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Bronze-level articleRacialism

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Racism and racists

Racialism is the belief that races exist and are substantially different from each other.

Racialists are often, but not necessarily, racist. While racial prejudice without justification is irrational, racist racialists attempt 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 the Ku Klux Klan, and the Nation of Islam.

Most racialists believe that some hierarchy of races exists. Because most racialists are white supremacists, this usually puts the Caucasian, or "Aryan"[1] race firmly at the top; however, some recent racialists have put Asians or "Eurasians" on top.


Alternate names

Very few racialists call themselves "racialist". Instead, because straight-up racism isn't hip anymore, racialists created a few snazzy new names:

  • Human biodiversity or HBD:[2] By being just one "bio" away from supporting "diversity" and by failing to mention race, human biodiversity is the most innocuous form of racialism, because it allows one to deny any racism -- because it's recognizing biodiversity, not being racist!
  • Racial realism or race realism: Racial realists get a two-pronged advantage: First, they can deny their racism by -- "I'm not a racist, I'm a racial realist!". Second, they can paint non-racialists as "race deniers" or "racial difference deniers", which suggests a denial of the obvious facts.
  • Scientific racism: While scientific racists do have to admit their racism, they also get the joy of slapping the "approval" of SCIENCE on it.

A brief history of racialism

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]

Why are people racialist?

"Race realism" is commonly used by David Duke, Jared Taylor[wp], and sundry other white supremacists, which should be a big clue as to its racist roots.[7][8] The term is also bandied about quite often by the cranks at VDARE and the Pioneer Fund.

The claims always seem to include, somewhere along the way, one that works out to "black Americans are naturally stupid, so their social position follows unavoidably," because surely nothing else could have possibly caused such a plight. This falls down in that the arbitrary group "people of recent African ancestry" has more genetic variation than does the entire rest of humanity,[9] and claiming they are a genetic grouping defies science.

Some racialism is based on religion. Consider the 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.[10] Some forms of racialism are based on flawed interpretations of Christianity.

Some racialism is based on pseudoscience and flawed interpretations of science (particularly evolutionary biology). 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.

Problems with racialism

There are many problems with racialism, the chief of which is that race is not "real"; races are social constructions based on arbitrary agglomerations of visible physical genetic traits, such as skin color. In fact, the most genetically diverse peoples on Earth — who race realists pretty much all regard as a single homogeneous group — are all dark-skinned Africans, as variation per distance is always greatest near the origin.

In many societies, race as a social fact is a big deal. Everybody in such a society has a relatively clear and acknowledged racial identity. These identities may affect their lives, store of social capital, and relationships with others in many and frequent ways. It also is obvious to people that the traits that locally sort people into races are inheritable. In the face of such a pervasive social reality, the idea that race is a social convention based on an arbitrary set of external characteristics may well seem counterintuitive.

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 or the result of devolution. Examples include:

Modern anthropologists believe white skin came from black skin as people moved 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 from the Sun, giving them an evolutionary advantage.

Of course, racialists who claim to accept the scientific consensus just turn the whole thing around: if white skin is a chronologically later adaptation, then white people are obviously "more evolved". (The ability to spin new discoveries and new "cultural wisdom" into new flavors of racialism can be seen in other areas, as when Jews and Asians went from being considered irredeemable in every respect to being the model minorities[wp] that (white non-Jewish) racialists can trot out to "prove" they aren't racist.)

Craniology redux

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.[11] Surgeon and anthropologist Paul Broca conducted some of the most famous large-scale studies attempting to demonstrate the intellectual superiority of whites and men.[12]. 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.[13] So much for the Neanderthal master race. Furthermore, having an abnormally large amount of brain tissue, referred to as megalencephaly, is recognized as being pathological and is strongly correlated with several neurological disorders, especially severe epilepsy and autism. What is much more important than absolute brain size includes factors such as cortical folding, neuronal organization, dendritic and synaptic connections, etc.[14]

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.[15] 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 learned well?

