and aliveness of everything including the air, water, and land and that prioritize giving more than taking to support lands and generations into the future, relationships of “reciprocity, respect, noninterference, self-determination, and freedom.”3(footnote)

  1. Simpson, As We Have Always Done, 154.

  2. McConkey’s Eugenics slides Courtesy of University of Guelph McLaughlin Library Archival & Special Collections. Ontario Agricultural College. Dept. of Field Husbandry Oswald Murray McConkey Papers, RE1OACA0066 Regional History Collection, Box 6, McConkey Lecture Notes Genetics 1920-38.

  3. Simpson, As We Have Always Done, 8-9.