Bronze-level articleRacialism

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See the main article on this topic: Racism

Racialism is sometimes considered synonymous with racism, but often refers to frightening racial ideologies rather than mere run-of-the-mill bigotry. While racial prejudice is irrational, racialism attempts to rationalise it into a coherent doctrine. Examples of racialist governments include Nazi Germany and apartheid South Africa. Examples of racialist pressure groups include the Aryan Nations and the Ku Klux Klan.

Some forms of racialism are based on flawed interpretations of Christianity, and others on pseudoscience and flawed interpretations of science (particularly evolutionary biology). Sometimes, the term scientific racism is used to describe the latter. Diagrams showing the skull shapes and measurements of various races were used in racialist justifications for slavery during the 19th century, and appeared again in Nazi propaganda. Another facet of racialism is to refer to races in esoteric racist jargon. For example, racialist wiki Metapedia categorises races into "Caucasoid", "Negroid" and "Mongoloid". And, yes, the Metapedia entries for these terms do include skull measurement diagrams.

Most racialists believe in some sort of hierarchy of races, and since in most cases they are white supremacists, this usually puts the white, Caucasian, or "Aryan"[1] race firmly at the top. While all racialists are certainly racist, not all racists are necessarily racialist, although the more stupid ones may be an easy target for racialist propaganda.


The "original" skin color

Most forms of racialism view whatever their preferred skin color is as the "original" or "natural" skin color while other skin colors are viewed as aberrations, usually due to punishment by god or the result of devolution. Examples include:

  • Curse of Ham, in which Noah's curse on Canaan is interpreted to have racial implications in which the cursed people had their skin "blackened."
  • A similar concept can be found in the Book of Mormon.[2]
  • Melanin theory and related ideas in Afrocentrism, in which black is the default skin color that other races have devolved from.

Modern anthropologists believe white skin came from black skin as people move to more northerly climates and substituted meat and fish with cereal grains. As people moved to more northerly climates darker skinned people were less able to absorb vitamin D and relied more on diet for this essential nutrient; when agriculture was introduced to northern climates and wheat became the main staple vitamin d deficiency and related diseases like rickets became a problem. Lighter skinned people could absorb more vitamin D and had an evolutionary advantage.

"Scientific" racism

While racialist ideas had been circulated for countless years by philosophers both natural and folk, what is more commonly known as "scientific racism" or "raciology" didn't come about until the 18th century and only gained more widespread popularity in the mid-19th century. Early attempts at "scientific" definitions of race drew largely on Carl Linnaeus' Systema Naturae (1735), in which he posited five races: the Europeanus, the Africanus, the Americanus, the Asiaticus, and the Monstrosus (that last one was actually made up of mythical creatures).[3] The idea of a Great Chain of Being, with a linear model of creation, also influenced racialist ideologies. One of "scientific" racism's greatest hits in the 19th century was Joseph Arthur, Comte de Gobineau's An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races (1853), which was basically a work of racial historical determinism claiming that the "Aryans" were the supreme race and miscegenation led to civilizational decline.[4] Gobineau's writings greatly "inspired" the British Germanophile Houston Stewart Chamberlain, who wrote The Foundations of the 19th Century (1899), a massive anti-Semitic tome ascribing Europe's greatness to the Aryans (or Teutons).[5] This would later be heavily recycled by the Nazis. Incidentally, Chamberlain also rejected evolution and promoted the pseudo-astronomy of Hans Hörbiger. Another influence on the Nazis was Ernst Haeckel, who used Lamarckian views of evolution to defend racialism and nationalism.[6]

Darwin and racialism

Despite what the creationists and Social Darwinists would have you believe, the work of Charles Darwin did not promote racialism (as above, many raciological works were written before Darwin even published his own work and many of them, in fact, denied Darwinian evolution). Darwin, despite making occasional use of racist tropes in common currency at the time in his writing (e.g., use of the term "savages"), was fiercely progressive for his time. On the Origin of Species and the subsequent Descent of Man undermined many of the arguments made by racialists by demonstrating that humans were one species.[7] Darwin specifically argued that there were no clear delineations between the races and that they graduated into each other in Descent of Man. In his personal life, he was also a staunch abolitionist.[8][9]

It was, in fact, Herbert Spencer who coined the term "survival of the fittest" in his book Principles of Biology and (wrongly) applied Darwinian evolution to sociology and politics.[10] Darwin's cousin, Francis Galton, coined the term "eugenics." It's also worth noting that the line of eugenicists spawned by Galton in Britain generally saw social class as more important than race.

