|This ‘certificate’ became popular after the passage of the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 in Virginia.
Moderator’s Note: In response to numerous requests, I am posting an entry on scientific racism that I wrote for the Oxford Encyclopedia of Latinos and Latinas in the United States (published in 2005). This entry provides important scholarly research background to the “Open Letter from Scholars Opposed to Scientific Racism” that was posted here yesterday.
This version of the history of scientific racism includes lengthy discussion of the concepts of eugenics and the IQ myth, both relevant to the contemporary extreme right-wing construction of the “savage and threatening brown ‘Other’”. What is most troubling to me is that the language used by Jason Richwine in his Harvard dissertation and other writings to attack so-called Hispanics is close to verbatim the same language as that used by one of the earliest proponents of IQ testing, Lewis Termin, who had this to say in 1916:
…a low level of intelligence is very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come.…Children of this group should be segregated in special classes.…They cannot master abstractions, but they can often be made efficient workers … There is no possibility at present of convincing society that they should not be allowed to reproduce, although from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusually prolific breeding.
Richwine’s contribution to this discourse, in excerpts from his 2009 dissertation, includes the following statements that are a chilling echo of Termin’s racist views:
The average IQ of immigrants in the United States is substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations…The consequences are a lack of socioeconomic assimilation among low-IQ immigrant groups, more underclass behavior, less social trust, and an increase in the proportion of unskilled workers in the American labor market…No one knows whether Hispanics will ever reach IQ parity with whites, but the prediction that new Hispanic immigrants will have low-IQ children and grandchildren is difficult to argue against.
It would appear, from these excerpts, that it is Richwine who embodies a lack of progress in the level of intelligence, especially among those members of our nation’s population who refuse to advance beyond the clinging to tired racist stereotypes first spawned by the early 20th century eugenics movement. Richwine and his ilk need to learn it is time to catch up with the rest of humanity and understand that the mismeasure of the Other is but a ruse to justify the continued violence of inequality that is stoked by false racial differences and animosities.
The correct reference citation for this article is:
Peña, Devon G. 2005. Scientific Racism. In: Oxford Encyclopedia of Latinos and Latinas in the United States, Vol. 4. Oboler, Suzanne and Deena Gonzalez, Editors. New York: Oxford University Press.
I encourage my readers and followers to subscribe to the on-line version of this encyclopedia by using this link: OELLUS.
Devon G. Peña | Seattle, WA | May 17, 2013
Race and science have a remarkably long and convoluted historical relationship punctuated by recurring heated debates provoked by pseudoscientific explanations of racial differences. In the United States scientific racism has involved both the misidentification of biological and genetic evidence of racial and cultural differences and political projects to impose discriminatory and oppressive policies based on the fundamental normative prohibition of interracial mixing or “miscegenation.” Scientific racism has been used to justify political and economic inequalities on the basis of biologically determined racial differences. A major manifestation of this is social Darwinism, which proposes that nature justifies inequalities in a sociological battle for the “survival of the fittest.”
Origins of the Concepts
The concept of racial hierarchy has deep roots in Western civilization. The classic Greek polis and its philosophers envisaged the division of human beings into distinct races characterized by the quality of their “mettle” as symbolized by gold, silver, brass, and iron. Socrates declared that the inhabitants of the Republic should be educated in accordance with their positions in three classes marked by gold for rulers, silver for auxiliaries, and brass or iron for craftspeople.
