Friday, October 19, 2007

Fodder for Racists

Mr. Double Helix Genome Nobel Prize Winner James Watson recently announced that white people are genetically smarter than people from Africa. He's made many controversial remarks in the past 20 years, but this? I can't wait to talk to my students about this one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, it is James Watson after all, the fellow who was tossed out of organic chem when he tried to warm up some cold benzene over a Bunsen burner ...

I was "in the field" when the Shockley (forget his co-worker) research first came out to a similar fire-storm. While I don't put any credence in the statement -- what is "intelleigence" but what "intelligence tests" measure after all -- I don't care much for "sacred cows" either.

We laugh at movies like "White men can't jump" (which is an equally racist remark) but burn bandwidth and counteless gallons of ink when an aged flatulence has a "senior moment" while his mouth is engaged?

Sorry, I just don't see the issue. It was a "poorly considered" remark but we get those every day out of politicians across the globe.

It is a good issue for discussion with your students -- it might help them understand that outstanding expertise in one area doesn't assure equal competence in others (Richard Dawkins jumps to mind here -- where did he get his thology degree?) and that there are just certain subjects you don't discuss even in the academy.

6:00 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

Anonymous has a point or two,but genetically speaking, aren't we all from Africa? Furthermore could the legacy of Imperialism, racism and slavery maybe just maybe have been a contributing factor in the continent's current problems? Finally isn't there a teeny tiny itty bitty possibility that imperialist meddling in Africa continues to disrupt and impoverish the lives of Africans? If there's any truth to those possibilities, then maybe us white folks with our giant genetically superior brains are the problem. Oh no! What if greed and immorality are genetically caused? Could it be that Louis Farrakhan is right? Not likely, although he has probably has more good points than James Watson.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Sue said...

You really want to have fun with your students?? Check out the newest book by Vincent Sarich (the guy that first gave us the 98% difference between humans and chimps figure) titled "Race: The Reality of Human Differences."

This is where I think Watson is getting some of his stuff. Have a large scotch nearby as you read it ... and a big pillow handy so you have something to punch.

Something must go array in the brains of old famous biochemists, is all I can figure...

10:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmm, Jon, hopefully you didn't think I was siding with Watson -- I made my choice on that one a few decades ago when this particular issue was last raised. I would have thought the "intelligence is what intelligence tests measure" was a dead giveaway but maybe not.

Yeah, there's definitely enough guilt to go around with Africa's current round of problems (a definite portion of which have racial undertones within the continent itself). Or you could also look at the tribal violence in Iraq, the genocide in the former Yugoslavia, the elimination of "undesirable ethnic groups" under Hitler, the same under the Imperial Republic of Japan (none the less racial just because the victims were Chinese, Korean, etc), I could go on but I think the point is made.

Racism is not a black/white (or brown/pinkish beige) issue though such portrayals seem to play pretty well in the popular press. Maybe it shifts focus on how really bigoted most of us are regardless of our "ethnicity" (whatever that means -- I'm a Cherokee/Western European mix myself).

Anyway, before my rant wanders too far afield, I don't buy what Watson appears to have been peddling (or what Shockley was hawking before him). Like Sue said, something must happen in the brains of of chronologically advantaged biochemists to give them illusions of being all-knowing.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

Hello anon, I wasn't directing my comments at you. I will say though, that racism is about power relationships. When Black folks say, "White Men Can't Jump", white people don't suffer. When white "experts" say, "Black people are genetically inferior to whites", there's the potential for quite a bit of suffering. Do you get my point?

10:51 PM  

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