The Scholarship of White Supremacy

by Errol Anthony Henderson

Excerpted from the book Afrocentrism and World Politics: Towards a New Paradigm

Stephen Gould (1981) outlined some of the more egregious examples of Eurocentric white supremacism thinly veiled as "science." He showed, among other things, how Eurocentric social science became structured and conditioned by a brand of biological determinist precepts that legitimated the oppressive white supremacist relationships evident in Eurocentric societies today.

Once Galileo challenged the intellectual basis of the Christian church with his compelling scientific arguments, European society looked more and more to science to explain their environment and fashion it in beneficial ways. European societies looked to science to explain, not only relationships between heavenly bodies, or vital organs, but also the social relationships between and among peoples. Much of this early work was conditioned by the very society that gave birth to it. Thus in the case of social science, social scientists were conditioned by the circumstances of their environments that provided the framework for their inquiry. Since social studies developed at a time when Europe began its great invasions into foreign lands, these disciplines were tempered with, at best, the conquest spirit which debased "foreign" cultures, or, at worst, they were imbued with a singular white supremacist orientation with no regard to other peoples' culture or humanity. Whole schools thought were thus ordered. The white racist tradition of European religionists was handed down to the "naturalists"-taking their cue from Darwin, the father of evolutionary theory, who once said that the gap between humans and apes would be made greater by the extinction of, among other things, black people (Gould 1981, 36). Other naturalists, such as Baffon, whom Gould hails as "the greatest naturalists of eighteenth century France" invoked white supremacist arguments in his "science" as well. John Bachmen sought to use these racist notions to rationalize the Holocaust of the Enslavement (Gould 1981, 40).

As the naturalists evolved into the more "rigorous" anthropologists, their white supremacist arguments that formed the bedrock of their "science" was expanded. Linnaeus debased Africans in his early taxonomy of 1758. Louis Agassiz, a Harvard professor, was a white supremacist "naturalist" who maintained that blacks should not receive social equality science their appropriate lot was submission to their superior white counterparts. In fact, he argued that education of the black races should be based on this latent inferiority, and thus they should be trained strictly in manual labor (Gould 1981, 47).

Brinton, Ferri, Gratiolet, Broca, Lombroso, Nott and Gliddon, Merton, Serres, Bean, Vogt, Bold, and Montessori all invoked and advocated, under the pale of "science," nothing less than white supremacy (Gould 1981; Chase 1977; Bernal 1987, 1991). They were joined in their advocacy of white supremacy by psychologists such as Hall, Eysenck, Spearman, Burt, and Jensen; by geologists such as Cuvier and Lyell; anthropologists such as Cope and Coon; philosopher like Hume, Jefferson, and Montesquieu; and historians such as Toynbee, Breasted, Jumod, Jeffreys, Wiedner, and Johnson (Gould 1981; Chas3 1977; Bernal 1987, 1991).

From this lists it is evident that these were not marginal individuals in their fields. Many of these white supremacists had either been credited with founding their respective fields, or in great part fashioning the structure of inquiry in their fields. For example, Toynbee is still widely regarded as the greatest of European historians. This white supremacist wrote in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary, that "The Black race has not helped to create any civilization" (Toynbee 1934444, 234). Cuvier was not only one of the three greatest naturalists of the nineteenth century and a founder of geology (Gould 1981), but as a scientist he made it clear that the African was "the most degraded of human races, whose form approaches that of the beast and whose intelligence is nowhere great enough to arrive at regular government" (cited in Gould 19811, 36). Hall was one of America's leading psychologist. In his influential work Adolescence (1904), he asserted that the Africans, Native Americans, and Chinese were members of "adolescent races" yet to complete their growth. How easily this notion, asserted at the height of imperialism, dovetails with the imperialist outcry heralded by Kipling: the White Man's Burden, which rationalized the colonization of "lesser breeds" as the responsibility of the civilized European.

Nott and Giddon (1984) published what was then the leading American text on human racial differences that favorably compared African with simians, a widely hailed white supremacist comparison echoed by, among others , Lyell who was also a founder of European geology (Gould 1981, 36). Galton, who coined the term "eugenics" in 1883 and was a pioneer of the white supremacist eugenicist movement, was also a pioneer in modern statistics. Gustave Le Bon was a founder of social psychology. In his 1898 The Psychology of Peoples (see Thomas and Sillen 1991, 24), he maintained that European types were superior to Africans, Chinese, Japanese, and the Semitic peoples, further maintaining that there was a mental abyss separating the races. Prominent psychiatrist Carl Jung was little different in regard to the common white supremacist conception of African intellectual inferiority. Following the white supremacist dogma of this time, he believed that "The different strata of the mind correspond to the history of the races." In this regard he asserted that the African "has probably a whole layer less than the white man" (see Thomas and Sillen 1991, 14). Living in such close proximity with the "Negro" in America, the white race could be pulled down without the positive defensive measures that were segregation and Jim Crow.