|Depiction of human races in Linnaeus, General System of Nature
Carolus Linnaeus developed the science of taxonomy—the classification of living organisms (plants, animals, and microorganisms) based on their shared biophysical traits and arrangement across phylum, order, genus, and species. Linnaeus believed in a “natural hierarchy” of organisms, and in General System of Nature (1735) he placed humans in the order of primates along with the other mammals. Linnaeus believed that humans alone among the primates possessed the capacity for rationality and reasoning, but this was not evenly distributed among the various imagined species of humanity. He apparently believed that variations within the genus Homo sapiens were a result of varying cultures and climates. Linnaeus classified humans into four species: (1) American—”prone to anger,” “governed by tradition,” “inferior and uncivilized;” (2) Asiatic—”severe, conceited, and stingy,” “governed by opinion;” (3) African—”recognized by … dark skin pigmentation,” “ruled by impulse,” females that “lactate profusely;” and (4) European—”changeable, clever, and inventive,” “governed by laws” (Maybury-Lewis, p. 19). Linnaeus identified peculiar “miscellaneous” racial categories, including “wild men, dwarfs, troglodytes [cave dwellers], and lazy Patagonians” (i.e., South American hunter-gatherers). The most civilized of the genus was the European.
The transatlantic slave trade of the seventeenth century through the early nineteenth century unleashed the first wave of global domination by European powers. Distinct racially categorized peoples, principally African, South Asian, and Native American, became subjects of conquest and colonial subjugation. These subjects of conquest were invariably defined as backward, wild, uncivilized, and even savage or subhuman. They were presumably not “governed by laws.”
Religious and political debates raged over perceived racial differences in the human population, and many “court” scholars and philosophers reasoned that the indigenous peoples of Africa, the Americas, and Asia did not have souls and were thus exempt from the panoply of rights granted to free and rational individuals. By the mid-nineteenth century pseudoscientific theories of a natural hierarchy of races were well-established in Europe and in the Americas. In the 1850s Joseph Arthur Comte de Gobineau declared the existence of a natural hierarchy of races. He formally proposed a theory of an Aryan master race in An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1851–1853). The French aristocrat and diplomat believed that race created culture. He cautioned that the rise of empires led to racial mixing (miscegenation), which inevitably resulted in the “degeneration” of superior races. The racial pyramid envisioned by de Gobineau and other European thinkers placed the white “Caucasoid” at the top, followed by “Mongoloid” (“yellow” and “red” races) and “Negroid” (“blacks”) types at the bottom in a hierarchy of intelligence, civility, phenotype aesthetics (physical beauty), and hereditary robustness.
Sir Francis Galton, a cousin of Charles Darwin, is considered the father of eugenics (from the Greek eu, “good,” and genos, “race”). Psychologists generally consider him the “great man of measurement.” Galton used quantitative measures and statistical tests to study breeding and seek its improvement. He fancied himself an engineer of human heredity in a noble search for genetic and hygienic perfection. Galton’s Hereditary Genius was published in 1869. His text championed scientific statistical analysis as a method to objectively define the comparative worth of races. Galton applied statistical techniques, inventing regression analysis, to pinpoint the location of each race in the classification system he developed to measure the distribution and range of intelligence in diverse human populations.
|This infamous 1872 painting by John Gast epitomizes the ideology of Manifest Destiny in which as the dark races of Indian savages [sic] flee before the forward march of progress and civilization led by white pioneers
These ideas easily took hold in the United States and played a critical role in shaping the ideologies that defined many of the encounters between Anglo Americans and Latinas and Latinos. As early as 1691 in colonial Virginia, Anglo settlers were adopting laws banning all forms of interracial marriage. These laws were principally directed at African Americans, but in the course of Anglo westward expansion, antimiscegenation norms were applied to Mexican- and Native American–origin peoples as well. Antimiscegenation laws persisted well into the 1960s, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), struck down all state laws prohibiting interracial marriages.
The influence of scientific racism on U.S. political ideologies is evident in the nineteenth-century Anglo-American ideology of Manifest Destiny, in which Protestants declared themselves the chosen people designated by God to conquer and civilize North America in order to bring democracy, freedom, and prosperity to a “savage wilderness.” The demonization of Mexicans and American Indians was intrinsic to this ideology, and proponents drew from pseudo-scientific theories of racial hierarchy to justify the usurpation of Native- and Mexican-origin territories.
