Scientific Racism, History of

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Scientific Racism, History of













Scientific racism is the act of justifying inequalities between natural groups of people by recourse to science. It is the result of a conjunction of two cultural values or ideologies: (1) that natural categories of the human species exist and are of different overall worth; and (2) that science provides a source of authoritative knowledge. These ideas arose separately, but at about the same time in the late seventeenth century.

The rise of science in the seventeenth century challenged the authority of other forms of knowledge—such as revelation and meditation. In particular, two new forms of knowledge came to assume privileged positions: mathematical generalization (most famously embodied in the work of Sir Isaac Newton [1642–1727]), and empirical demonstration or experiment (in the works of early scientists such as Galileo, William Harvey, and Robert Hooke). Along with newly emerging standards of truth and validity came public authority, and with this public authority came the usurpation of that authority in the gray zone of “pseudoscience,” usually only distinguishable as such in retrospect.

The term pseudoscience refers to any work that appeals to the authority of science despite being methodologically flawed or incompetently reasoned, even if carried out by credentialed scientists. Such misrepresentations are usually caused by a conflict of interest, whether it be personal ambition, class or financial interests, or ideological commitment.

Racism, the attribution of inferiority to large natural groups of people, is a relatively recent idea. To the extent that ancient peoples held various groups in different degrees of regard, this was predicated on nonracial features—such as the ability to speak Greek, dignified behavior, or valor— and to the extent that they recognized differences of physical appearance, these carried no codes of social rank (Isaac 2004; Snowden 1948) and each was considered to be a local variation, not a continental quintessence. The concept of race was a product of the rise of scientific biological taxonomy, which is the formal clustering of animals analytically into groups, along with a parallel dissolution of large groups of animals into their constituent smaller groups. Scientific racism, then, being predicated on newly emerging concepts of science and of race, must be regarded as a Euro–American product of the last three centuries. This obviously does not mean that group hatreds have not existed elsewhere and at other times, but only that they have usually not been based upon a theory of race and were not considered to be validated by science; they thus fall outside the scope of scientific racism.

Table 1.
Subspecies of Homo sapiens, rearranged from Linnaeus
SOURCE: Reprinted from systema Naturae, 10th ed., 1758.
TemperamentIrascible, impassiveHearty, muscularMelancholy, sternSluggish, lazy
FaceThick, straight, black hair; broad nose; harsh appearance; chin beardlessLong blond hair, blue eyesBlack hair, dark eyesBlack kinky hair, silky skin, short nose, thick lips, females with genital flap, elongated breasts
PersonalityStubborn, happy, freeSensitive, very smart, creativeStrict, contemptuous, greedySly, slow, careless
Covered byFine red linesTight clothingLoose garmentsGrease
Ruled byCustomLawOpinionCaprice

Early taxonomic practice relied on an intellectual framework that was largely intact since the time of the ancient Greeks. Real, existing creatures, human or otherwise, were considered to be deviants or degenerates from an ideal form, whose true nature was perfect, transcendent, and otherworldly. As applied to people, this involved specifying features that were not necessarily accurate descriptors, but rather represented the underlying form or essence of which real people were simply imperfect embodiments. Thus, the Swedish botanist-physician Carl (Carolus) Linnaeus (1707–1778) could formally define the European subspecies as having long, flowing blond hair and blue eyes, regardless of the fact that most of them did not actually possess these characteristics. His purpose was to describe the idealized form that underlay the observable variation. Likewise, his descriptions of Africans as lazy or Asians as greedy was intended to be a statement of their basic natures, not necessarily an empirically based generalization.

Clearly Linnaeus was inscribing popular or folk prejudices upon the continental groups he was formally defining. To some extent he recognized this, as he grouped the Lapps, or Saami, (Scandinavian reindeer-herders) within the European subspecies; he consciously strove to romanticize the Saami, even as they were commonly “othered” in both popular and scholarly minds. Human taxonomy thus served to formalize social ideologies about sameness and difference.

By the end of the eighteenth century, German zoologist and anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach had jettisoned the personality and cultural traits used by Linnaeus in favor of only physical traits. However, he also modified the Linnaean system by ranking, rather than simply listing, the races (Gould 1998). Moreover, scholars at this time began to apply the previously informal term “race” (which had been used by the French naturalist Count de Buffon to refer to a local strain of people) to the formal Linnaean subspecies. The result was a parallel usage of the term, in which groups of people, diversely constituted, could be called “races,” and their essences could be defined in accordance with whatever they were taken to be. Concurrently, the natures of large continental “races” could stand as formal taxonomic entities. Thus, races could exist within races, or they could crosscut other races. Because the attributes of the Irish, Italians, or Jews were Platonic essences taken to be inscribed in the very cores of the people in question—by virtue of simply being born into the group—it did not much matter what an individual representative looked like or acted like. These were not so much group-level generalizations, which have always existed as folk taxonomies, but group-level scientific definitions, which were something new.


A French scholar named Isaac de la Peyrère published a controversial hypothesis in 1655. He suggested that certain biblical passages were consistent with multiple divine creations of people, of which the story related in Genesis was only one. These “Pre-Adamites” were the progenitors of the most divergent forms of people, who might thereby be considered to be different in both nature and origin, as they were the product of different creative acts by God. La Peyrère was subsequently invoked as the founder of a school called polygenism, which gained popularity in the nineteenth century as American scholars increasingly sought to justify the practice of slavery by recourse to science (although that had not been La Peyr-ére’s intent).

As the slavery debate crystallized in America and Europe, the scientific issues centered on whether races had a single origin (monogenism) or separate origins (polygenism). Monogenists tended to invoke a literal reading of the Book of Genesis in support of abolitionist politics, which also necessitated the development of explanations for the emergence of human physical diversity since the time of Adam and Eve. They thus tended to be biblical literalists, social liberals, and early evolutionists, a fusion of ideologies that may seem incongruous from a modern standpoint. Polygenists rejected biblical literalism in favor of textual interpretation, yet they held to a strictly creationist view of human origins in which people are as they always have been. This view was used to support the oppression of presumably inferior peoples.