Further, there is the persistent meme perpetuated by creationists that Darwin's works were used as justification for the eugenics programs of Nazi Germany. For a full debunking of this, see the article Hitler and evolution.

Racialism and pseudo-psychology in the US

A racist 1860 American political cartoon, depicting with contempt an African-American as the "next Republican candidate." In the cartoonist's view, such a possibility is ridiculous because of the biologically determined positions of the races.

Two of the most well-known proponents of "scientific" racism in the United States were Benjamin Rush and Samuel Cartwright. Rush was, rather interestingly, one of the Founding Fathers and an abolitionist. He believed that blacks suffered from a disease called "negritude," supposedly a form of leprosy, that could be "cured" and would result in turning their skin white. This led to his attempts to develop quack "cures" for "negritude." Cartwright coined two pseudo-psychological diagnoses that rationalized and justified slavery. The first he called "drapetomania," which was allegedly an illness causing slaves to run away from their masters. Conveniently for the slave masters, much of the "treatment" for this "illness" consisted of whipping. The second "diagnosis" was "dysaethesia aethiopica," or laziness. This was, according to Cartwright, also a physical illness that could be diagnosed through the appearance of lesions on the skin. No doubt this had nothing to do with the backbreaking manual labor and frequent whippings and beatings slaves endured, nothing at all.[11]

The head bone's connected to the...bigotry bone?

Racialists were also known for having big skull fetishes. The pseudoscience of phrenology was incorporated into racialist theories during the 19th century. The variant of phrenology known as "craniology" or "craniometry" became popular during this period. Craniology attempted to measure intelligence using the shape and size of the skull as a proxy. Craniology was used as a justification for all sorts of bigotry. Brits, for example, declared the Irish to be inferior to Anglo-Saxons based on skull measurements. It could also be called a form of "scientific" sexism as it was used to "prove" the superiority of men.[12] Surgeon and anthropologist Paul Broca conducted some of the most famous large-scale studies attempting to demonstrate the intellectual superiority of whites and men.[13] Herbert Spencer was also known as a promoter of these ideas in his psychological writings.

Craniology is, of course, made of multiple layers of wrong. In theory, it is already two steps removed from what it's attempting to measure, i.e., skull size (cranial capacity, in technical parlance) is used to approximate brain size which is in turn used to approximate "intelligence." Cranial capacity can, in fact, be used to measure brain size. However, more advanced bigots have generally moved on to direct measurements of brain size (thanks in large part to modern brain scanning technology), which is where the weak link in the chain really is. The problem here is that the size of the brain by itself is not a measure of intelligence. If this idea were taken to its logical conclusion, the world would likely be ruled by elephants or sperm whales. To use an example much more comparable to humans in brain structure, Neanderthals' brains were on average a bit larger than ours.[14] So much for the Neanderthal master race. What is much more important than absolute brain size includes factors such as cortical folding, neuronal organization, dendritic and synaptic connections, etc.[15]

Furthermore, the size and shape of the skull is itself not set in stone. As was demonstrated a hundred years ago by Franz Boas, people who are raised with a higher quality of life tend to have slightly larger and differently-shaped skulls than those who grew up in poverty, with little food and limited access to health care.[16] It was this research, showing that upbringing plays as much a role in skull size and shape as genetics does, that helped to discredit the "science" back in the early 20th century.

For good measure, and to demonstrate how utterly wrong craniological ideas are, assume that there is a single part of the brain responsible for intelligence and that its size magically corresponds exactly to intelligence levels (or, in other words, set the game up in the bigots' favor as much as possible). Because we know about the neuroplasticity of the brain, this still does not prove any kind of biological or genetic determinism tied to the size of this part of the brain as we don't know the direction of causality, i.e. is the person smart because the hypothetical "intelligence cortex" happens to be large or is that part of the brain large because the person happens to have been learned well?