Morton's Crania Americana and his Crania Aegyptica were highly influential, just as Burt's twin's data would be later, Morton's "scholarship" was later shown to be racially biased and methodologically flawed. And we know now that Burt falsified his data. Both works have been stripped of any scientific pretense, notwithstanding that fact that their work has never been totally abandoned. Far from it along with Lombroso, Goddard, Terman, Yerkes, Jensen, and Montessori, the unfailingly white supremacist arguments of these propagandists has taken root in U.S. policymaking, domestic and foreign.

There were some outright idiots like the prominent southern physician S.A. Cartwright who identified the "disease," "Drapetomania," which was the name he assigned to the "sickness" of the enslaved African typified in the latter's "insane desire to run away." There were also those highly influential and respected scholars who in many cases established the groundwork and in many cases still provided the framework for Eurocentric scholarship.

Not only structuring scholarship, they structure government social policy in both Europe and America. Institutions were built around these white racist doctrines veiled as "science." One such institution was the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago from which many of the early American Egyptologists received their tutelage. James Henry Breasted, considered the dean of American Egyptologists, muted his scholarship to his white supremacism. Jackson (1988, 203) elaborated on the seasoning of Breasted's scholarship. Speaking of the Eurocentric Egyptologist, he says, "He published a high school textbook in 1916 called Ancient Times. It had two very fine chapters on Egypt and he plainly states in there that the ancient Egyptians were not white folks, but 'a brown-skinned race.' And then he needed money to establish the Oriental Institute and to do research in Egypt. John D. Rockefeller, Jr. gave him 1.5 million dollars, and then Breasted got out a new edition of his book and the Egyptians became 'members of the white race.' In other words, in order to get Rockefeller's money he had to switch over the Egyptians to 'the great white race'."

Of all the institutions which came to embrace, nurture, and build upon white supremacism, none has a more encompassing track record than Harvard. Harvard University was an important vehicle in the "scientizing" of white supremacism. Agassiz was professor of zoology at Harvard. William McDougall, Harvard professor of psychology, in his influential Introduction to Social Psychology, suggested that "negroes" through their "submission instinct" have an innate need to be pushed around by "white people."13 Such studies provided scientific justification for racial discrimination and segregation while underwriting white supremacy. They provided plausibility to "the assertion that Southern race policies were expressions of biological law and racial instinct rather than bigotry and prejudice" (Thomas and Sillen 1991,16). It follows then that lynch mobs were merely answering the "call of the blood" as was argued in their defense by Southern congressmen.14 Further, from his position of department chair, in 1921 McDougall called for a caste system based on biological capacity with restrictions on breeding among the lower castes.

Harvard anthropologist Ernest Hooton called for biological purges and compulsory sterilization of inferiors based, in great part, on racial (and racist) considerations. He made appeals of this sort during the rise of Nazism con-current with his term as president of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (1937). Hooton's assertions are still today an integral part of U.S. population planning schemes. Writing in "The Black Scholar" in 1981, Lynora Williams reported that "some 20% of married black women of child-bearing age are sterilized, many without knowing the facts of the procedure, some without even knowing the operation has taken place" (Williams 1981, 18). Allan Chase (1977, 17-23) in his The Legacy of Malthus: The Social Costs of the New Scientific Racism has also pointed out the white supremacism that has underlain much of U.S. population control and sterilization policy.

Harvard anthropologist Carlton Coon found "evidence" of black inferiority. His scholarship was so white supremacist that a 1976 KKK newspaper used it as a source document to support its white racist thesis in a pamphlet entitled, "Science Exposes the Equality Hoax" (Beckwith 1989, 246).

Edwin Katzenellenbogen was a Harvard Medical School faculty member who was subsequently convicted of war crimes at Buchenwald. It was the Harvard Educational Review which in 1969 published Jensen's white racist pseudo-scientific pretensions asserting that blacks were intellectually inferior to whites-through a flawed research design which did not attend, inter alia, to the complexities of racial typology, basic genetics, syllogistic logic, and the author's own admitted ignorance of what exactly intelligence is (Thomas and Sillen 1991, 39). He nonetheless insists that he can not only measure intelligence adequately, but he can conclude that non-whites are inferior vis--vis intelligence. With all these flaws it would seem that Jensen's efforts would be nothing more than a footnote in intellectual history. Nonetheless, it was taken up and defended by authors such as Eysenck (1971).