The linkage of these ideas can be seen in the writings of the Count de Buffon, whose Histoire Naturelle was one of the most widely owned and read works of the French Enlightenment. A monogenist, Buffon surveyed human diversity in 1749 and included a stinging digression on the treatment of Africans:

They are therefore endowed, as can be seen, with excellent hearts, and possess the seeds of every human virtue. I cannot write their history without addressing their state. Is it not wretched enough to be reduced to servitude and to be obliged to labor perpetually, without being allowed to acquire anything? Is it necessary to degrade them, beat them, and to abuse them worse than beasts? Humanity revolts against these odious oppressions which have been put into practice because of greed, and which would have been reinforced virtually every day, had our laws not curbed the brutality of masters, and fixed limits to the sufferings of their slaves. They are forced to labor, and yet commonly are not even adequately nourished. It is said that they tolerate hunger easily, that they can live for three days on a portion of a European meal; that however little they eat or sleep, they are always equally tough, equally strong, and equally fit for labor. How can men in whom there rests any feeling of humanity adopt such views? How do they presume to attempt to legitimize by such reasoning those oppressions that spring solely from their thirst for gold? But let us abandon those callous men, and return to our subject.

In 1766, speculating on the origins of animal diversity, Buffon used the diversity and interfertility of the human species as a key argument both for monogenism and microevolution:

The Asian, European, and Negro all reproduce with equal ease with the American. There can be no greater proof that they are the issue of a single and identical stock than the facility with which they consolidate to the common stock. The blood is different, but the germ is the same.

The polygenist position underwent a revival in the mid-nineteenth century, however, as the American Civil War loomed. In England, the Ethnological Society of London, founded in 1842, was torn apart as polygenists left to form the Anthropological Society of London in 1862. A similar schism took place in France, with the formation of Paul Broca’s Société d’Anthropologie de Paris. Ultimately, the Darwinian naturalists would side with the monogenist “ethnologists” against the polygenist “anthropologists,” whose societies and cause would become obsolete before the end of the century (Stocking 1987).


There is a crudely materialist proposition that identifies the qualities of one’s mind by the features of one’s brain. While this affords a theoretical basis for modern neuro-physiology, it also has proved very easy to overvalue. In practice, this overvaluation has ranged from the estimation of intelligence based on the size of the brain to inferences of personality from the bulges on particular parts of the skull (phrenology). Indeed, the most prominent nineteenth-century craniologist, Dr. Samuel George Morton (1799–1851) of Philadelphia, was also an avid phrenologist.

Morton amassed a large collection of skulls from Native Americans, and subsequently from other peoples as well. While his analytical tools were primitive, he nevertheless was able to establish a scientific, anatomical basis for the fundamental difference and alleged relative inferiority of the nonwhite races by the 1830s. That difference, he said, lay in the inferior quality (due to the inferior size) of their brains.

One key question addressed at this time was whether the prehistoric architectural and cultural features of the Midwest could reasonably be ascribed to the ancestors of the local Indians, or whether they could be attributed instead to a mysterious, cranially distinct and intellectually superior people. It was not until the latter half of the century that careful archaeological excavations would settle the question of “who built the mounds” with clear evidence of cultural continuity: They were built by Native Americans, not by Vikings, Egyptian emigrants, or anyone else.

Other anatomists discovered other features of the heads of non-Europeans that seemed to explain or reinforce their inferiority. The cranial or cephalic index, devised by the Swedish anatomist Anders Retzius, measured the shape of the head. When applied to the peoples of the world, the Europeans appeared more brachycephalic (broad-headed) than the Africans, who were dolichocephalic (long-headed).

Josiah Nott, who had studied anatomy with Morton and went on to become one of the leading physicians in Mobile, Alabama, developed the theory of the fundamental craniological difference and inferiority of the African, and explicitly tied it to the slavery question. His principal work, Types of Mankind(1854), written with the diplomat George C. Gliddon, found considerable popularity in the South.

Certainly the most prestigious American involved on the scientific polygenist side was the Harvard naturalist and Swiss émigré Louis Agassiz (1807–1873). Agassiz wrote a preface to Nott and Gliddon’s volume and lent scientific credibility to the entire enterprise through his advocacy of their work and politics. In France as well, the leading anatomist, Paul Broca (1824–1880), was also the leading craniologist and polygenist.

Darwinism should have put the lie to the polygenism monogenism question once and for all, because interbreeding made all people one species, and taxonomic entities at any level were now seen to be related by common descent. Thus, all humans had to have a common origin. Nevertheless, versions of polygenism invoking parallel evolution were revived in the twentieth century by the German anatomist Hermann Klaatsch (who held that the races were particularly related to different species of great apes), the Canadian botanical geneticist R. R. Ruggles Gates (who considered the question of interbreeding irrelevant), and the American anthropologist Carleton Coon (who held that different races evolved into Homo sapiens separately from different races of Homo erectus).


The same year that Nott and Gliddon published Types of Mankind, a disaffected French nobleman published an original and brilliant synthesis of contemporary conservative politics and racist scientific thought. His name was Count Arthur de Gobineau (1816–1882), and his Essai sur l’inégalité des races humaines(Essay on the inequality of the human race) (1854) would serve as a model for the leading racist writers of the next two generations.

Gobineau’s goal was to justify the existence, and to emphasize the necessity, of the declining ancient social order by producing a unified theory of race and civilization. Observing that civilizations had risen and fallen, he asked why. His answer was that civilizations rise as a function of the intellects of their individual members, or, more specifically, of their leaders, and that civilizations fall as that elite blood is dissipated through inter-breeding with the masses. Steering a course between the monogenists and polygenists, he argued that, irrespective of Adam and Eve, races since biblical times have been stable strains. Citing the craniometric work, Gobineau argued that the white intellect is higher than the black or yellow, and that, within the white race, the Aryans are the intellectually superior subrace. Of his ten identifiable civilizations, Gobineau attributed at least seven to Aryan blood, and found no civilization at all in sub-Saharan Africa. An American edition of Gobineau was supervised and prefaced by Josiah Nott.

There was, of course, no alternative theory of civilization, and as curious as Gobineau’s thesis was, it was tightly argued. Past civilizations, and by implication, the fate of the present one, were governed by the purity of blood of the aristocracy, whose position in the social order was ordained by nature. Social change and mobility, as well as social equality, were contrary to nature. The future of civilization lay in the recognition of the unequal abilities of races, and in the preservation of the social hierarchy from which it sprang. It is worth noting that Gobineau was nearly an exact contemporary of Karl Marx (1818–1883), whose considerably more erudite writings lay on the other end of the political spectrum, promoting human equality regardless of biology, real or imaginary. Gobineau’s argument would be reiterated and adapted in the writings of Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855–1927) in Europe (Foundations of the Nineteenth Century, 1899) and Madison Grant (1865–1937) in America (The Passing of the Great Race, 1916).


