Does Science Offer Support for Racial
William H. Tucker, Rutgers
In the introductory essay to this
issue McDonald notes the "tremendous range of disciplines"
involved in the controversies over eugenics and suggests that
one of the barriers to evaluating the various arguments is the
high degree of technical sophistication required in so many different
specialties. This observation is indisputably valid for many of
the well known eugenic debates, like those concerning the heritability
of intelligence and other traits, or the net effect of various
demographic trends on average intellectual ability in a society.
On the other hand, the history of eugenics is also littered with
claims for which there is no scientific evidence -- technical
or otherwise. For some of these assertions, in theory there could
be scientific evidence, but no data worth considering have ever
been offered; for others, no evidence is possible because the
claim is not subject to empirical investigation.
Throughout a highly productive, scientific career
spanning almost seven decades, Raymond Cattell consistently maintained
that racial groups must be segregated from each other for a number
of reasons -- some supposedly empirically demonstrable, others
more theoretical. In the former category were his claims of genetically
based aberrations found in children from a mixed marriage. As
he wrote in 1933, "there is a fairly general opinion that
the character of the mixed breed is inferior to either race and
frequently positively vicious" (p. 61). The biological explanation
for these "innately unstable and discordant" characteristics
was clear to Cattell:
In a pure race, adapted to its conditions by
long ages of selection, the inheritance of impulses in each
individual is bound to be well balanced. The innate forces which
are the innate material of character-building must have reached
a mutual compatibility and potential power of good integration.
If two such races inter-breed, the resulting re-shuffling of
impulses and psychic forces throws together in each individual
a number of items which may or may not be compatible and capable
of being organized into a stable unit (p. 63).
Still living in England at the time, Cattell noted,
in particular, the "evidence . . . that much of the emotional
instability, the social feuds, and the unstable governments of
the so-called Celtic (mainly Alpine-Mediterranean)
and Eastern European peoples are due to . . . mixed blood"
(p. 63). He also cited physiological abnormalities among the children
of mixed marriages, cases in which "the glands of offspring
of parents of dissimilar races are more or less inharmoniously
adapted to each other," resulting in "the exaggerated
growth of the hybrid and his disproportionately large extremities"
More than half a century later and now a long
time resident of the United States, Cattell complained of "the
hideously wrong inscription on the idol in New York harbor"
(1987, pp. 67-68), insisting that 90% of the "hybrids"
produced in the new worlds melting pot had been "unsuccessful"
and "very likely partly responsible for the higher crime
and insanity rates in the U.S.A. than in the parent countries"
(p. 202). Indeed, he even suggested that "mating between
the presently most distant racial types" would be relatively
sterile, a "forerunner of interspecies infertility"
(p. 189). Though generally concerned that racial crosses produced
either biological or behavioral abnormality, Cattell did allow
for the possibility of "effective progress in a human population
by the path of hybridization," but only under certain highly
controlled conditions, including the "institution of an effective
within-group eugenic selection program to screen out the many
defective combinations" (1972, p. 172).
Although Cattells warnings are not taken
seriously in contemporary society, where the richness of Tiger
Woods racial mosaic is now viewed as a cause for celebration,
not concern, it is important to note that his claims of "hybrid"
abnormality are unadorned by supporting evidence of any kind.
In 1974, the biologist Kenneth F. Dyer conducted an exhaustive
review of the research on racial crosses, reaching an unequivocal
on the basis of virtually everything we know,
we can agree with Montague that the whole notion of
disharmony as a result of ethnic crossing is a pure myth.
It should hardly need a book this length [446 pages] to convince
us of that. . . . race crossing in man has no
harmful or detrimental effects in the long
term or the short term, to the races involved, or indeed to
man in general (p. 369).
The past quarter century has produced no research
that would challenge Dyers words; all claims of hybrid aberrations,
"defective" interracial combinations, and relative sterility
are scientifically baseless.
But in Cattells analysis there was a more
important, theoretical reason for races to be separated -- a consequence
of his moral system, itself derived from his contention "that
the sustaining of human evolution is necessarily the central purpose
of mankind" (1987, p. 5). Since the process of natural selection,
according to Cattell, operated chiefly on groups sharing a common
gene pool -- i.e., races -- racial homogeneity was essential for
evolutionary progress, mainly by ensuring that the consequences
of culture -- the costs and benefits -- were not separated from
their genetic origin. In particular, a "failing" race
was not to enjoy assistance from the progress of a "successful"
race; indeed, Cattell even complained that scientists ignored
their "moral obligations" to restrict their discoveries
only to their own kind (1972, p. 234), the antithesis of sciences
"communal character" offered in Robert Mertons
(1968) well known discussion as an element of the scientific "ethos."
Underlying this view was the assumption of culture -- not only
science and technology, but also art, music, literature, and custom
-- as a manifestation of, and therefore essentially indistinguishable
from, race; in fact, Cattell often referred to the units of evolutionary
selection as "racio-cultural groups" (1987, p. 29).
As a consequence of this linkage, a culture could not be imposed,
willy-nilly, onto a race genetically unsuited for it.
