What is Scientific Racism? | The History of Hate


Oh yeah, this one is gonna make me popular. So yeah, there was a time where racism was
not only mainstream but scientifically approved. We had top scientists in their fields writing
long diatribes about “race science” all of which turned out to be… well, racist
conjecture. And while we put it in the realm of goofy
Victorian ideas, it still affects today, and we still have best selling authors spouting
the same thoughts. Not to mention, the facts aside, self-described
sceptics and rationals on the internet and the comments of this video dig up these long-dead
ideas. I’ve rambled long enough, this is the scientific
racism video. Hi, I’m Tristan Johnson, and this is Step
Back History. Be sure to click the subscribe button as well
as the bell notification to never miss a new Step Back video or live stream. Scientific racism is pretty much what it says
on the tin. It was and is the use of various forms of
pseudoscience to “prove” race is a biological fact of humanity. For a long time, scientists made the argument
different races were literally different species. This concept of race was the prevailing scientific
consensus for centuries. It began to decline when conjecture was no
longer form of evidence. By the way, there’s going to be a lot of
preposterously racist theories described in this video. They have zero merits, but they most definitely
can be distressing to hear about as these ideas, while ridiculous and wrong are still
popular in some circles. The origins of scientific racism go all the
way back to some classical age thinkers. In the Greco-Roman tradition, you had Hippocrates
writing about dark people being cowards and light people being courageous fighters. Roman writers like Posidonius used to refer
to “those races nearest to the southern half of the axis” as not having enough blood,
making them have features different from them. This was pretty much the extent of it before
the age of enlightenment. Remember how you used to like JK Rowling before
you found out she has a twitter? Well, if your JK Rowling is Enlightenment
philosophers, you might wanna turn off now. Voltaire, like THE Voltaire, believed different
races developed independently of each other. Apparently being the enlightenment version
of an edgy atheist because this broke with church doctrine about Adam and Eve and such. In his book Systema Naturae, Carl Linnaeus,
the founder of modern-day taxonomy outlined five “varieties of humanity” as a sort
of sub-species list. Immanuel Kant waxed lyrical about his ideas
about what races were good and bad based on stereotypes while claiming it to be reasoned
philosophy. And Benjamin Rush, the founding father thought
being non-white was a disease. However, scientific racism hit its zenith
in the Victorian era. Developing scientific theories meshed with
presupposed conclusions about race, to result in some of the weirdest concepts ever called
legitimate, accepted scientific fact. Especially if they could use it to defend
slavery or colonisation. The first big debate in the old-timey race
science circles that thankfully doesn’t exist today (until someone links me to someone
who really does believe it of course) is whether or not different races are the same species. Yes, until recently, some even in the 20th
century, people denied all Humans are of the same lineage. They called it Polygenism and many enlightenment
thinkers debated over this. It was really just debates using conjecture
and assumed stereotypes so you can imagine how productive it went. These were debates which came more down to
whether not being white was because they were a different species, or because they had a
skin condition where a mole covered their entire body. We’re working with this kinda stuff. Another theory had to do with skull shape. You can find this in various scientific journals
of the period. Long descriptions about how every person’s
skull from this region has these features and that features which somehow made them
less than white people. They even used this to try and claim southern
European or Irish people were somehow not white. This developed into a prominent scientific
Victorian science called phrenology which… Oh… well, then please go on
Well, I guess you should click on the thingy and go see Xander’s video all about it then
on ARTExplains. He can have the fun, kooky Victorian science
and I can keep covering the grim discussion of people with horrible worldviews. The analytics say you folks love that stuff…
sigh… Another prominent word from these long-discredited
race scientists and modern day comment sections is the term degeneracy. Go look at the comments, I’m sure you’ll
find it. A French naturalist named Georges-Louis Leclerc,
Comte de Buffon and German anatomist Johann Blumbach showed off their Buffonery with their
own racial theories. They believed humans were of a single stock,
which is at least one small relief, but from the Caucasian Adam and Eve…sigh… they
“degenerated” from different environmental factors such as too much sun or bad food. They believed if you changed your diet and
went to a new climate you could turn back into a proper white person… this is genuinely
distressing stuff to read my dudes. And now we must get to Darwin. Charles Darwin was undoubtedly a massive shaker
in the field of biology, spearheading the theory of evolution via natural selection. He’s often quote-mined by creationists because
he used the word race and species rather fluidly, as was a concept at the time. So he referred to the preservation of favoured
races in the struggle for life. He was referencing different types of broccoli,
but people either attributed human races to this, to attack Darwin or promote racist ideas. In his book The Descent of Man, he does talk
about the savage races as being exterminated by the “civilised ones” but not as an
aspirational statement. It was simply something he was observing as
those “civilised” Europeans were brutally conquering and subjugating people around the
world. Once Darwinism became more of a standard scientific
theory they began to claim different races as more or less evolved from our primate ancestors. You can probably guess where this is going. Some doctors like Franz Ignaz Pruner claimed
through looking at skulls and thinking about it, that black people were naturally closer
to apes… sigh… They also used this to make the Irish into
a non-white race. Independent of Darwin, the idea began to pick
up of using the concept of the struggle of life and natural selection to develop it to
refer to groups of people. We call this Social Darwinism, and coupled
with the concept of nations, builds an ideology around different for survival. You know, the ideology behind the Nazis. So why was this so prevalent? If race science and scientific racism had
no basis in reality, why was it so popular? Well, it had to do with the cultures which
developed it. See Europe had been through this centuries-long