In his own lifetime, Gobineau’s racial theory of civilization was eclipsed by the arrival of Darwinism, which seemed to imply a much more unstable biological nature

than Gobineau supposed. And yet there was an attraction inherent in Gobineau’s scientific rationalization for the aristocracy. As the social and economic power of the ancient aristocracy was replaced in the nineteenth century by a newer aristocracy—that of capitalist entrepreneurs— Gobineau’s ideas were blended with Darwin’s to construct a powerful rationalization for the emergence of the new elite. This was embodied in English philosopher Herbert Spencer’s phrase “survival of the fittest” and came to be known as “social Darwinism.”

The argument of social Darwinism was rooted in Victorian ideas of progress. Because civilization was an obvious improvement over savagery and barbarism, just as science was an obvious improvement over superstition and religion, it was reasonable to ask (as Gobineau did) what the engine of progress was. To Spencer, it was not “race” per se, but unfettered competition. Competition led to differentiation and specialization, which led to overall complexity and improvement, not only in the natural world, but also in the social and political worlds. If the old aristocracy was in decline, it was not a threat to civilization, but a consequence of it. The aristocrats were losing out to the emergent class of tycoons, moguls, and robber barons, who had taken over the leadership of civilization. The masses still had little, and deserved little, in this theory, but competition replaced race as the impetus for progress.

Within the class structure of Anglo-American society, social Darwinism was only tangentially a racial theory, for it had little formal recognition of race. It retained the goal of justifying the social hierarchy by recourse to nature, but the hierarchy it justified was differently composed. The nouveau riche were now the vanguards of progress and civilization, and it was neither clear nor relevant whether their endowments were innate, lucky, or simply the product of hard work. The ultimate goal of social Darwinism was simply to get government off the backs of the people—or at least of the rich people—by removing or resisting limits on their power and control, as reflected in social reforms like child labor laws and collective bargaining.

The principal American exponent of social Darwinism was the Yale political scientist William Graham Sumner (1840–1910). Sumner aggressively taught and wrote on behalf of the survival of the fittest, and he maintained that “if we do not like the survival of the fittest, we have only one possible alternative, and that is the survival of the unfittest. The former is the law of civilization; the latter is the law of anti-civilization. We have our choice between the two, or we can go on, as in the past, vacillating between the two, but a third plan—the socialist desideratum—a plan for nourishing the unfittest and yet advancing in civilization, no man will ever find.”

Unsurprisingly, some of the most well-known tycoons of the era—most notably, John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie—were attracted to the theory. It encoded a Puritan ethic of advancement through hard work, justified their own social position, and supported their business practices. That it was also a shamelessly self-serving appeal to nature in support of avarice was not lost on its critics.

There was a darker racial side to social Darwinism, however. While the theory was constructed to justify the newly emerging class structure in Europe and America, it could also be applied to the relative ranking of the colonized nations, who had apparently not yet risen above a state of savagery or barbarism. A militaristic version of progress-via-competition, easily understood as a justification for genocide, could be found in diverse social Darwinian writings, such as those of the German Ernst Haeckel and the Frenchman Georges Vacher de Lapouge. The pre-Darwinian evolutionist Robert Chambers had written in 1844: “Look at the progress even now making over the barbaric parts of the earth by the best examples of the Caucasian type, promising not only to fill up the waste places, but to supersede the imperfect nations already existing.” According to this theory, if the people over there were less perfect, if they had not progressed as far in the struggle that is life’s history, then they were simply standing in the way of the glorious future of the species, which was emanating from Europe. The English paleontologist William J. Sollas put it this way in his1911 book, Ancient Hunters: “Justice belongs to the strong, and has been meted out to each race according to its strength; each has received as much justice as it deserved. … It is not priority of occupation, but the power to utilize, which establishes a claim to the land. Hence it is a duty which every race owes to itself, and to the human family as well, to cultivate by every possible means its own strength … [lest it incur] a penalty which Natural Selection, the stern but beneficent tyrant of the organic world, will assuredly exact, and that speedily, to the full”(Bowler 1995; Sommer 2005). It was precisely this kind of bio-political rhetoric that set the American politician William Jennings Bryan, a staunch pacificist and isolationist, against Darwinism.


Darwinism had actually already been rescued from social Darwinism through the conceptual innovation of a Quaker scholar, Edward B. Tylor. In his Primitive Culture (1871), Tylor set out a program for a “reformer’s science,” based on the conceptual divorce of a people’s biological or racial features from their learned or behavioral features. He called these latter aspects “culture, or civilization” and the science he called “anthropology.”

Culture/civilization was, to Tylor, “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” Since all peoples had roughly the same mental powers (a doctrine known as “the psychic unity of mankind”), but some simply had not come as far as others in the trajectory of civilization, and had thus not acquired its maximum benefits, one could reasonably conclude that a rational and humane approach to other peoples was not to dispossess them and kill them, as the militaristic social Darwinians would have it, but to civilize them. Tylor thus substituted ethnocentrism for the racist genocidal ideas of the militarist social Darwinians, which was certainly an improvement.

Somewhat later, a young German-born anthropologist named Franz Boas would spearhead a move to reconceptualize culture as something that all peoples had, not to greater or lesser degrees, but equally. All cultures provided a particular way of seeing the world, of thinking and communicating about it, with rules governing the interaction of its members and a means for extracting the necessities of life. While “culture” was still forward as a contrast to “race,” representing learned knowledge, there was no longer a forward march to culture (qua civilization); there were only different individual cultures, each successfully permitting its members to cope, understand, and reproduce.

Anthropology thus became reinvigorated as the field that studied cultures, some of which were modern or “civilized,” but whose properties were located externally to the bodies of the people, the biological organisms. Thus, as Franz Boas forcefully articulated in his 1911 classic, The Mind of Primitive Man, race was not a determinant of civilization; rather, social processes and events—the vagaries of history—were.


Anthropology had little to offer in the way of marketable skills or products, however. Psychology, on the other hand, grew rapidly in size and prestige with the development of standardized mental tests, or psychometrics. Initially developed by the Frenchman Alfred Binet as a way of identifying schoolchildren who might require special attention, the intelligence test was imported into America in the early part of the twentieth century, principally by Lewis Terman of Stanford and Robert Yerkes of Yale. They modified the original interpretation of the results, however, by believing that the number they generated (an “intelligence quotient,” or IQ) was a measure of overall mental output, minimally affected by the conditions of life and set by heredity.

