The "Tuskegee experiment," which took place in Alabama between 1932 and 1972, was a study of the effects of untreated syphilis on 399 African-American men in and around Tuskegee, Ala. Treatment was deliberately withheld from the men so researchers could study the progress of the disease.
No effort was even made to palliate their suffering. Indeed, the men, mostly poor and illiterate, were never even told what was wrong with them or that they could be treated and perhaps cured.
The latest rationale for the conspiracy theory is based on America's changing demographics. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, white men now account for only 45 percent of America's 117.8 million workers. That share will soon drop to only 39 percent, and only 15 percent of people entering the work force from 1985 to 2000 will be white men.
Many blacks believe that, as the percentage of white males in the work force declines, whites are feeling threatened by the darkening of America. They believe that whites increasingly think the only way Caucasians can hold on to power is to reduce the number of effective minorities.
Then there are some blacks who cite every negative experience from slavery to the current crack epidemic as evidence of a grand design to keep blacks ''enslaved."
Welfare (which often locks recipients into a perpetual state of dependency), ineffective public schools (which often fail to adequately prepare minority students to compete with whites), America's judicial system (which has swelled the nation's jails with black men) and the government's failure to keep drugs out of the country are all seen by some as "proof" of the so-called conspiracy of genocide.
Some point to the disproportionate number of black men on the front lines of America's recent wars. They also point to the recent Supreme Court rulings, which have turned back the civil rights clock in many areas, as extensions of this overall plan.
"Maybe there's no national conspiracy to wipe us out," said a 30-year-old
college graduate who doesn't want to be identified. "But it's clear the system's designed to impede our progress."
That's a long way from a genocide conspiracy. Still, it is easy to see why the conspiracy theory persists, even among those who should know better. Blacks are still the last hired and the first fired. Blacks still have lower incomes, a higher percentage of unstable families, inadequate housing, inferior medical care, poorer schools and a host of other social and economic problems that are a direct result of racial discrimination and their second- class status in this country. There's no question about the heavy impact of racism, but genocide is far too strong a word.
Whites often argue that this question of black genocide is no more than a creation by blacks in search of an issue with which to rally others to a common cause.
Lewis Udis, president of United Instrument Co., which manufactures surgical instruments, says a part of America's future lies in dispelling the myth of genocide against blacks. "That myth is stupid and an injustice," says Udis, who is white.
Despite enactment in 1988 of a law that made genocide a U.S. crime and achieved full U.S. implementation of the 1948 U.N. anti-genocide treaty, many blacks continue to suggest that persistent racial discrimination is in effect a form of genocide against the nation's largest minority.
I don't agree with this thinking. I don't because if the government really wanted to eliminate blacks, it wouldn't be all that difficult to accomplish, especially since in too many instances blacks are such willing victims.
Dr. Therman Evans, vice president and corporate director of medicine of the Cigna Corp., also debunks the genocide-by-whites theory.
But he does point to the Tuskegee experiment and another study he says he personally witnessed at Children's Hospital in Washington as evidence of the fact that there is often a low premium placed on black lives and black health.
"In 1971 I found poor black children were being used exclusively in a study of the effects of virus in the upper respiratory system.
"I put a stop to that. When I demanded to know why only black children were being used, they (the medical staff) just scratched their heads. Then they began including white children in the study," Evans said.
Evans, who is black, says blacks are still used exclusively in some medical experiments, though he couldn't cite specific examples.
"It's a part of an attitude that exists," he says. "But let's be clear about one thing: What's happening to blacks today does amount to genocide. But most of it is happening by their own hands.
"These drive-by shootings, the drugs, the violence, the broken families and all the rest can be eliminated in spite of the problems related to discrimination," Evans insists.
"We have the income, the intellect and the education, but too many of us lack the commitment and we lack the discipline to end this madness.
"Yes, we've been abused. Some paranoia can be healthy and protective. I'm often surprised we've gotten as far as we have in spite of our history. But I don't give whites enough credit to sit in a room and plan the elimination of blacks."
I agree with Evans. Blacks are killing each other off in greater numbers than the government, or whites, could ever accomplish through planned programs.