The national-origin groups that came to constitute U.S. Latinas and Latinos created their own racial formations in the homelands well before the onset of American expansionism in North America and the Caribbean (including Mexico, Cuba, and Puerto Rico). For example, the Spanish colonial racial hierarchy in Cuba and Puerto Rico imposed a distinct schema based on gradations of Spanish-African ancestry, while in Mexico the hierarchy imposed a schema along Spanish-Indian gradations. T. Almaguer notes that the multiracial composition of U.S. Latina and Latino groups “has roots in Spanish colonialism during which colonial states imposed racial hierarchies that were more gradational and fluid in nature than their northern [Anglo] counterparts” (Almaguer, pp. 208–209). Spanish colonialism entailed “widespread miscegenation,” while Anglo-American colonialism had a strong taboo against racial mixing (especially between whites and blacks). This should not obscure the master-slave hybrid or mulatto and mulatta. Much of Spanish-Indian intermarriage involved alliances among elites seeking to solidify their class status and position.
Throughout the course of the Spanish Empire in Latin America, the theological debate over “Indian souls” marked the intercultural relations between Spaniards and indigenous peoples. The pleas put forward by Bartolomé de las Casas in his dispute with Juan Gines de Sepulveda before the Council of Castile in 1550, that Indians “had souls” and were “noble savages” worth Christianizing, did little to soften the blows of conquest, genocide, ethnocide (destruction of culture), and impoverishment of Mexico’s indigenous civilizations. After independence and the fall of Spanish colonialism, racial hierarchies persisted across Latin America, despite the egalitarian and democratic impulses of Simón Bolívar and Benito Juárez.
Scientific racism was embraced in the political philosophies of certain late-nineteenth-century and early-twentieth-century Mexican intellectuals. It must be noted that some Chicano and Chicana cultural nationalists have persisted since the 1960s in articulating a misconstructed version of Vasconcelo’s concept of la raza cosmíca (the cosmic race). The científicos were advisers to Porfirio Díaz, who despotically ruled Mexico from 1876 to 1911. One adviser was the positivist philosopher Francisco Bulnes, who proposed a racial hierarchy based on diet and geographic origin. This included wheat eaters: the white race or European from northern temperate zones; rice eaters: the yellow race or Asiatic originating in arid steppes; and corn eaters: the red race or Indian from southern humid tropical or subtropical areas. Bulnes proposed that Mexico’s modernization would result from a policy of systematic extermination of any vestiges of Indian culture and Europeanization of Mexico’s inferior mestizo and mestiza race. This would protect the white Spanish-origin elite and its governing institutions, which the científicos declared were dedicated to “order, progress, and reason.” Bulnes wrote of the “Mexican Indian” with unrestrained contempt:
The Indian is disinterested, stoical and unenlightened; he despises death, life, gold, morals, work, science, pain and hope. He dearly loves four things: the idols of his former religion, the land that feeds him, personal freedom, and alcohol which induces morose and silent deliria. He is a man who ought to dress in a shroud and give away his magnificent teeth, since he does not laugh, talk or sing and almost does not eat.…Why work if he cannot own anything? After he had just been robbed by the Conquistador, along came the friar, the cacique, the municipality, the small-time lawyer, anyone at all. The Indian belongs to everyone who wants to dominate him. (Krause, p. 38)
Over the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ideologies of white supremacy, eugenics, and racial purity took hold across the United States. Immigration law and policy repeatedly have been constructed around discourses of scientific racism, including views articulated by adherents of nativism and eugenics. Through the first three decades of the twentieth century, the Immigration Restriction League worked to end immigration from southern, central, and eastern Europe. Nativists viewed immigrants from these areas as threats to the purity of an American nation understood to be the product of the Anglo-Saxon race busy with the Lord’s civilizing mission.
Between 1909 and 1911 the Dillingham Commission reported back to Congress with a comprehensive 42-volume historical and scientific study of immigration. The commission presented what it viewed as scientific evidence of the racial and social inferiority of immigrants from southern, central, and eastern Europe. This included the Italian school of criminal anthropology (Lambroso, Sergi, and Niceforo), whose work was presented as a source of scientific authority on the innate depravity and criminality of certain human groups, including southern Europeans (e.g., southern Italians).