Race and intelligence (or, craniology redux)

A handful of "researchers" including figures such as J. Philippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen have continued to argue that certain races are just inherently dumb. While they still like their skull and brain size measurements, their arguments hinge more on invoking genetic determinism as an explanation for racial and ethnic group differences in IQ scores. In addition to the fact that race is incredibly ill-defined itself, IQ has many of its own problems. While there is general agreement on IQ as a useful measure, there is no consensus on a number of related issues, such as how strongly it correlates to general intelligence, how many aspects of intelligence it can measure, what the implications are sociologically speaking, etc.[17] Another problem with using IQ in this manner (besides the obvious) is the Flynn Effect, a phenomenon discovered by the psychologist James Flynn in which there has been a global rise in average IQ scores. In many cases, ethnic minorities have made the most rapid gains.[18][19]

Rushton, however, has put a new spin on the supposed racial hierarchy -- according to him, it should be organized thusly: "Mongoloid" > "Caucasoid" > "Negroid." This led anthropologist Jonathan Marks to remark:

First we must admire the apparent cranial expansion of Asians over the last half-century, when [earlier] researchers consistently reported their having smaller brains than whites. Obviously this implies the possibility of a comparable expansion in blacks. More likely, it implies the possibility of scientists finding just what they expect when the social and political stakes are high.[20]

See also

External links



  1. Or, in Metapedia's case, "Caucasoid".
  2. See the Wikipedia article on Black people and early Mormonism.
  3. Systema Naturae
  4. An Essay on the Inequality of the Human Races
  5. Houston Stewart Chamberlain entry in the Encyclopedia Britannica. Foundations can be read in full here, if you're into that sort of thing.
  6. Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919), UC Berkeley evolution exhibit
  7. Contra Darwin, attempting to "prove" that blacks were a separate species somewhere between apes and whites in lineage became a hobby-horse for racialists.
  8. The Mis-Portrayal of Darwin as a Racist by R.G. Price
  9. Darwin's writing is also ripe for quote mining as he used the terms "race," "culture," and "kind" interchangeably as was the convention at the time. Removing the context of these quotes to imply that Darwin's conception of evolutionary theory implies racialism is committing the fallacy of presentism. Talk Origins has more on common quote mines here and here. Further discussion of evolution and racism can be found here.
  10. Herbert Spencer at About Darwin. See also Talk Origins on "survival of the fittest."
  11. Vanessa Jackson, "In Our Own Voices: African American Stories of Oppression, Survival and Recovery in the Mental Health System", pp 1-36, p. 4-8.
  12. Craniometry entry in The Skeptic's Dictionary
  13. Women's Brains by Stephen Jay Gould, excerpt from The Panda's Thumb.
  14. Volume of a Human Brain, Physics Factbook
  15. For a brief overview, see Brain Size and Intelligence by Steven Novella and Fact or Fiction: When It Comes to Intelligence, Does Brain Size Matter? in Scientific American. Further information can be found at the Brain Evolution page at Bryn Mawr.
  16. Clarence C. Gravlee, H. Russell Bernard, and William R. Leonard. Heredity, Environment, and Cranial Form: A Reanalysis of Boas's Immigrant Data. American Anthropologist, Mar. 2003, 105(1):125–138
  17. Ulric Neisser et al. Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns. American Psychologist, Feb. 1996.
  18. Flynn Effect page at Indiana University. See also "None of the Above" by Malcolm Gladwell and The Flynn Effect and IQ Disparities Among Races, Ethnicities, and Nations by Scott Barry Kaufman.
  19. James R. Flynn. Searching for Justice: The Discovery of IQ Gains Over Time. American Psychologist, vol. 54, no. 1, Jan. 1999, pp. 5-20
  20. Quoted in: Leonard Lieberman. How "Caucasoids" Got Such Big Crania and Why They Shrank. Current Anthropology. Volume 42, Number 1, February 2001
  21. It should be noted Gould's criticisms of Morton's cranial capacity measurements have been called into question. See Jason E. Lewis et al. The Mismeasure of Science: Stephen Jay Gould versus Samuel George Morton on Skulls and Bias. PLoS Biol 9(6), 2011, with further commentary in Nature Jun. 2011.
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