Giving a large battery of such tests to American soldiers in World War I, psychologists concluded that Americans were “feeble-minded”—that is to say, stupid—and in imminent danger of becoming more so. In addition, tests given to immigrants showed that feeble-minded people were arriving on American shores in large numbers. In fact, the only people who seemed to do consistently well on these tests were urban, acculturated, wealthy English speakers. Cultural biases in the tests were widely acknowledged, such as a question asking which path was best to take to get from here to there. Samoans picked the prettiest path, while the “correct” answer was actually the shortest path. Privileging American efficiency is reasonable but arbitrary, and thus hardly a valid way to estimate anyone’s raw intellectual powers.

The inheritance of intelligence—or more precisely of its opposite, feeble-mindedness—was shown “scientifically” to be due to a single major recessive allele by Charles Davenport, the most prominent human geneticist in America. Feeble-mindedness seemed to be most prominently associated with poor people and especially with poor people from outside of northern Europe. It was to be found especially commonly in nonwhites, poor whites of the South, and in the poor immigrants arriving in America in large numbers from southern and eastern Europe early in the twentieth century. Feeble-mindedness was diagnosable from several key behavioral features, Davenport explained in his 1911 textbook on human genetics: “the acts of taking and keeping loose articles, of tearing away obstructions to get at something desired, of picking valuables out of holes and pockets, of assaulting a neighbor who has something desirable or who has caused pain or who is in the way, of deserting family and other relatives, and of promiscuous sexual relations.”

With such a loose set of phenotypes as a guide, the feeble-mindedness allele could obviously be identified very widely. Family studies seemed to show that it was indeed inherited simply. The most famous of these was a study of the pseudonymous Kallikak family, published by the psychologist Henry H. Goddard in 1912. Tracing back two sides of a family to a single eighteenth-century progenitor, Martin Kallikak, Goddard purported to show that the hundreds of modern descendants through his dalliance with a “nameless feeble-minded tavern girl” were mainly feeble-minded burdens on society; while those modern descendants through Martin’s Quaker wife, Rachel, were solid citizens. The clear implications were that feeble-mindedness is everywhere, is transmitted genetically, and if only the tavern girl had never bred, the social problems caused by her descendants would never have come to exist.

In fact, most of the fieldwork of the Kallikak study was carried out by Goddard’s assistants, who gave intelligence tests to some of the people they interviewed, but used surrogate estimators of intelligence in other cases. Goddard’s book candidly noted that these surrogates ranged from interpreting the way dead ancestors were talked about to just looking at people:

The father, a strong, healthy, broad-shouldered man, was sitting helplessly in a corner. The mother, a pretty woman still, with remnants of ragged garments drawn about her, sat in a chair, the picture of despondency. Three children, scantily clad and with shoes that would barely hold together, stood about with drooping jaws and the unmistakable look of the feeble-minded. Another child, neither more intelligent nor better clad, was attempting to wash a few greasy dishes in cold water. The deaf boy was nowhere to be seen. On being urgently requested, the mother went out of the room to get him, for he was not yet out of bed. … A glance sufficed to establish his mentality, which was low. … The father himself, though strong and vigorous, showed by his face that he had only a child’s mentality.

The shoddiness of the research upon which the strong conclusions were founded did not prevent the results from being widely disseminated in the genetics and psychology literature for decades. In fact, when challenged on the question of how he could know that the tavern girl was feeble-minded when he didn’t even know her name, Goddard consulted his field worker and then publicly responded with a barefaced lie to the effect that her name was indeed known, but had been deliberately concealed.


The take-home message of the Kallikaks was that an ounce of genetic prevention was worth the proverbial pound of cure—if only something had been done about the tavern girl, society would have been spared the burden of her feeble-minded degenerate descendants. Both sides of the Kallikak family were white (indeed, they were Anglo-Saxon) so racism was not an overt issue, but if feeble-mindedness was a unitary phenomenon with a single cause, then the Kallikak conclusions would have significant implications for global feeble-mindedness.

An Englishman named Francis Galton had been working on mathematical approaches to heredity, particularly to the heredity of intelligence, since the mid-nineteenth century. Thomas Malthus had famously founded the science of demography at the turn of the century with the argument that the human population was increasing in size faster than its resource base, which entailed a gloomy forecast for the distant future. But fertility rates were not equal across all economic strata, and the poor were outbreeding the rich. While this might seem to necessitate the development of social programs for the poor, Galton saw things in a more pessimistic light. If the poor were outbreeding the rich, and if one believed the poor were genetically inferior to the rich, then the future could only hold catastrophe for the entire species. Indeed, the very existence of the prolific poor seemed to be a subversion of the natural order, if it were believed they were genetically inferior to the rich. Galton’s cousin, Charles Darwin, had devised a theory to account for the diversity of life on earth that was premised on “;the fittest” surviving and breeding disproportionately. If the human species were being led by the prolific poor, that would seem to go against the history of life on earth.

Clearly something needed to be done. People, Galton argued, must take control of their own genetic future. The poor must be discouraged from breeding, and the rich must be encouraged to breed. Galton called for the scientific control of human breeding, a plan he called “eugenics.” It is the first of many ironies of the eugenics movement that Galton died without issue.

The eugenics movement gained scientific credibility, and international popularity, after the rise of Mendelian genetics at the beginning of the twentieth century. Across diverse political systems, eugenics implied a utopian, scientific approach to impending social problems. Eugenics was adopted and integrated into diverse national traditions: In England, it involved biometry and class; in America, it involved genes and race; in Germany, the metaphor of national illness and health prescribed a movement of “racehygiene;” while in Latin America the focus was more on public sanitation.

The eugenics movement inherited from the social Darwinists the idea that natural hierarchies were at the root of social hierarchies in human societies. However, the eugenicists tied their ideas to the emerging science of genetics, and they sought active government intervention in the problems they perceived, which was quite antithetical to the social Darwinists’ laissez-faire political goals. But the social landscape had changed. The first decade of the twentieth century had seen an enormous rise in the number of poor immigrants into the United States from Italy and eastern Europe. In an era without federal assistance for the poor, they lived in crime-ridden urban slums.

