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Racism and its Future Downfall

A recent report to the UN by Doudou Diène addressed the problem of the legitimization of racism at the highest intellectual and political levels in democratic societies. He cited French President Sarkozy’s Dakar speech, which stated that the African “man never launched himself … Read More

By / November 10, 2007

A recent report to the UN by Doudou Diène addressed the problem of the legitimization of racism at the highest intellectual and political levels in democratic societies. He cited French President Sarkozy’s Dakar speech, which stated that the African “man never launched himself towards the future. The idea never came to him to get out of this repetition and to invent his own destiny,” and the recent comments of James Watson, of stolen DNA fame, claiming that Africans are less intelligent than ‘us’, i.e. white males.

Sarkozy’s speech has been criticized in France, most notably by Bernard-Henri Lévy, whom nevertheless laid the blame squarely on the speech-writer’s shoulders (generating a mini-internet feud). The French diplomat at the UN, however, was shocked:

The representative of France said the Special Rapporteur had referred to his country twice in an unacceptable way.  Public statements by the highest authorities of France could be debated, of course, but it was unacceptable to say that they sought to legitimize racism.  President Sarkozy had reaffirmed several times that the fight against racism and xenophobia was among his priorities…

Notwithstanding the habitual racism of French presidents, it seems that France’s fascination with its own way of doing things does lead it to believe that xenophobia is fought off successfully in a very ‘Republican’ way, which can be summed up as the rejection of all differences in the public sphere. It seems the heirs of the Enlightenment -and of the Terror– have scarce asked themselves about the norm from which the different could be deduced. For all the acculturation talk, the norm is clear: if you’re not a visibly white, Catholic man, things are not so great.

Watson’s asininity, on the other hand, is nothing new. One can find it baffling that he got to direct Cold Spring Harbor lab for so long. But his cronies abound. A review of his latest book published last month in Nature demonstrates the ambient blindness:

We learn who and what has earned Watson's respect, affection and tenderness: his father, his wife Liz, the University of Chicago, former Chicago president Robert Hutchins, teaching, Harvard students, art, and those he injudiciously refers to as 'girls'.

Injudiciously? Girls? Wait one. Oh, yeah:

Watson is highly critical of science at Harvard, while expressing sympathy for the demise of former Harvard president Larry Summers. These events would seem to be largely irrelevant to the rest of the book, had Watson not been in hot water in the mid-1970s over 'girls' in science, and had he not been curious about the role of the genome in shaping human intellectual ability and in predisposing to such 'developmental failures' as autism, schizophrenia and Asperger's syndrome. He tellingly concludes: "If Summers' tactlessness does, in fact, have a genetic basis, much of the anger toward him should rightly yield to sympathy." In genome, veritas.

“Been in hot water in the mid-70’s” is what I call a sympathetic assessment of a deeply bigoted man. Discounting the obvious stupidity of assuming intelligence is somehow tied to the white man’s Y chromosome (and yes I do believe that any special case for “Jewish intelligence” would have to be exclusively cultural), would you not find it disturbing in the least that the claims of a supposed foremost scientist sound exactly like the centuries-old pseudo-science of racism?

The most fervent hope I have against all forms of xenophobia is in the increasing rate at which people of different backgrounds (ethnic, religious and atheistic, national) get together. This seems to happen everywhere, from the American continent to Old Europe, and with a bit of luck –and whatever the mechanism– it will spell the downfall of racism before we have time to get married with robots.

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