Brainpower: Blacks Missing Out?

meWhat a service the British newspaper The Times has done us by reporting the views on racial equality held by that old DNA-untwister and 1962 Nobel Prize winner James Watson! Fancy choosing the United Kingdom as the place -and the eve of a guest lecture at the Science Museum’s Diana Centre as the time- to suggest that somehow black people must have stood at the back as the Creator handed out the grey cells. After doling out inordinate amounts of the stuff to the white people, fearing that there might not be enough for everybody, He reduced the portions just as the first African came to the front of the queue. In doing so, He condemned the black race to intellectual inferiority for all eternity. Oh really? That’s not what we’ve a right to expect from an all-knowing and all-powerful supreme being, is it?

Of course this is not what James Watson actually argued. He’s a scientist, not a Bible thumper, although the two aren’t always as mutually exclusive as perhaps they should be. Watson based his view on genetics, his particular area of expertise and one in which Man has made huge strides in recent years. Nor is Dr. Watson a politician or someone with a racial axe to grind. In this he differs favourably from my old pal Arthur de Gobineau (1816-1882). Remember De Gobineau? He has been known by friend and foe as the “Father of Racism”. His views, developed in the second half of the 19th Century, were happily seized on by the Nazis, who welcomed any ideas that might underpin their own destructive plans for the future. I happen to own a small volume of De Gobineau’s musings on racial inequality and although it seems that, where people of African origin are concerned, he reaches a similar conclusion to that of James Watson, he travelled there by a completely different route. Where Watson’s ideas originate with the petri dish, the microscope and the biochemistry lab, those of De Gobineau are the result of his highly subjective take on Man’s development as a species. Tracing the history of different races and their progress in human civilization -measured by such yardsticks as scientific acumen, cultural and artistic achievement, commercial success and nation building- he concluded (not even unreasonably, given the state of the world at the time) that Western European Man’s intellectual capacity not only far outstripped that of the black race, but to varying degrees of most others as well. What rubbish, we say today.

James Watson had the misfortune of not speaking in 1855, when politically correctness and the blessings of multiculturalism were still largely unknown, but towards the end of 2007, when such things as The Rights of Men (and women), the Equality of Men (and women) and the Great Altogetherness of Men (and women) are not only held aloft as so many Holy Grails but are presented to us as the status quo. In other words: we have rights, we’re all equal and we’re all together and woe betide the man (or woman) who dares question these self-evident truths. In such a world a man, however accomplished and honoured a scientist he may be, who has the temerity to stick his head round the door of his lab and say: “Hey! Get this! Look at the evidence! We’re not all equal!” will end up tarred and feathered.

And so it happened with James Watson. Not long after his views appeared in The Times, the Science Museum cancelled his lecture (arguing, oddly, that his comments “had gone beyond the point of acceptable debate”), racial equality groups fell over themselves to revile him, while some of his fellow scientists also viciously attacked him –nothing to do with professional envy, you understand. As for me, I don’t know. I’m torn between my own genuinely felt desire for a planet populated by a unified, benign human race, a planet where the noxious clouds of prejudice, hatred, envy and violence have been supplanted by a sweet smelling lilac haze of love, goodwill and respect. If I have to stick my neck out I’d say that Man’s world today is still what it has always been: a teeming vipers’ nest in which some fare better than others, where some prosper and others starve, where those who can, do and those who can’t, don’t. We cannot even achieve a semblance of equality within the same race; what chance equality between races? I don’t want James Watson to be right, but what if he is?

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