project of looking at other people’s lands, saying it’s their’s and either subjugating,
enslaving, or eradicating the people who lived there. You know, as civilised people do. Humans don’t typically think its ok to do
such horrible acts of violence to their fellow humans, so they constructed elaborate justifications
for it. Early on, it was about civilising them or
bringing Christianity, but as it turned more into straight up murder and conquest, they
needed a better justification. Science was a way to do it. And do it they did. Scientific racism justified the genocide of
the first nations of the Americas and apartheid in South Africa. When they weren’t conquering, a lot of Europeans
were busy keeping people in slavery based on racial categories. If race isn’t biological and you believe
in equality and liberty, and all those ideals enlightenment people believed in, you needed
a way to justify keeping an entire group of people in chains. So, wrapping up a nonsensical science to do
so was the easy answer. Race science became prominent in the United
States primarily for justifying why black people just weren’t capable of handling
freedom, and their skin colour made them docile and happy to work as slaves. One such book in 1851 by Samuel Cartwright
was called “Diseases and Peculiarities of the Negro race” which was popular among
slave owners. It argued black people were mentally unfit
for self-determination and the only black people seeking freedom suffered from a disease
he pulled out of his ass called drapetomania. He believed it was a mental illness that made
black people want to escape from slavery. And this might sound like crazy Victorian
stuff, but this is the root why assertiveness in black people is considered crazy and dangerous,
while the same behaviour in white people makes them commanding and leaders. He also argued black people don’t experience
much pain compared to white people, legitimising their rough treatment. This still comes to haunt us in how black
people experience pain and pain management in hospitals to this day. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century this
race science was formally dismissed on the world stage, so there was still plenty of
more brutality based on pseudoscience to come. One person you might have heard about is Francis
Galton and the concept of eugenics. He argued we needed to prevent race mixing,
and sterilise people undesirable to strengthen the species. This is the same Francis Galton who invented
regression towards the mean. Eugenics was another pillar of the Nazi project
of extermination, but eugenics societies were all over the west, and popular. Doctors sterilised untold amounts of people
under the justification of improving the gene stock. Sometimes they called this… ugh… racial
hygiene. But this is the subject of a future patreon
stretch goal video. These concepts of race were essential to nationalists,
who wanted to make sure anyone different from them couldn’t live close by. They used eugenics and racial theories to
justify shutting down immigration from non-European countries. Maybe even calling them shithole countries
sometimes. The decline of this phase of our scientific
history was in the wake of the Second World War. Seeing the atrocities the Nazis conducted
in the name of nationalism, racial hygiene, and eugenics made everyone do a bit of a double
take. Groups like UNESCO tried to interrogate what
the real science was behind race and came up quite empty. After the Second World War, scientists became
slowly more sceptical of their assumptions. We tested the human genome and found out a
lot about human genetic diversity, or precisely how it’s quite lacking. Compared to other animals, we are very genetically
similar to each other, so much so we theorise the human race almost went extinct at some
point in our distant past. We only differ by about .3% of our genetic
code on average compared to .7% of chimpanzees. Most of the genetic diversity in humans is
between different groups living in Africa. Judging how long we’ve lived in Africa,
this is not surprising. So, race is really not much of anything biologically. It’s a few small morphological adaptations
based on climate. That’s really it. Skin pigment is really just a matter of how
big a particular type of skin cell is. But race is real. It’s like the sex and gender thing. Race is the social categories we have built
around these small morphological differences, and the expectations and performances we make
in those categories. Just like how gender is the set of expectations,
and performances we build around our sex. This is what is meant by social construct
by the way. It doesn’t make it fake, it just means it’s
something we built. If we created it, then we can change it, or
destroy it if we want to and with enough effort. Race is in many ways the wounds of colonialism
our species still bears, and we can work to mend them. And scientific racism isn’t dead. Authors like Nathan Wade, Richard Herrnstein,
Charles Murray, and Amy Chua still preach racism using the trappings of scientific language. They take correlations based on socioeconomic
class and go to race as the causation. It’s been disproven time and time and time
again, but still, these books come out. Because it’s not about accuracy, it’s
about a worldview. It’s working backwards from an assumption. It’s trying to justify why different racial
groups have things so different from each other without doing introspection. This was not a fringe part of science for
a long time. It was mainstream accepted science. It was not until we interrogated our own assumptions,
and examined not only the world, but how we look at the world, and what blinders we were
wearing that we began to fix it. That interrogation is the crucial driving
force behind the postmodernist movement. Maybe that explains why the founders of postmodernism
like Michel Foucault started by trying to figure out what happened to cause the Nazi
regime. It’s why we need to examine our own assumptions
every day and listen to people whose experiences of the same material world are different from
ours. Because we’re all wearing blinders, and
the only way to make the most accurate model of how the world works is through something
scholar Elsa Barkley Brown called Gumbo Ya-ya, which is Creole for when many voices are spoken
at once. And in my mind, it’s why the humanities
aren’t just an interesting pastime. It’s crucial to understanding ourselves
and others. Ok, so my plug for this week is about the
Step Back subreddit. I’m trying to find out what to do with it,
so if you have a thought about what a good Step Back subreddit would have, leave a comment,
or better yet go to reddit.com/r/stepback and let’s build something there! This video was made possible by these great
humans, as well as the rest of my Patrons over at Patreon. I’d especially like to thank Don and Kerry
Johnson as well as Kolbeinn Mani and Garrick Kwan for their generosity. The theme song is by 12Tone and come back
next time for more Step Back.