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Brown Lecture Series: Harriet Washington, A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind

FREE tickets for Zoom Webinar or Facebook Live go on sale October 6 at 9am. Registration encouraged. Click here to register.


The 1994 publication of The Bell Curve and its controversial thesis catapulted the topic of genetic racial differences in IQ to the forefront of a renewed and heated debate. Now, in A Terrible Thing to Waste, award-winning science writer Harriet A. Washington adds her incisive analysis to the fray, arguing that IQ is a biased and flawed metric, but that it is useful for tracking cognitive damage. She takes apart the spurious notion of intelligence as an inherited trait, using copious data that instead point to a different cause of the reported African American-white IQ gap: environmental racism - a confluence of racism and other institutional factors that relegate marginalized communities to living and working near sites of toxic waste, pollution, and insufficient sanitation services. She investigates heavy metals, neurotoxins, deficient prenatal care, bad nutrition, and even pathogens as chief agents influencing intelligence to explain why communities of color are disproportionately affected -- and what can be done to remedy this devastating problem.


Harriet A. Washington has been the Shearing Fellow at the University of Nevada's Black Mountain Institute, a Research Fellow in Medical Ethics at Harvard Medical School, and a senior research scholar at the National Center for Bioethics at Tuskegee University. She is the author of Deadly MonopoliesInfectious Madness, and Medical Apartheid, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Oakland Award, and the American Library Association Black Caucus Nonfiction Award.


Presented in partnership with CityLit Project.


Send questions for Harriet Washington to by October 19, to be answered during the live program.


ASL interpretation will be available to attendees.


Visit to order your copy of A Terrible Thing to Waste.

The Brown Lecture Series is supported by the Eddie C. and C. Sylvia Brown Foundation.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020 at 7:00pm to 8:00pm

Virtual Event
Event Type

Writers LIVE!

Age Group

Adults, Seniors

Compass Category

Writers LIVE at the Library

Event Publisher

Emily Levine, Manager of Adult Services

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Christopher Providence

Christopher Providence left a positive review 10/19/2020

Ms. Washington's presentation was powerful, very informative and deeply disturbing. Her extensive knowledge, insight, and compassion regarding the issue of environmental racism is remarkable and inspiring.