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.[16] 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.[17][18] Whoops.

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.[19]

Adaptation doesn't work like that

Adaptation to environments, including social environments, through natural and sexual selection is the linchpin of evolution. Remembering this means knowing why scientific racism is ridiculous. To argue that races or ethnic groups differ innately in intelligence, however defined, is exactly equal to an assertion that intelligence has proven less adaptive for some people than for others. This at minimum requires an explanation, a specifically evolutionary explanation, beyond mere statistical assertion; without that it can be assumed to be cultural bias or noise. Since most human intelligence is in fact social intelligence — the main thing the human mind is built for is networking in human societies — this would require this social evolutionary arms race to have somehow stopped.

Genetic differences between people from different locations are pretty much entirely genetic drift. Amount of melanin does vary with distance from the equator, and there's recent actual evolution such as lactose tolerance in adults.[20]

The proportion of your genes that controls the external appearance by which "races" are determined is on the order of 0.01%.[21]

The human gene pool does not divide neatly into geographical groupings

What human genetic groupings actually look like. See how many distinct groups "black" would break down into?

Human genetics doesn't work like race realists think it does.

Race realists spend a great deal of time and effort pointing out genetic differences between geographically separated populations in gene clustering research and insisting this is evidence for "races".

In gene clustering research a set of populations is typically determined via subjective descriptors in ethnicity, language and geographics and people can be reliably identified as members of these groups. However, this way of categorizing people depends fundamentally on the quantity and method used to create the aforementioned framework of ancestral populations; how people are grouped into populations is completely arbitrary. This is completely different from the problem of "races", which presupposes that there is only one objectively and biologically valid way of dividing all humans into different populations.

As Jonathan Marks points out:

What is unclear is what this has to do with 'race' as that term has been used through much in the twentieth century - the mere fact that we can find groups to be different and can reliably allot people to them is trivial. Again, the point of the theory of race was to discover large clusters of people that are principally homogeneous within and heterogeneous between, contrasting groups.[22]

The idea of large clusters of people that are principally homogeneous within and heterogeneous in-between in terms of genetic similarity — the latter being necessary to speak of distinct "races" — has no scientific basis and in fact there is evidence against it. Witherspoon et al concluded in their 2007 paper "Genetic Similarities Within and Between Human Populations":

The fact that, given enough genetic data, individuals can be correctly assigned to their populations of origin is compatible with the observation that most human genetic variation is found within populations, not between them. It is also compatible with our finding that, even when the most distinct populations are considered and hundreds of loci are used, individuals are frequently more similar to members of other populations than to members of their own population.[23]

Once "intermediate" populations — people living between two greater geographical extremes — are included, you find genetic continuity, not discontinuities. Racial realists' proposed race-labeled genetic clusters all exclude "intermediate" populations; sampling and including such populations destroys any illusory genetic discontinuity.[24]

Icelanders and Ashkenazim constitute genetic clusters; "Asians", "Caucasians" and particularly "Negroes" do not.

Notable racialists

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.
  • Benjamin Rush: 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.
  • Samuel Cartwright: Expanding on Rush's work, Cartwright argued that drapetomania 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.[25]
  • J. Philippe Rushton: Advocate of "Life History Theory" that proposes that all socially desirable personality and intellectual traits are concentrated in the white and Asian races, whereas all the antisocial and undesirable traits are concentrated in black people. Repeatedly criticised in academia for sloppy scholarship including using questionable sources of information including the Penthouse Forum.[26]
  • Richard Lynn: Eugenics advocate who recently wrote a paper claiming that black people have longer penises than whites, who in turn are better endowed than Asians.[27] This was based on Rushton's "Goldilocks" theory of race: "Orientals have big brains but small genitalia, Africans have small brains but big genitalia, but Europeans Are Just Right[™]."[28] One of the key sources of data used in this paper was the World Penis Size Site,[29] an anonymously compiled source that includes a lot of made-up data and bogus references.[30][31] Lynn has also stated that "incompetent cultures" need "phasing out."[32] Just to clear up any doubt about which cultures he thinks need "phasing out" he writes: "Who can doubt that the Caucasoids and the Mongoloids are the only two races that have made any significant contributions to civilization?"[33]
  • Donald Templer: Authored a book on penises used as an additional reference by Richard Lynn even though Templer has no qualifications in urology. Advocates the voluntary sterilization of welfare recipients on eugenics grounds.[34]