Throughout the twentieth century, U.S. immigration policy toward Mexico was largely administered as a temporary labor importation program targeted to the needs of agribusiness, mining, and railroads for so-called cheap labor. Mexicans should not be allowed to enter as permanent residents and settlers; they should enter and leave as temporary guest workers. This policy was justified in part on the basis of the belief that the racial qualities of the Mexican immigrant combined the most inferior of old Europe and New World racial types—the “inferior Spaniard” and the “depraved Mexican Indian.” The offspring of this mixed breed were not capable of learning democracy but were appropriate for temporary “stoop labor.” One proponent of this view was Madison Grant, whose book, Race Determinism (1916), proposed the restriction of the immigration of “non-Aryan races.” Echoing the sentiments of the Dillingham Commission and a broad spectrum of the members of Congress, Grant stated:
The greatness of the U.S. is a reflection of the immigration of the Nordic races of Northern and Western Europe. The more prolific Mexican Indian with his bad blood had bred out of existence the “good” white blood of the Spaniards. The resultant hybrid mestizo inherited only the bad traits of parent groups; he was mentally and morally crippled and had no capacity for self-government. (Grant, p. 45)
The Immigration Acts of 1917, 1921, and 1924 ended immigration from Asia and sharply curtailed entry from southern, central, and eastern Europe. Scientific racism grew in influence as nativists, who believed immigration posed a threat to the United States as a white northern and western European–origin Christian nation, and eugenicists, who advocated policies to control race mixing and cull mentally, genetically, and physically deficient populations, gained a toehold in mainstream political discourses. The nativists unsuccessfully pressured the U.S. Congress to include Mexicans under some of the restrictionist provisions of the 1921 Immigration Act.
Many of the advocates of restrictionist immigration policy and eugenics drew from the social scientific theories of Herbert Spencer, William Graham Summer, and other American sociologists. Spencer was an English social philosopher who misappropriated Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution through natural selection. Spencer’s ideas became known as social Darwinism, emphasizing the competition for survival among the various races of humankind. While his ideas were embraced by few Britons, he had a devoted following among American capitalist leaders. In his book Progress: Its Law and Cause (1857), Spencer argued that evolution affected not just the “development of the Earth, in the development of Life upon its surface, [but also] the development of Society, of Government…this same evolution of the simple into the complex…holds throughout” the course of human “progress” from primitive to advanced societies (Spencer).
|Segregationist sign ca. 1930
Restrictionists have sought to link certain countries of origin (especially Asian and Latin American countries) to disease outbreaks and crime. They have claimed nonwhite immigrants are a menace to public health. Throughout the course of the bracero program (1942–1964), Mexican workers were periodically sprayed and washed for body lice and other vermin. There was widespread fear that Mexicans carried contagious diseases like tuberculosis. In April and May 1980 more than 125,000 Cubans were boat-lifted to the United States; the boat refugees included six hundred former asylum inmates and twelve hundred former prison inmates or people suspected of serious crimes in Cuba who had been released by Fidel Castro. These boat refugees came to be known as the Marielitos, and they were promptly typecast as a criminal and deviant population that threatened the United States with diseases and illicit behavior. A New York Times headline read, “Retarded People and Criminals” (Ojito). By 1987 thirty-eight hundred Mariel refugees were serving sentences for crimes committed in the United States, and another thirty-eight hundred were subject to indefinite detention after completing sentences or for suspicion of crimes. In January 2005 the U.S. Supreme ruled that this detention was unlawful and that the U.S. government could no longer detain Cuban refugees who had served their time or were simply deemed to have suspicious backgrounds. In another example of this type of racist construct, Haitian immigrants (boat refugees) were detained at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay naval base in the 1990s, presumably because they constituted an HIV/AIDS menace.