An International Congress in 1912 stimulated much interest in the eugenics movement. In America, its leading exponent was Charles Davenport, whose 1911 book, Heredity in Relation to Eugenics, was the first major text of human genetics in America. Davenport tackled many of the same problems as Franz Boas, whose book The Mind of Primitive Man was published the same year. But where Boas saw biology as largely irrelevant to the past or future of civilization, Davenport saw things quite differently. Civilizations rose and fell on account of their genes, and one’s lot in life was determined by one’s genes. Phrenologists and craniologists had justified their inferences on the grounds that the brain was the seat of thought and was contained within the skull, whose features could therefore stand as surrogate measures for the quality of one’s thoughts. Davenport’s eugenics took this one step further, for it was the genes that determined the structure of the brain and skull, and thus of the quality of the thoughts they contained. Like phrenology, then, there was a seductively materialist, if stunningly crude, logic to it.

Davenport’s friend, a Yale-educated lawyer and amateur naturalist named Madison Grant, syncretized Davenport’s genetics with Gobineau’s racism and articulated a political platform for social change based on modern science. For Grant the problem was genetics; in particular, racial genetics. What concerned him most was the relative quality of the impoverished Italians and Jews immigrating in large numbers and living in crime and squalor. Grant contrasted the “Nordic” northern European to the “Mediterranean” southern European (a distinction drawn by the anthropologist William Z. Ripley in his 1899 The Races of Europe), and found the Nordic to be superior in body and mind; indeed (as per Gobineau), he found the Nordic “race” to be the fountain of all civilization. This interpretation of the past led to a nightmarish projection for the future, when one considered the flood of dirty, swarthy, unfit, and prolific poor people now entering America— worse even than the poor Irish immigrants of the previous generation.

In his 1916 bestseller, The Passing of the Great Race, Madison Grant articulated a solution that would empty the jails, balance the budget, and send America on the path to world leadership. It involved the scientific control of reproduction, with the main goal being the widespread application of surgical sterilization for men and women. In chilling terms, he explained:

A rigid system of selection through the elimination of those who are weak or unfit—in other words, social failures—would … enable us to get rid of the undesirables who crowd our jails, hospitals, and insane asylums. … [Sterilization] can be applied to an ever widening circle of social discards, beginning always with the criminal, the diseased, and the insane, and extending gradually to types which may be called weaklings rather than defectives, and perhaps ultimately to worthless race types.

Grant’s book was criticized by a few scholars, such as Franz Boas, but was well received in the scientific community generally. When the American Eugenics Society was formally incorporated in the 1920s, Madison Grant was one of its directors, and most of America’s leading biologists served on its advisory board under him. Grant and the eugenicists had two principal political goals for the short term: a program for sterilizing the poor, and one for restricting the immigration of “alien scum,” as they liked to call the non-northern European immigrants.

In addition to the scientific community, Grant’s 1916 book was well received across a diverse political spectrum. Theodore Roosevelt, with whom Grant had worked in founding the New York Zoological Society, wrote him a letter of effusive praise. (After reading the 1925 German translation, so did Adolf Hitler.)

By the late 1920s, the eugenicists had had considerable success in the United States. In 1924, Congress enacted a major restriction of the immigration of Italians and eastern European Jews. Two years later, the Supreme Court decided that the state of Virginia had the right to sterilize Carrie Buck, a poor white woman, against her will. Basing their ruling on the latest science, which had convinced them that America was destined to be “swamped with incompetence” unless action was taken, the Court ruled 8 to 1 that “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

American sterilization laws were enacted at the state level, though often half-heartedly. Thirty states actually sterilized people over the next few decades, with California leading the way (sterilizing more than 20,000 citizens), and eleven other states each sterilizing more than 1,000 citizens. Europe provided more fertile ground for a state that wanted to subsume reproduction to its perceived scientific needs, and the emergence of a racist totalitarian government in Germany gave German eugenicists a chance to take the movement to its logical conclusion.


American biologists, particularly geneticists, were reluctant to criticize the eugenics movement. In the first place, two of the most powerful biologists in America were among its leaders: Charles Davenport of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and Henry Fairfield Osborn of the American Museum of Natural History. In the second place, the biologists were themselves products of their own era and class, and they thus often shared the values and prejudices of the eugenics movement. And finally, even if one did feel that Madison Grant overstated the case for genetics, he was nevertheless an advocate for the field.

The fruit fly geneticist (and later, Nobel laureate) Thomas Hunt Morgan, who worked in the same building as Franz Boas at Columbia University, was the only major figure in his field who played no part in the American Eugenics Society. But even Morgan refrained from using his scientific stature to criticize the eugenics program. The bacterial geneticist Herbert Spencer Jennings of Johns Hopkins University found that the statistics presented by the eugenicists to Congress in the early 1920s, ostensibly showing that American immigrants from southern Europe were more prone to crime than those from northern Europe, had been improperly analyzed. He alerted the American Eugenics Society’s president, the Yale economist Irving Fisher, but was dissatisfied with the Society’s lack of interest in the scientific mistakes it had presented to Congress, and he quietly resigned and dissociated himself from the Society. In 1927, his colleague Raymond Pearl published the first critique of eugenics program by an American biologist.

Prior to the publication of Pearl’s 1927 article, the only critiques of eugenics had been published by people outside the mainstream of modern biological science. The journalist Walter Lippman had taken on the IQ testers in an angry series of articles in the New Republic in 1922–1923. Conservative Christians, especially Catholics, objected to governmental intervention in reproduction, which they took to be the affairs of God. Social scientists objected to the eugenicists’ naíve genetic theory of history and civilization, while civil libertarians objected to their insistence on the perceived needs of the state taking precedence over the individual’s civil rights, especially the right to privacy. The famed lawyer Clarence Darrow, who had defended modern biology in the 1925 trial of John T. Scopes for teaching evolution, savaged modern biology the following year for its devotion to eugenics. In the literary magazine The American Mercury, Darrow argued that “amongst the schemes for remolding society this is the most senseless and impudent that has ever been put forward by irresponsible fanatics to plague a long-suffering race.”

The American Mercury was edited by the Baltimore-based journalist and critic H. L. Mencken, who called eugenics “mainly blather” in his column in the Baltimore Sun in May 1927. He prevailed upon his friend and fellow Baltimore intellectual Raymond Pearl to write up his reservations about eugenics, publishing them under the title “The Biology of Superiority” in November 1927. Pearl acknowledged the social prejudices underlying the research, and exposed the flimsy science backing it up. Since Pearl was a respected biologist, his article caused a sensation and was picked up by the major news services. Of course, publicly challenging the power structure of the scientific community was not without its risks, and Pearl found that his offer of a professorship at Harvard was quickly retracted.

