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The Vagrancy of Race Suicide Through the Early Twentieth Century: Reimagining Fear


The American Eugenics Archive defines race suicide as an alarmist term that describes, “when thebirth rate within a so-called race dropped below the death rate...with the ultimate consequence thatthe “race” would die out.”1 This article traces the ways in which fears and the concept of race suicide,a term coined by a sociologist committed to racial hierarchies, was reimagined by emerging blacksociologist, W.E.B. DuBois who actively sought liberation from systematic racism in the PostbellumEra. This historical research seeks to analyze the ways in which fear among communities of colormade claims of genocide inseparable from the histories of reproduction, birth control, sociology,race science, the Antebellum, and Jim Crow Era in the early twentieth-century. This is an attempt toprovide a speculative history that allows fears of those most vulnerable within systematic oppressionto be historicized, without the reigns of rigid, objectivity that act as a gatekeeper within the field ofhistory. I argue that tracing fears of race suicide allows for a complicated and necessary reimaginingof race science. The reimagining of race science allows us to see historical actors of color activelyengaging in liberation struggle through what Britt Rusert calls oppositional science. Similarly,analysis of race suicide allows us to bridge what Judith Butler calls, the theory-practice divide.

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