|Courtesy of Truman State University
The involuntary sterilization of Latinas is another long chapter in the history of scientific racism. U.S. sterilization programs against Latinas were first launched in Puerto Rico in the 1930s. Eugenics played a key role in the ideological justification, and proponents of sterilization of Puerto Rican women invoked overpopulation as a major underlying cause of poverty, criminality, and social unrest in the island colony. In the 1940s the policy continued and was rationalized as a way to make Puerto Rican women “more free” to pursue employment in the U.S. manufacturing plants that were attracted by the island’s tax incentives and promises of cheap labor. Through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the U.S. government funded programs to encourage Puerto Rican women to accept sterilization at minimal or no cost. Many women were unaware the operation was irreversible and did not give informed consent. By 1968 one-third of the women of childbearing age on the island had been sterilized. In 1977 Richard T. Ravenholt, a population officer for USAID, stated that if U.S. goals were met, one-fourth of the world’s women would be sterilized to “prevent revolutions that would interfere with multinational corporations’ financial success” (Hoerlein, p. 5).
Forced sterilization also affected Puerto Rican women on the U.S. mainland. Other Latinas, in particular Chicanas, were also targeted. Nationwide between 1907 and 1964 more than sixty-three thousand people of all racial groups were forcibly sterilized under existing eugenics laws designed to prevent procreation among the genetically inferior races and certain criminal types (i.e., rapists). Under California’s 1909 sterilization statute, the targets were individuals defined as afflicted by “feeblemindedness,” “idiocy,” “excessive masturbation,” “immorality,” and “hereditary degeneracy” (Platt). The eugenicists in California were compelled by anxieties over the “evil of crossbreeding.” Charles M. Goethe, a Sacramento banker, founder of the Eugenics Society of Northern California, and sponsor of Pasadena’s Human Betterment Foundation, noted in 1929 that the Mexican is “eugenically as low-powered as the Negro.…He not only does not understand health rules: being a superstitious savage, he resists them” (Platt, p. 2).
In fact throughout the 1960s and 1970s Chicanas and Mexicanas were sterilized at the Los Angeles County Hospital, often after childbirth, without informed consent. An apology by Governor Gray Davis revealed that California was home to the largest sterilization program in the mainland United States and that its supporters included the publisher of the Los Angeles Times in the 1930s. Between 1909 and the 1960s California forcibly sterilized approximately twenty thousand people under the state’s eugenics laws.
There are reports that Mexican-origin immigrant women in the United States, many of them indigenous, are coming to public health clinics and complaining about “having trouble getting pregnant.” Examinations reveal they have been sterilized by IUDs implanted by Mexican doctors. The number of cases is very high and disproportionately involves women with rural low-income or indigenous backgrounds. In another twist, there are reports of repeated “sterilization sweeps” targeting indigenous populations, including males. Numerous male Zapotec, Mixtec, and other Indians in Oaxaca, many of whom are immigrant workers in the United States, are discovering that commonly botched vasectomies have created serious health problems. These operations are most often performed by medical units of the Mexican military or other federally employed “reproductive health technicians” rather than urologists or surgical specialists.
In a late-twentieth-century study D. Nelkin and M. Michaels concluded that political discourses in the United States in the 1990s experienced “the growing use of evolutionary explanations and biological generalizations—the tainted rhetoric of eugenics—in the contemporary American immigration debate” (Nelkin and Michaels, p. 1). This rhetoric has been directed especially at Mexican-origin and other Latin American immigrants and is even embraced by policy makers as the basis for defining the “desirability of immigrants” based on consideration of their countries of origin. While it is often assumed that eugenicist beliefs are limited to the fringe elements of society, the fact is that many mainstream scientists embrace these views. Daniel Koshland, a molecular biologist and former editor of the prestigious journal Science, has argued that genetics is important in selecting people with “superior skills” and “as society gets more complex, perhaps it must select for individuals more capable of coping with its complex problems” (Hubbard and Wald, p. 116).