Other critiques by biologists soon came out, notably by the American geneticist Hermann Muller (“The Dominance of Economics over Eugenics,” 1932). These scholars, however, did not necessarily dispense with the foolishly utopian view of a state-guided, scientific approach to love, marriage, and procreation, based on popular prejudices; they merely rebelled against the ways in which the ideas were being implemented at the time. Pearl himself believed that Jews, after centuries of life in crowded ghettoes, had become better adapted to urban life than non-Jews, and he urged that strict quotas be placed on their admission to medical schools, lest their ranks in the professional classes swell excessively at the expense of ordinary Americans. Muller, for his part, tried to convince Josef Stalin to implement a state-sponsored program of eugenic breeding, and barely escaped the Soviet Union with his life in 1937.

It was in Germany that eugenicists were given the opportunity to work with the state most closely to implement their ideas. Adolf Hitler had found inspiration in the compatibility between his political goals and the writings of Madison Grant and the eugenicists. He had read the genetics textbook by Eugen Fischer, Erwin Baur, and Fritz Lenz, who advocated the same social prejudices as their American counterparts. When Hitler came to power in 1932, he promoted like-minded scholars. Eugen Fischer became the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics, and he implemented the Nazi policies with such enthusiasm that Franz Weidenreich, a distinguished anatomist who had been forced to emigrate because of his ancestry, later suggested in the pages of the journal Science that he be tried as a war criminal.

In 1934, the prestigious journal Zeitschrift fur Morphologie und Anthropologie published a special volume in Fischer’s honor. In the preface to the volume, two of Fischer’s former students wrote, “We stand upon the threshold of a new era. For the first time in world history, the Führer Adolf Hitler is putting into practice the insights about the

biological foundations of the development of peoples— race, heredity, selection. It is no coincidence that Germany is the locus of this event: German science provides the tools for the politician.” Among the essays that followed were contributions from two Americans, Raymond Pearl and Charles Davenport.

The sterilization laws enacted by the Nazis in 1935 were modeled on the state laws in America, which had been drafted by Charles Davenport’sassistant, the geneticist Harry Laughlin. As a result, Nazi-controlled Heidelberg University awarded Laughlin an honorary doctorate in 1936. By then, however, any formal association with the Nazis was sufficiently embarrassing that Laughlin was discouraged from traveling to Germany to accept it in person.

The Nazis were mobilizing the full force of the modern industrial state in support of the eugenic program, and the doctrines of human progress culminating in the Nordic race, that had been promoted for decades in the name of science. The people who felt the full brunt of their efficient technologies in the 1940s were almost precisely the groups initially targeted by Madison Grant in 1916: criminals, the diseased, “weaklings,” and“worthless race types”. In practice, this meant Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others. Moreover, the sterilization advocated by the scientists was costly and time consuming. To deal with people who were not deemed worthy of reproducing, a hail of bullets or a vial of poison gas was assuredly a more efficient and cost-effective means. If they were not worthy of breeding, why should they be worthy of living?

American support for eugenics waned in America with the accession of the Nazis in Germany. Certainly the stock market crash and the ensuing Depression showed how weakly biological endowments counted in comparison to the life-determining effects of economics and culture. By the end of the 1930s, the Carnegie Foundation had withdrawn its long-standing support for the Eugenics Record Office at Cold Spring Harbor, and full-length criticisms of racist science began to appear in England and America, notably We Europeans (1935) by the biologist Julian Huxley and anthropologist Alfred Cort Haddon; Race: A Study in Superstition (1937) by the historian Jacques Barzun; and Man’s Most Dangerous Myth (1942) by the anthropologist Ashley Montagu.

America was not without its deep scientific racist issues, however. Respected anatomists such as Milo Hellman and Adolph Schultz found a relative primitiveness and apishness in the teeth and skeletons of blacks. The physical anthropologist Earnest Hooton of Harvard struggled mightily to differentiate his science from that of his German counterparts, but he was not very successful and clung to theories of genetically based criminality and eugenics long after most American scientists had abandoned them. In a study that continued for decades, medical practitioners in Tuskegee, Alabama, studied black men infected with syphilis and monitored the course of the disease without treating them. In much of America, where segregation was a fact of life, the inherent inferiority and lesser value of black lives (and Native American lives) was widely taken for granted.


At the end of World War II, the sciences of physical anthropology (as the study of human physical diversity) and human genetics lay largely in tatters, and both fields had to be reinvented. James Neel provided the inspiration for rebuilding human genetics into a science that focused on real genes rather than imaginary ones, on medical rather than social pathologies, and on the availability of voluntary services for the sake of the family rather than coerced procedures for the good of the state or race. As a founding ancestor, Charles Davenport was quietly buried and Archibald Garrod, who had discovered the Mendelian basis of a metabolic disease in 1902, was installed in his place.

In physical anthropology, Sherwood Washburn took the lead in out lining anew physical anthropology

that focused on adaptation rather than classification, evolution rather than typology, real human breeding populations rather than abstract agglomerated races, and common themes of ancient humanity rather than divisive themes of contemporary biological chauvinism. A newer scientific approach to human variation would see the human species, in the words of British physical anthropologist Joseph S. Weiner, “as constituting a widespread network of more-or-less interrelated, ecologically adapted and functional entities.”

The rooting of Nazi ideology in the science of race attracted the attention of the fledgling United Nations, which commissioned an international panel of scholars to draft a formal statement summarizing the (nonthreatening) science of race. The anthropologist Ashley Montagu emerged as its principal framer, and the UNESCO Statement on Race was issued in 1950. In twenty-one paragraphs, this statement articulated a view of race in which the cultural forces shaping a human being were far stronger than any biological differences. Thus, “each group arbitrarily tends to misinterpret the variability which occurs as a fundamental difference which separates that group from all others,” and “so far as temperament is concerned, there is … evidence that whatever group differences of the kind there might be are greatly overridden by the individual differences, and by the differences springing from environmental factors.” Further, “for all practical social purposes “race” is not so much a biological phenomenon as a social myth. … Lastly, biological studies lend support to the ethic of universal brotherhood; for man is born with drives toward cooperation, and unless these drives are satisfied, men and nations alike fall ill.”

This language proved too radical for the senior generation of racial scholars, however, and they asked UNESCO to have the document re-drafted. UNESCO capitulated to the pressure, and produced another Statement on Race in 1951. This second statement focused principally on genetics and weakened many of the more forceful assertions of the first. Among the complaints forcing this change was one submitted by the aged former Nazi, Eugen Fischer.

