The science of racism

June 2, 2008 at 12:51 pm | Posted in Misc. | Leave a comment
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Over at The Root, Henry Louis Gates Jr meets James Watson – the “godfather of DNA” – and attempts to revisit his astonishing remarks on race and intelligence. Despite unwanted endorsments from the world’s white supremacists, Gates suggests that Watson is basically a naive man who operates under the arrogant belief that his life’s work can or will uncover all the mysteries of human existence. Not a racist, then, but a racialist:

I don’t think James Watson is a racist. But I do think that he is a racialist—that is, he believes that certain observable traits or forms of behavior among groups of human beings might, indeed, have a biological basis in the code that scientists, eventually, may be able to ascertain, that the “gene” is some mythically neutral space and what it purportedly “measures” or “determines” is independent of environmental factors, variables and influences. The difference, the distinction, between being a racist and a racialist is crucial. James Watson is not the garden-variety racist as he has been caricatured by the press and bloggers, the sort epitomized by David Duke and his ilk, and he seemed genuinely chagrined, embarrassed and remorseful that Duke and other racists had claimed him as their champion, as one of their own, because of his remarks as quoted in the London Sunday Times. And, as we might expect, he apologized profusely for those remarks, contending that he had been misquoted, at worst, and his remarks taken out of context, at best. (I have not been able to determine if the writer who reported the remarks taped them or reconstructed them from notes or memory.)

But I did leave Cold Spring Harbor convinced that Dr. Watson believes that many forms of behavior—such as “Jewish intelligence” (his phrase) and the basketball prowess of black men in the NBA (his example)—could, possibly, be traced to genetic differences among human beings, although no such connection has been made, and will probably never be made on any firm scientific basis, it seems to me. And I have to say that it was ultimately chilling to me when he remarked, with what seemed to me to be monumental naivete, that “if they find genes for all kinds of Jewish intelligence, I don’t think it’s going to affect me in the slightest,” especially when we couple that sort of remark with his passionate belief that “everyone should be judged as individuals. No one should be judged by a term like ‘black.'”

Go here to read Gates’ reflections in full, and here to read excerpts from the interview with Watson


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