Intellectual ability, of course, was the most
important consideration in an appropriate pairing, since the culture
developed by a superior group could not be successfully adopted
by a race of lesser talents. As Cattell wrote in 1937, for example,
"All the social and religious notions which have been sedulously
grafted upon the negro have been forcefully adapted by him, made
more simple and crude and emotional. . . . even when the race
is a constitutionally good-natured and lovable one, lower mental
capacity means reaction, crudity and. . . social deadweight"
(1937, p. 56). As was often the case with Cattell, the sentiments
expressed so bluntly in the 1930s were phrased more subtly in
subsequent years, but there
is little doubt that the latter statements were
merely euphemistic, less politically incorrect, versions of the
former. In 1987, for example, he explained that, for natural selection
to be most effective, there should be "no unlucky
tie-up of, say, a good culture with a poor race" (p. 43).
Indeed, "in applying a complex and exacting culture to a
race for whom it is not particularly suitable in virtue of their
average mental capacity, we may expect the memory storage to be
inadequate to the program, and certain subroutines to be missing,
so that only a fragmentary imitation of the original program is
possible," necessarily producing a "partial deformation"
in the "borrowed culture" (p. 40-41).
Although intellectual ability was the primary
consideration, it was not the only factor in determining
the culture genetically appropriate for a particular race. In
the 1930s, Cattell complained of the "race-slumpers"
-- those who did not understand that race and culture were indistinguishable
(1933, p. 60). "An intelligent Jew, for example, may be the
same in intellectual capacity as an intelligent Englishman or
Norwegian," he explained, "but his temperament, his
way of thinking, his choice of amusement, and of ideals in art
and life will be radically different, and in these things the
Englishman will be more at one with the less intelligent members
of his own race than with his intellectual equals in a race of
different temperamental constitution" (1933, p. 65). To treat
"alien individuals as if they belonged to the same race,"
simply because they were of equal intelligence, was "a mistake,"
Cattell concluded, because "constitutional differences of
greater importance for practical life are being overlooked"
Again, unmistakably similar sentiments appear
in Cattells later work, though phrased with considerably
less candor. In 1972, he noted the dangers of "culture borrowing,"
warning, in particular, that "the musical beat of the jungle,
or even the mood of the literature of Dostoyevsky, [may] introduce
incompatible elements in. . . Anglo-Saxon culture" (p. 211).
In 1987, Cattell worried that a "borrowed" cultural
element might prove "indigestible, functionally inconsistent,
and disruptive of the existing pattern in the borrower" (p.
31), and, once again, he complained of the "disastrous solution
by racial and cultural slumping" proposed by
certain progressive social movements (p. 65), though he omitted
the elaboration that had accompanied this term half a century
Thus, at the core of Cattells insistence
on racial separation has been the assumption that culture is a
derivative of race, the former inseparable from the latter. Again,
no technical expertise is necessary to evaluate this assertion,
which not only eludes empirical investigation but misunderstands
how culture is acquired. A relationship to culture -- a body of
arts, sciences, and letters -- is established by an individual
through personal achievement, not by being born into one race
rather than another. Although culture frequently arises from the
experience of a racial group, no race has a proprietary claim
on its culture or an exclusive genetic ability to enjoy it. As
W. E. B. DuBois wrote in The Souls of Black Folk,
I sit with Shakespeare and he winces not.
Across the color line I move arm in arm with Balzac and Dumas.
. . . I summon Aristotle and Aurelius and what soul I will,
and they come all graciously with no scorn nor condescension"
(1997, p. 102).
By "sitting" with these authors, DuBois
has attained a relationship with them unavailable to others who
have not read these works, no matter how impeccably Anglo-Saxon
Especially at the end of the 20th century,
the genetic identification of race with culture seems myopic.
It is no exaggeration to state that creative work by African Americans
-- in literature, art, and music -- is at the cutting edge of
contemporary "American" culture; indeed, some would
say it is the cutting edge. In the academy, the controversy
over the canon has frequently resulted in the inclusion of more
works by non-Western authors; if Cattell thought that Dostoyevsky
might be "incompatible" with "Anglo-Saxon culture,"
one can imagine what he would say about Chinua Achebe or Gabriel
García Márquez. And it is precisely the "racial slumping"
so decried by Cattell that has produced some of the most interesting
music in recent years: think of Yo Yo Ma performing Bach, Bobby
McFerrin conducting the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra playing Mozart
with Chick Corea as the piano soloist, or Stevie Ray Vaughn on
blues guitar singing "Texas Flood."
There are, perhaps, areas of Cattells eugenic
thought that require technical expertise and fine-grained scientific
analysis. His rationales for the necessity of racial separation
are not among them.
I wish to thank W. Thomas Walrond for his advice
on some of the details discussed above. He is, of course, in no
way responsible for the opinions expressed.
Cattell, R. B. (1933). Psychology and social
progress. London: C. W. Daniel.
Cattell, R. B. (1937). The fight for our national
intelligence. London: P. S. King.
Cattell, R. B. (1972). A new morality from
science: Beyondism. New York: Pergamon.
Cattell, R. B. (1987). Beyondism: Religion
from science. New York: Praeger.
DuBois, W. E. B. (1997). The souls of black
folk. Boston: Bedford.
Dyer, K. F. (1974). The biology of racial integration.
Bristol, UK: Scientechnica.
Merton, R. K. (1968). Science and democratic social
structure. In R .K. Merton, Social theory and social structure
(pp. 604-615). New York: Free Press.
WILLIAM H. TUCKER is a Professor of Psychology
at Rutgers University-Camden. His recent publications include
"Re-reconsidering Burt: Beyond a Reasonable Doubt" in
the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences (1997)
and "'A Scientific result of Apparent Absurdity': The Attempt
to Revise Goddard" in Ethnic and Racial Studies (in
press). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.