One of the most controversial anti-immigration groups in the United States is the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). The biologists Paul Ehrlich of Stanford and Garrett Hardin of the University of California, Santa Barbara, endorsed FAIR and its support for California’s ill-advised Proposition 187, which bars undocumented immigrants from access to publicly funded education, health, social, and human services. These two highly respected scientists reinforced claims that the United States was being overwhelmed by the illegal entry of millions of “fast-breeding races” from Mexico, Latin America, and the rest of the third world. Between 1979 and 1994 FAIR received more than $1.2 million from an obscure foundation known as the Pioneer Fund, founded in 1937 to advance the cause of scientific racism. The Pioneer Fund dropped its open admiration for Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich after World War II but still funds groups like American Renaissance, which promotes the idea that the United States is a “white nation” and that “brown-skinned immigration” should be completely stopped. FAIR is also linked to anti-immigration activist organizations like the American Border Patrol and other vigilante groups that intercept and report undocumented immigrants as they enter the United States.
Racial violence has often been undergirded or rationalized by appeals to scientific racism. This is evident not just in immigration law enforcement and vigilante activism but across a wide range of state activities, including the criminal justice system. Police violence against Latinas and Latinos has often followed ideological expressions of white supremacy or anti-Latina and anti-Latino sentiment and in numerous cases has been directly encouraged by scientific racists in newspapers and other media. At times police violence has seemed a conscious policy against Latina and Latino immigrants and their children, presumably justified by allegations that Latinas and Latinos are inherently prone to criminality.
In his classic study Ando sangrando (I Am Bleeding): A Study of Mexican American–Police Conflict (1972), Armando Morales cites the case of a master’s thesis written in 1914 by W. W. McEuen, a student of Emory Bogardus, a prominent sociologist and author of what was at the time one of the most widely used introductory textbooks in sociology and social research. McEuen presented the results of a graduate research project purportedly demonstrating the racial inferiority of the Mexican in Los Angeles:
The excessive use of liquor is the Mexican’s greatest moral problem. With few exceptions both men and women use liquor to excess. Their general moral conditions are bad when judged by the prevailing standards. It seems just, however, to say that Mexicans are unmoral rather than immoral since they lack a conception of morals as understood in this country. Their housing conditions are bad, crime is prevalent, and their morals are a menace to our civilization. They are illiterate, ignorant, and inefficient and have few firm religious beliefs. (quoted in Morales, p. 33)
The scientific racism of American sociologists became a weapon used by the police and courts to target Mexicans and other Latinas and Latinos in a precursor to contemporary forms of racial profiling. William H. Parker, Los Angeles police chief from 1950 to 1966, wrote in his autobiography:
From an ethnological standpoint of view, Negro, Mexican, and Anglo-Saxon are unscientific breakdowns; they are fiction. From a police point of view, they are a useful fiction and should be used as long as they remain useful. The demand that the police cease to consider race, color, and creed is an unrealistic demand. Identification is a police tool, not a police attitude. (quoted in Morales, p. 48)
Scientific racism also has long influenced the conduct of military, medical, and social scientific research. A 1970 issue of Military Review, a journal published by the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, includes an article by Carl Larson, a Swedish geneticist at the University of Lund. Larson wrote that scientific evidence from the study of “drug metabolizing enzymes” demonstrated there were “racial differences” in the way that different populations react naturally to different drugs. Larson concluded that the data posed a possibility for the development of “genetically selective” weapons (i.e., weapons tailored to target only certain human subpopulations) (Cockburn). It is interesting to note that the “genetic maps” created by the Human Genome Project have resulted in the development and patenting of genes and gene sequences in an effort by biotechnology corporations in the pharmaceutical sector to develop genetically engineered drugs “tailored” to any given individual’s genomic profile and is based on research suggesting different populations react naturally to different drugs.
