Races (1911)

Races (1911)

If Americans who have long since said the last word con­cerning the races of men and their proper relations will read the papers laid before the First Universal Races Congress, they will realize that America is fifty years behind the scientific world in its racial philosophy.

Before the publication of this epoch-making volume, The Crisis would not dare to express the statements which are contained therein. The leading scientists of the world have come forward in this book and laid down in categorical terms a series of proposi­tions which may be summarized as follows:

  1. (a) It is not legitimate to argue from differences in physical characteristics to differences in mental characteristics, (b) The mental characteristics differentiating a particular people or race are not (1) unchangeable, or (2) modifiable only through long ages of environmental pressure; but (3) marked improvements in mass education, in public sentiment, and in environment generally, may, apart from intermarriage—as the history of many a country proves—materially transform mental characteristics in a generation or two.

  2. The civilization of a people or race at any particular moment of time offers no index to its innate or inherited capacities. In this respect it is of great importance to recognize that in the light of universal history civilizations are meteoric in nature, bursting out of relative obscurity only to plunge back into it.

  3. (a) One ought to combat the irreconcilable contention prevalent among the various groups of mankind that their customs, their civilization, and their physique are superior to those of other groups, (b) In explanation of existing differences it would be pertinent to refer to the special needs arising from peculiar geographical and economic conditions and to related divergencies in national history; and, in explanation of the attitude of superiority assumed, it should be shown that intimacy leads to a love of our own customs, and unfamiliarity, among precipitate reasoners, to dislike and contempt for others’ customs.

  4. (a) Divergencies in economic, hygienic, moral and educational standards are potent causes in keeping peoples apart who commercially or otherwise come in contact with each other, just as they keep classes apart, (b) These differences, like social differences generally, are in substance almost certainly due to passing social conditions, and not to inborn characteristics; and the aim should therefore be, as in social differences generally, to remove these differences rather than to accentuate them by regarding them as fixed.

  5. (a) The deepest cause of misunderstandings between peoples is perhaps the tacit assumption that the present characteristics of a people are the expression of permanent qualities. (b) If this is so, anthropologists, sociologists and scientific thinkers as a class could powerfully assist the movement for a juster appreciation of peoples by persistently pointing out in their lectures and in their works the fundamental fallacy involved in taking a static instead of a dynamic, a momentary instead of a historic, a fixed instead of a comparative, point of view of peoples; (c) and such dynamic teaching could be conveniently introduced into schools, more especially in the geography and history lessons, also into colleges for the training of teachers, diplomats, Colonial administrators, preachers and missionaries.

  6. (a) The belief in racial or national superiority is largely due, as is suggested above, to unenlightened psychological repulsion and underestimation of the dynamic or environmental factors, (b) Since, therefore, there is no fair proof of some races being substantially superior to others in inborn capacity, our moral standard, or the manner of treating others—seeing how under favorable circumstances one people after another rises to fame, and how members of all human groups pass through universities with equal success—should remain the same whatever people we are dealing with.

  7. (a) So far at least as intellectual and moral aptitudes are concerned, we ought to speak of civilizations where we now speak of races, (b) Indeed, even the physical characteristics, excluding the skin color of a people, are to no small extent the direct result of the physical and social environment under which it is living at any moment, and hence these characteristics differ measurably both in the history and in the different social strata of one and the same people; and (c) these physical characteristics are furthermore too indefinite and elusive to serve as a basis for any rigid classification or division of human groups, more especially as there has been much interbreeding among all peoples and because race characteris­tics are even said to distinguish every country and almost every province.

  8. (a) The most fruitful cause of race crossing is ill-will—as illustrated by war, conquest, slavery, exploitation and persecution—for where there exists mutual respect the differences in differing traditions, etc., make it almost an invariable rule that intermarriage is avoided—as is shown by any two nations friendly to each other; (b) but intermarriage, we find—contrary to popular tenets—improves the vitality and capacity of a people, and cannot, therefore, be objectionable in itself, (c) The chief drawback to intermarriage between peoples is the same as the drawback to intermarriage between different social classes—i.e., the different traditions of the partners in marriage, (d) Those who dread intermarriage should, therefore, reflect both that there is no such thing as purity of race, and that the rate of crossing decreases with the increase of interracial and international amity.

  9. (a) Each people might study with advantage the customs and civilizations of other races or peoples, including those it thinks the lowest ones, for the definite purpose of improving its own customs and civilization, since the lowliest civilizations even have much to teach, (b) Dignified and unostentatious conduct and deferential respect for the customs of others, provided these are not morally objectionable to an unprejudiced mind, should be recommended to all who come in passing or permanent contact with members of human groups that are unfamiliar to them.

These are a fair summary of the conclusions of writers who are among the best-known names in modern science. In the next number of The Crisis we shall give some of their views at length.

Citation: Du Bois, W.E.B. 1911. “Races.” The Crisis. 2(4):157–158.