Liverpool’s ‘Colour Problem’: the Fletcher Report and the international geographies of British eugenics in the interwar period

Authors: Matilda Fitzmaurice*, Durham University
Topics: Ethnicity and Race, Political Geography, Historical Geography
Keywords: political geography, race, internationalism, eugenics
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Embassy Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

As well as Versailles, 2019 will mark the centenary of outbreaks of anti-black violence in port cities across the UK. As well as an uptick of violent hostility towards people of colour, the interwar years also marked a high point for eugenics as an internationally salient philosophy (e.g. Stepan, 1993). Membership of the British Eugenics Society peaked in the 1930s and included prominent ‘progressives’ and internationalists (see Brignell, 2010). In Liverpool, with its long-established Black community, fears around white unemployment and miscegenation culminated in the publication in 1930 of the Fletcher Report. This drew explicitly on eugenicist ideas in order to argue that ‘half-caste’ children were “genetically abnormal” (Christian 2008: 219).
This paper responds in part to a call by Legg et al (2015: 3) to pluralise “internationalism(s)”, and more specifically to consider the politics and geographies of science and research in the broader context of internationalism(s). By taking the empirical examples of the Fletcher Report and the British Eugenics Society archive, my paper argues that eugenics can be considered not as an esoteric scientific pursuit, but as an (albeit abhorrent) internationalist enterprise. I consider whether Muriel Fletcher’s authorship of a report that arguably established the idea of a large Black and biracial community as a “problem” for a large British city can only be viewed in light of eugenics as an ‘international’ presence and influence.

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