Nicholas Wade’s A Troublesome Inheritance—a book which argues, among other things, that Jews possess a genetic “adaptation to capitalism”—is clearly racist, whatever the author claims, but it is not the only example of this type of thinking coming back into our world, it may be worth thinking back to the summer of 2012. Viewers of the BBC’s coverage of the Olympics on August 10 would probably have been surprised, between heats in the 200 metres by a short video explaining how the slave trade made black people into better athletes.
For those of you unable to watch, the argument (as cheerily introduced by John “you’re never going to be, you know, a looker” Inverdale) goes like this:
- The slaves of the Caribbean and American plantations predominantly came from a select group of west African ethnic groups
- Only the fittest slaves survived the horrors of transportation to, and working on, plantations
- Their descendants overwhelmingly make up the best professional sprinters in the world
- African-Americans and Afro-Caribbean people are genetically predisposed, through evolution, through survival of the fittest, to be sprinters
Spot the problem? Congratulations—you’re better at this than Nicholas Wade, former deputy editor of Nature, writer for the New York Times and Washington Post, pop-sci author and pusher of the hypothesis that: a) there is a biological basis for race, and b) racial differences explain cultural and societal differences.
Frankly, it may well be that A Troublesome Inheritance is most useful as an illustration of the gap between the popular understanding of racism and the reality of how it operates. Wade very clearly does not consider himself, or his conclusions, to be racist, writing that “no one has the right or reason to assert superiority over a person of a different race.” Yet this book is ultimately racist, because it does exactly that.
This is most obvious during the (numerous) sections of the book where Wade uses language that can best be described as “unfortunate.” We are told that, as a consequence of genetic analysis, “an individual can be assigned with high confidence to the appropriate continent of origin.” Furthermore, it is “perfectly reasonable” to classify all humans into one of five “continental based races,” while “classification into the three main races of African, East Asian and European is supported by the physical anthropology of human skull types and dentition.”
Here’s some more:
If running a productive, Western-style economy were simply a matter of culture, it should be possible for African and Middle Eastern countries to import Western institutions and business methods, just as East Asian countries have done. Though it was justifiable at first to blame the evils of colonialism, two generations or more have passed since most foreign powers withdrew from Africa and the Middle East, and the strength of this explanation has to some extent faded.”
Then there’s the money shot:
Populations that live at high altitudes, like Tibetans, represent another adaptation to extreme environments. The adaptation of Jews to capitalism is another such evolutionary process.”
And lest you be in any doubt that this isn’t a political tract disguised as science writing, Wade believes that the current scientific consensus is “shaped by leftist and Marxist political dogma.” (Plus, he’s been given the cover feature in this week’s Spectator to argue his position, which is always a science writing red flag.)
Previous Blog post on Racism (Stimulated by John Stewart’s comment that “we have made enormous progress in teaching everyone that racism is bad, where we seem to have dropped the ball is in teaching people what racism actually is”)
Most worrying of all is that right wing heavyweights are gathering together to defend it