A notable non-racialist

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). Despite making occasional use of racist tropes in common currency at the time in his writing (e.g., use of the term "savages"), Darwin's 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.[35] 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.[36][37]

It was, in fact, Herbert Spencer who coined the term "survival of the fittest" in his book Principles of Biology (notably it was published before On the Origin of Species), and (wrongly) applied evolutionary principles to sociology and politics (although his idea of evolution was closer to Lamarck's than Darwin's).[38] 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.

See also

External links



  1. Or, in Metapedia's case, "Caucasoid."
  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. David Duke's mailbag: "Are you a racist?" (possibly NSFW)
  8. White Supremacist Stampede, The Daily Beast
  9. Tishkoff SA et al (2009). The Genetic Structure and History of Africans and African Americans
  10. See the Wikipedia article on Black people and early Mormonism.
  11. Craniometry entry in The Skeptic's Dictionary
  12. Women's Brains by Stephen Jay Gould, excerpt from The Panda's Thumb
  13. Volume of a Human Brain, Physics Factbook
  14. 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.
  15. 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
  16. Ulric Neisser et al. Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns. American Psychologist, Feb. 1996.
  17. 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.
  18. James R. Flynn. Searching for Justice: The Discovery of IQ Gains Over Time. American Psychologist, vol. 54, no. 1, Jan. 1999, pp. 5-20
  19. Quoted in: Leonard Lieberman. How "Caucasoids" Got Such Big Crania and Why They Shrank. Current Anthropology. Volume 42, Number 1, February 2001
  20. Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato, the genetics of lactase persistence see also: image
  21. Do Races Differ? Not Really, DNA Shows (Natalie Angier, New York Times, 22 August 2000)
  22. Human Evolutionary Biology, p.270
  24. Bamshad et al. 2004. "Deconstructing the relationship between genetics and race". Nature Reviews Genetics, 5,. 598–609.
  25. 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.
  26. Weizmann, F., Wiener, N. I., Wiesenthal, D. L., &Ziegler, M. (1991). Eggs, eggplants and eggheads: a rejoinder to Rushton. Canadian Psychology, 32 (1), 43-50 DOI: 10.1037/h0078958
  27. Lynn, R. (2012). Rushton’s r–K life history theory of race differences in penis length and circumference examined in 113 populations. Personality and Individual Differences, in press. doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2012.02.016 [1]
  28. The Penile Economics of Ethnicity, Ethnic Muse. Perhaps "Goldicocks" would be even more apt.
  29. World Penis Average Size Studies Database
  30. WorldPenisSize: analysis of listed sources [2]
  31. How much does size really matter?, Psychology Today [3]
  32. Racism Resurgent: How Media Let The Bell Curve's Pseudo-Science Define the Agenda on Race, Fairness in Accuracy and Reporting, January/February 1995
  33. Richard Lynn (1991) "Race Differences in Intelligence: A Global Perspective," Mankind Quarterly, 31(3), p255 [4]
  34. 'AmRen Conference Held in Tennessee' American Renaissance[5]
  35. Contra Darwin, attempting to "prove" that blacks were a separate species somewhere between apes and whites in lineage became a hobby-horse for racialists.
  36. The Mis-Portrayal of Darwin as a Racist by R.G. Price
  37. 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.
  38. Herbert Spencer at About Darwin. See also Talk Origins on "survival of the fittest."
  39. 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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