The scientific turmoil at UNESCO, however, was peripheral to racial issues in America. To some extent the key decisions in the civil rights movement of the 1950s, such as Brown v. the Board of Education (1954), drew inspiration from a generation of Boasian anthropological thought. Ultimately, issues of relative natural endowments and of the pattern and distribution of human biological differences were deemed to be red herrings; the heart of the matter was the guarantee of constitutionally based freedoms to all parts of American society.


There was an inevitable backlash to the liberalization of racial thought in the post-Nazi era. As the cold war emerged, a dark secret emerged with it. Back in the 1930s, before America and Germany had gone to war, many Americans held sympathy for Nazi racial views. After all, there was a great deal of continuity between German racial science and its American counterpart. The principal enemies of the Nazis in those days were not the Americans, but the Communists, so many young intellectuals set against Nazi racism naturally tended to gravitate to those who were the strongest opponents of the Nazis—that is, to the Communists. By the 1950s the Nazis had been officially routed, and America’s new enemies were now the Communists, and consequently many middle-aged intellectuals who had worked for egalitarian ideals in their youth were now saddled with an embarrassing Communist past.

In 1943 the USO (United Service Organizations) had commissioned a pamphlet by anthropologists to explain race to GIs, and to show them what they were ostensibly fighting for. It was written by two Boasians at Columbia University, Ruth Benedict and Gene Weltfish, and was called “The Races of Man.” After extensive distribution of the pamphlet, a group of southern Congressmen, led by Representative Andrew J. May of Kentucky, had it withdrawn and declared subversive for its strongly egalitarian message. A few years later, after Benedict had died, Weltfish was summoned to testify about her Communist past by the House Un-American Activities Committee, after which she was summarily fired by Columbia University. A similar fate befell Ashley Montagu, the principal author of the original UNESCO Statement on Race, who was fired from his position at Rutgers University.

There were also scientists who opposed school integration and the overall goals of the civil rights movement, believing that their positions were validated scientifically. By the early 1960s, however, this group had shrunk to a small, if shrill, minority. Back in 1937, a textile magnate named Wickliffe Draper had set up a philanthropic endowment to support the scientific study of human differences, with a nod towards proving the superiority of the white race. The first president of Draper’s Pioneer Fund was the eugenicist Harry Laughlin. By the early 1960s, the Pioneer Fund was supporting psychometric studies purporting to demonstrate the lack of intelligence of blacks. Draper helped underwrite the formation of a journal, the Mankind Quarterly, which began publication in 1960 as an outlet for unrepentant racists who felt left out of the liberalized academic mainstream.

The journal’s editor was an obscure Scottish nobleman, Robert Gayre, and his associate editors were a psychologist named Henry Garrett and a geneticist named Ruggles Gates. Garrett had testified against school integration and had become convinced that the civil rights movement was the result of a conspiracy of Jews, communists, and anthropologists, all drawing inspiration from Franz Boas. Gates was trained as a botanical geneticist, and because plants commonly profligate outside the accepted taxonomic boundaries of their species, he rejected the interbreeding criterion as evidence of human unity and became the last academic advocate of species status for human races. His book Human Ancestry (1948) came with a foreword by his friend Earnest Hooton, who politely disavowed all the ideas that followed.

The Mankind Quarterly, edited by Gayre, Garrett, and Gates, caused a sensation with its first issue. The physical anthropologists Geoffrey Harrison, Juan Comas, and Santiago Genoves angrily denounced it in the mainstream scientific literature. An eastern European anthropologist resigned from Mankind Quarterly’s editorial board upon discovering its ideological stance; as a Dachau survivor he found the response unsatisfactory and condescending, and therefore criticized the journal, only to be sued by Gayre and Garrett for associating them with Nazi ideologies.

Other prominent segregationists worked to promote a scientific case for their cause. In 1962, Wesley Critz George, an anatomist from the University of North Carolina, authored a study commissioned by the governor of Alabama, called “The Biology of the Race Problem,” ostensibly demonstrating the inferiority of black intelligence. The work was assiduously promoted by a propagandist, businessman (founder of Delta Airlines), and sometime historian named Carleton Putnam, whose own segregationist book, Race and Reason (1961) echoed Garrett’s ideas about the insidious egalitarian cabal of Jews, communists, and anthropologists.

Putnam’s work was roundly condemned by the American Anthropological Association at its 1961 meeting. The leading evolutionary geneticist of the era, Theodosius Dobzhansky, also weighed in harshly. Dobzhansky was in an ideal position to criticize the work, for he was not Jewish, not an anthropologist, and an émigré from the Soviet regime. Nevertheless, Putnam and the segregationists had a valuable ally within the anthropological community—Putnam’s cousin, the University of Pennsylvania anthropologist Carleton Coon, who was also the sitting president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists.

Coon’s own book, The Origin of Races (1962), was being cited by the segregationists even before publication. It purported to demonstrate that Africans had evolved from Homo erectus into Homo sapiens 200,000 years after Europeans had, which explained their innate backwardness. The scholarly reviews were mixed, with varying degrees of deference paid to Coon’ stature in the scholarly community, much querying about the possibility of separate races evolving in parallel across a species boundary, and much private speculation about Coon’s political allegiances and motives. Coon maintained a public posture of being apolitical, but he was privately assisting the segregationists.

At the end of the decade, a major beneficiary of the Pioneer Fund, Berkeley psychologist Arthur Jensen, published an article in the Harvard Educational Review that rhetorically asked, “How much can we boost IQ and scholastic achievement?” and answered, predictably, not very much at all. Jensen and his British counterparts, Cyril Burt and Hans Eysenck, were the most prominent remaining proponents of the view that intelligence was principally innate and unalterable. Burt’s studies of identical twins separated at birth and subsequently reunited seemed to support these ideas, but by the late 1970s it had become clear that Burt was, to put it mildly, an eccentric scientist whose twins and collaborators were largely products of his imagination. Jensen’s and Eysenck’s arguments relied heavily on their misinterpretation of a statistic from genetics called “heritability.” Prominent geneticists (such as Richard Lewontin and Luca Cavalli-Sforza) and psychologists (such as Steven Rose and Leon Kamin) rose to show the flaws in their reasoning.

Around 1970, Jensen was joined in his crusade by William Shockley, a Stanford University Nobel laureate in physics who parlayed the invention of the transistor into a bully pulpit for his ideas on the inferiority of blacks and the merits of the discarded ideas of eugenics. Shockley also believed that women should have an opportunity to be fertilized by the highest-quality sperm available, and, along with a California tycoon and visionary named Robert Graham, he started a Nobel-laureate sperm bank. Unfortunately for them, most Nobel laureates were smart enough not to want anything to do with Shockley or his ideas, and the sperm bank never produced a Nobel baby (Plotz 2005).