Richard Hernstein, Harvard professor of psychology, also attempted to make a scientific connection between genetics and wealth and status. If the stations we find ourselves in life are genetically determined and therefore unchangeable, then it follows that social policy's attempts at effective egalitarian change are useless and untenable ( see Beckwith (1989, 245). "The foundations for the proposals of both Hernstein and Jensen have been demolished and their data base has been shown to be fraudulent, and the genetic theories were either misunderstood or misinterpreted" (Beckwith 1989, 245). In 1985 Hernstein and J.Q. Wilson wrote a highly touted book that asserted the primacy of genetic contribution over social causes to the criminal inclination of individuals. They ignored so-called "white collar crime" and instead focused on crime among lower income groups. We are reminded by Trumpbour (1989, 229) that "among the city officials appointed by Mayor Koch the crime rate of 50% surpassed that of any identifiable grouping anywhere in the world." Harvard Medical School professors William Sweet, Vernon Mark, and Frank Ervin pursued similar white supremacist "pseudo-science" as a rationalization of the status quo and a "scientific" basis for the oppression and "guilticide" of white responsibility for the social evils rampant in America.

Harvard was also seminal in promulgating the "scientific management" school of industrial psychology which has as its purpose providing "a means of rationalizing social control, seeking to restore order through class-neutral, technocratic language designed go mask dominance" (Trumpbour 1989, 233). This school of thought, founded by Harvard professor Elton Mayo, was analogized and paralleled to Nazism by Robert Brady in 1937. Merkle (1980) also suggest a parallel. The parallel is most evident to the extent that both fascism and scientific management emphasize social control, duty, the inevitability of progress, the ennobling of labor, and the atomization of the individual resting his identity solely on the efficient exercise of his duty.

While the efficiency craze generated by Scientific Management was not the sole cause of this campaign of murder, its elevation of efficiency and rationality as virtues above common morality, its pseudo-scientific language and organizational techniques, and its early entanglement with ideas of racial and social efficiency certainly assisted in legitimizing a developing climate of opinion that allowed administration of the efficiently bureaucratized Aryan reproduction and minority liquidation campaigns to function with a sense of duty well done. (Merkle 1980, 234).

Scientific management allows the diffusion of responsibility to such an extent that individuals can participate in reprehensible acts without feeling personally responsible nor accountable for their actions or non-actions. Banden makes this clear: "social organizations go to great lengths to decide sophisticated mechanisms for obscuring responsibility for decisions that effect others adversely&. Through division of labor, division of decision-making, and collective action, people can be contributors to cruel practices and bloodshed without feeling personally responsible for self-contemptuous for their part in it" (Brandura, in Trumpbour 1089, 235).

Harvard faculty members E.O. Wilson, Irven DeVoi, and Robert Triven promoted their racist and sexist-based hierarchies in launching the "science" of sociobiology. These generic arguments are as patently false today as those of their forebears centuries ago. Yet still they persist even in light of excellent analyses that debunk them (Gould 1981; Chase 1977; Sahlins 11976; Reed 1978; Thomas and Sillen 1991).

The substance of white supremacist dogma posing as science has diffused throughout the social consciousness of Europe, America, and much of the world. Such theories have had influence on the domestic as well as the international front. "In addition to generating theories with significant social import, Harvard faculty members have had more direct influence on policy. Kissinger's power involvement in the strategic hamlet program in Vietnam are only two examples of such contributions. Daniel Moynihan brought his academic theories to Washington under the Nixon Administration, helping to support the policy of "benign neglect" toward blacks (Trumpbour 1089, 246). Edward Banfield, Harvard urbanologist and advisor on urban affairs to President Nixon, found fertile ground within that administration for his white supremacist analyses. Banfield reinforces the benign neglect policy in stating that "The lower class individual lives in the slum and sees little or no reason to complain. He does not care how dirty and dilapidated his housing is either inside or out, nor does he mind the inadequacy of such public facilities as schools, parks, libraries: indeed, where such things exist, he destroys them by acts of vandalism if he can. Features that make the slum repellent to others actually please him. He finds it satisfying in several ways" (cited in Chase 1977).

Senator Robert Byrd, the former president pro tempore of the U.S. Senate and reputed Ku Klux Klan organizer, also pointed out that "We can take the people out of the slums but we can't take the slums out of the people" (cited in Chase 1977). This sociobiological racism appears to not only carry the day in the klavern, but also in the U.S. Congress. The young presidential speech writer for Nixon and 1992 presidential candidate, Pat Buchanan, also evoked racist sociobiological arguments in an early article concerned with the "genetics of intelligence" (cited in Chase 1977).

