Does Science Offer Support for Racial Separation?

William H. Tucker, Rutgers University

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" (p. 63).

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 world’s 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 Cattell’s 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 conclusion:

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 Dyer’s words; all claims of hybrid aberrations, "defective" interracial combinations, and relative sterility are scientifically baseless.

But in Cattell’s 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 science’s "communal character" offered in Robert Merton’s (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" (p. 66).

Again, unmistakably similar sentiments appear in Cattell’s 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 earlier.

Thus, at the core of Cattell’s 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 their pedigrees.

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 Cattell’s 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