The IQ Myth
During the 1920s IQ testing entered the public debate on the schooling of Latina and Latino children. The proponents of “standardized” IQ testing “pioneered a powerful explanation for the massive and widespread prevalence of Mexican American school failure: intellectual deficiency” (Blanton, p. 45). Of course these results were manufactured and represented a failure by the dominant society to acknowledge the genuine structural conditions of poverty, powerlessness, segregation, and discrimination faced by Mexican-origin and other Latina and Latino groups. Lewis Terman, who introduced the Stanford-Binet test to the United States in 1916, wrote that:
…a low level of intelligence is very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come.…Children of this group should be segregated in special classes.…They cannot master abstractions, but they can often be made efficient workers … There is no possibility at present of convincing society that they should not be allowed to reproduce, although from a eugenic point of view they constitute a grave problem because of their unusually prolific breeding. (Lewontin, Rose, and Kamin, p. 144)
During the 1980s and 1990s debates again raged over intelligence testing and claims by statisticians that Latinas and Latinos and other racial and ethnic minorities measured below normal and average intelligence compared to whites and the so-called model minorities (e.g., Japanese Americans). In The Bell Curve (1994) Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray revived the argument that higher rates of poverty among blacks and Latinas and Latinos were determined more by intelligence than socioeconomic background. Herrnstein and Murray proposed that the poor are a “cognitive underclass” and argued that increasing inequalities in wealth distribution, educational success, and access to good jobs were biologically determined. They proposed an immigration policy based on eugenics. Critics may note that Herrnstein and Murray merely followed the nineteenth-century tradition of “finagling” the data, the statistical sleight-of-hand that Stephen J. Gould brilliantly demolished as a tactic used by the scientific racists who were students of nineteenth-century craniometry, the comparative measurement of cranial capacity across racial groups to determine intelligence. Indeed Herrnstein and Murray drew extensively from Mankind Quarterly, a journal supported by the Pioneer Fund that represented a continued commitment to eugenics research in the United States.
Expressions of support for the underlying principles of scientific racism and its normative prohibition of miscegenation persist within elements of the U.S. Republican Party. These are evident in statements by Robert Patterson, a columnist for separate newspapers published by Senator Trent Lott (Republican, Mississippi) and the former senator Jesse Helm’s (Republican, North Carolina) Council of Conservative Citizens. In defense of Western civilization against the barbaric hoards of multiculturalism advocates, Patterson declared in an interview with the New York Times: “Western Civilization, with all its might and glory, would never have achieved its greatness without the directing hand of God and the creative genius of the white race. Any effort to destroy the race by a mixture of black blood is an effort to destroy western civilization itself” (New York Times, January 15, 1999). Patterson’s sentiment echoes that of de Gobineau and Grant’s shared vision of a pure Aryan race. The racialization of Latina and Latino national origin groups, like that experienced by African, Asian, and Native American groups, persists in the dominant political and civic cultures of the United States. The persistence of scientific racism, and the uncertainty posed by the degree of influence it has on popular culture and the construction of an American national identity, does not bode well for the future of interethnic and intercultural relations in the United States.
Discrediting the Theories
Theories of scientific racism have been widely rejected and discredited for some time, especially since the end of World War II and the aftermath of the Nazi Holocaust. In 1951 the United Nations Economic and Social Council (UNESCO) issued its authoritative report, The Race Concept: The Race Question in Modern Science. This was a declaration on race that was influenced by the work of the anthropologist Franz Boas and his protégés. This important statement declared that races as biological entities do not exist. Only one race, one species of humans, exists. It recognized, however, that unscientific beliefs related to the existence of distinct races and racial hierarchies were the constructs of specific groups with political projects involving the objectives of racial domination or white supremacy.
With the development of genetic sciences, studies of mtDNA or mitochondrial DNA (which is passed only through the maternal side in the line of descent) irrevocably demonstrate the fact that all human groups share a common ancestry, the so-called “African Eve.” There is more genetic diversity within so-called racial and ethnic types than across them. Despite this call for recognition of a universal biological heritage, racist ideologies masquerading as science continue to appear and contribute to intergroup conflict in the early twenty-first century by generating discursive and political projects to impose controls on immigration and intermarriage or to rationalize and defend white privilege.
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