In sum, considering the history of white supremacism in the United States, it should hardly by surprising that such assertions find a kind ear among policy-makers and officials. This is not simply due to the psychological reductionist phenomena outlined by, among others, Farr and Anderson (1983, 54) who cite that there is "a pervasive tendency for actors to attribute the course of their own behavior to aspects of the situation in which they act, while observers explain the same action of others in terms of the stable, dispositional characteristics of the actor." It is also the result of the receptivity of the supremacist argument by the dominant white society for which it serves, as pointed out above, a basic sociological function.

The social policy emanating from white supremacist Eurocentric scholarship has contributed to the destruction of African peoples at home and abroad. This can be traced back, in terms of U.S. foreign policy, to the 1940 census, which for the first time attempted to enumerate mentally diseased and retarded persons. The census concluded that African-Americans outside of the enslaved South fared worse, mentally, than those enslaved in the South.15 These false claims became "proof" of the need for the enslavement of Africans in America. Faced with the "burdens of freedom," it was argued by prominent white supremacists such as John Calhoun, Africans became lunatics. Therefore, enslavement saved the African from mental death. This was "proven" from the "evidence" of the 1840 census! Later, Secretary of State Calhoun cited the 1840 census figures to justify the annexation of Texas and the extension of enslavement (see Thomas and Sillen 1991, 17).

During this century, the American version of white supremacism provided the basis for, inter alia, the Tuskegee "experiments" where white "scientists," physicians, like their Nazi brothers and sisters, either injected syphilis into healthy black men or failed to treat syphilitic blacks, or both. Even after the discovery of penicillin, these doctors refused to treat over 400 black patients or their families while also telling them that they didn't have syphilis. They were told that they had "bad blood." They continued to have sexual relations and the disease spread throughout the community. Children were born syphilitic. Others were stillborn. "Participants" died miserable slow deaths. These "experiments" lasted from 1932 to 1972-forty years. This program was conducted under the auspices and authority of the U.S. Public Health Service, Tuskegee "experiments" were a direct precursor to the Nazi war crimes committed under Hitler, who would come to power the year following the implementation of the Tuskegee "program." No one, however, went to jail for these murders.

As genocidal as the Tuskegee "experiments" were, the true scope, extent, and magnitude of Eurocentric "science" in pursuit of white supremacist aims is nowhere better manifest than in its pursuit, development, and deployment of pathogenic chemical, bacteriological, and viral agents. In so doing it has not only threatened humankind but the planet itself. The true extent of this ecological damage is yet to be assessed. Afrocentrists don't maintain that genocide and ecological destruction is the exclusive domain of the European, surely the list includes many other peoples including Africans. Afrocentrists insist that Europeans, more than any other group , have been responsible for the greatest amount of destruction and "scientific" dehumanization of the world's peoples. However, there are multiple approaches in Eurocentrism: universalist, supremacist, and parochial. For world politics, we must concern ourselves with which of these approaches predominates and informs our paradigms. If paradigms of world politics are conditioned by the leaching effect of the supremacist Eurocentrist worldview, then our global analyses that drew from this paradigm must be reevaluated and reconstructed. In the next Chapter we will examine the major paradigms of world politics and assess the leaching effect. For now, we should appreciate better the position of the Afrocentrists and the white supremacism that they assail. In the next section we briefly outline the basis of Afrocentric discourse before taking it up in greater detail in a later chapter.

Errol Anthony Henderson is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Florida, where he teaches International Relations.
  1. This volume went through 25 editions (Thomas and Sillen 1991).
  2. "Later, the Nazi philosophers of instinct and the 'call of the blood' were fond of quoting the report in Houston Stewart Chamberlain's (1911) The Foundations of the Nineteenth Century: 'It frequently happens that children who have no conception of what "Jew" means, or that there is any such thing in the world, begin to cry as soon as a genuine Jew or Jewess comes near them!" To Chamberlain, this demonstration of instinctual aversion was worth more than 'a whole anthropological congress.' The instinctivists never bothered to explain why, in light of the inborn repugnance between ethnic groups, it was necessary to enact drastic laws forbidding intermarriage"(Thomas and Sillen 1991, 16).
  3. The census showed that the rate of "insanity and idiocy" of "Negroes" in the North was 11 times higher than rates among "Negroes" in the South. Dr. Edward Jarvis (1844), later president of the American Statistical Association for 31 years, reversing his earlier position on the accuracy of the 1940 census, stated that the census was a "fallacious and self-condemning document." Thomas and Sillen (1991) cite that many of the Northern towns credited with having "mentally deranged Negroes," in fact, had no black inhabitants at all!

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