While the present discussion has focused on Euro-American scientific racism, the ideas were also influential to various degrees elsewhere, and the place where they remained in force the longest as formal state policy was in the former British colony of South Africa. Colonial powers there took pains to manipulate the archaeological record, permitting them to deny the attribution of architecture and metallurgy to the ancestors of the local indigenous people. Much scholarly literature in South Africa prior to World War II employed a crude racialized ideology. After World War II, however, with the passage of the laws collectively known as “apartheid,” the South African government came to use more anthropologically sophisticated ideas about cultural diversity to rationalize its policies for moving dispossessed blacks to reservations, or homelands. The political transition in the 1990s fostered public reflection on the relationship between European science and anti-African racism. Some acknowledgment of the Africans’ early encounters with science was made when the French agreed, in 2002, to repatriate the remains of Sarah Baartman, a Khoe woman who had toured Europe on display and been dissected upon her death by the greatest anatomists of the age, with her remains kept in the Muséedel’Homme in Paris for two centuries. Instrumental in the negotiations was the physical anthropologist Phillip Tobias, who had fought against apartheid and its science. Ironically, the apartheid government had also opposed evolution, which has now been embraced by the new government.


One of the ironies about the controversy surrounding the publication of Sociobiology: The New Synthesis (1975), by the Harvard entomologist Edward O. Wilson, was that it came with no overt political agenda. Its arguments came from theoretical ecology, its data were from animal behavior, and it said nothing about race, except to raise the possibility that racism (or xenophobia, a Davenport-like neologism meaning “fear of strangers”) might be innate. It made rash generalizations about human nature and presented an overly biologized view of human behavior. Observers were justifiably outraged when a protester poured water on Wilson during a scientific meeting, but probably more outrageous was Wilson’s own naiveté in not realizing that scientific pronouncements about human behavior are invariably politicized.

Two decades later, this became evident once again, when the Harvard hereditarian psychologist Richard Herrnstein collaborated with conservative political theorist Charles Murray on The Bell Curve. This work made a case against social programs directed at the poor, on the grounds that the poor were irremediably stupid, as attested by their low IQs, which the authors claimed are genetically fixed. The Bell Curve reiterated Arthur Jensen’s arguments (and errors) of the preceding generation, and it cited not only the work of several Pioneer Fund beneficiaries, but several articles published in the Mankind Quarterly as well, hardly a mainstream or reputable source. Conservative political activists quickly recognized the value of the book in invoking nature to justify social inequality, just as William Graham Sumner had done a century earlier.

Another quirk of The Bell Curve was its citations of the work of a Pioneer Fund beneficiary, the Canadian psychologist Philippe Rushton. In addition, a pre-emptive appendix defended Rushton’s work as “not that of a crackpot or a bigot’ and “plainly science.” Rushton envisions a racial spectrum in which natural selection has produced innately large-brained, law-abiding, civilized, and under-sexualized Asians; innately small-brained, criminalistic, primitive, and licentious Africans; and Europeans as a happy medium. The Bell Curve’s mild characterization of these bizarre ideas is not simply an understatement, but is more likely just a simple falsehood (Graves 2002; Lieberman 2001). Rushton had his work reprinted in a digested form and sent to the membership lists of the American Anthropological Association, the American Sociological Association, and other academic organizations, with the financial assistance of the Pioneer Fund, of which he was subsequently made president.

The Bell Curve came as a shock to scholars of human diversity, who thought they had seen the last of these ideas back in the 1960s. It drove home forcefully the lesson that, because the political stakes are high, the scientific study of human diversity requires constant vigilance to prevent its corruption by those who would use science to make people’s lives more miserable (which would seem to provide an argument against science generally, if that is indeed its result). Consequently, the

American Anthropological Association and the American Association of Physical Anthropologists adopted public position statements on race, updating the old UNESCO statements.

At century’s end, another version of scientific racism briefly surfaced again. Where the body and mind are commonly juxtaposed against one another, and the minds of whites are taken to be superior to those of blacks, a corollary might be that the bodies of blacks are superior to those of whites. Buffon had responded in the eighteenth century to the popular rumor that blacks were considered more physically hale than whites, and thus more fit for manual labor, while the spectacular success of Jack Johnson in boxing and Jesse Owens in track in the twentieth century suggested an innate physical superiority of “the black athlete”—if one took them not as exceptional, gifted, and well-trained individuals, but as gross avatars or symbols. Paradoxically, as anatomists studied Jesse Owens’ legs looking for marks of black superiority, they found none; indeed, they found his feet to be rather “white” (Hoberman 1997).

The gradual entry of blacks into American professional sports, and the opening up of athletics as a professional venue, produced a new crop of excellent black athletes and a new wave of scientific racism to account for their success. The prominence of black football players was accompanied by the underlying sentiment that they could nevertheless not succeed at a “thinking” position such as quarterback. The African-American quarterback Doug Williams subsequently led the Washington Redskins to the National Football League championship in the 1988 Super Bowl. The prominence of black baseball players raised the question of their absence from the managerial ranks in 1987, to which Al Campanis, an executive for the Los Angeles Dodgers, casually responded that perhaps blacks lacked the intellectual abilities for managing (he added that black swimmers also lacked the necessary buoyancy for elite status in that sport). In 1975, Frank Robinson had become the first black manager in the major leagues, and in 1992 and 1993 Cito Gaston would lead the Toronto Blue Jays to consecutive World Series baseball championships.

Nevertheless, the prominence of blacks in basketball in the 1990s renewed pseudo-scientific suspicions that they were innately endowed, as a group, with athletic prowess. These views were summarized by a journalist named Jon Entine, whose book Taboo: Why Blacks Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk about It was published in 2000. Entine’s answer to black “domination” was racial genetic superiority, and his explanation of the “fear” was an updated version of the old anthropological-Jewish-communist conspiracy. Like all the previous variations on the theme of genetically embedded racial hierarchies, this one was also overtaken by social and historical events—in this case, the collapse of the United States Olympic basketball team in 2004 and the emergence of basketball stars from other parts of the world.

SEE ALSO Boas, Franz; Chamberlain, Houston Stewart; Eugenics, History of; Exploitation; Galton, Francis; Genocide; Great Chain of Being; Holocaust; IQ and Testing; Jensen, Arthur; Morton, Samuel George; Racial Hierarchy; Slavery, Racial.


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Jonathan Marks

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