Theory of Blacks’ Intellectual Inferiority Rears Ugly Head at Harvard

SlaveryThis week is Harvard’s commencement for the class of 2010.

As one of the most renowned and liberal institutions in the world, it’s always hurtful and harmful — both to the campus milieu and the school’s reputation — when racist and sexist acts occur at Harvard.

Last month, a lengthy email written by a third-year student and an editor on the Harvard Law Review, Stephanie Grace, was printed by the legal blog abovethelaw.com. In that email, Grace wrote that she thought blacks might be genetically inferior to whites:  “I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent,” she said. (Grace’s comment came following a private dinner conversation about affirmative action and race.)

We all know affirmative action is a hot-button issue. At a basic level, it’s an attempt to take race, gender, and ethnicity (to name a few factors) into consideration to promote a level playing field for all. But the sub-text in all affirmative action debates is the fallacious belief that blacks selected to benefit from it are hopelessly and helplessly genetically inferior — that their DNA is chromosomally deficient, if not defective.

The myth of genetic inferiority of people of African ancestry is centuries old, tracing back to when the first slave boat arrived on our shores in 1619 in Jamestown, Virginia. The myth of genetic inferiority of people of African ancestry not only legitimatized slavery, but also biblically sanctioned it. It was aided by people like Nobel Laureate William Shockley, who in 1956 voiced his theory of a genetic basis for racial inferiority. As part of his theory on the biology of ethnicity, Shockley stated that people of African ancestry belonged to a lower species of humanity, and deserved sterilization.

The idea of sterilizing blacks — because we supposedly belonged to a “lower species of humanity” — was part and parcel of the American eugenics movement, which started in 1926. Even Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger — an iconic figure for the women’s reproductive rights movement — espoused eugenics theory, backing the 1939 “Negro Project,” which was a precursor to what eugenists wanted to implement on a much larger scale.

As Sanger told the Senate in 1932, “The main objectives of the [proposed] Population Congress is to…apply a stern and rigid policy of sterilization and segregation to that grade of population whose progeny is already tainted, or whose inheritance is such that objectionable traits may be transmitted to offspring.”

Debates about genetic inferiority are not new, and perhaps will continue, especially in light of ongoing debates about affirmative action.  But it’s surprising to find them at an institution of learning like Harvard.

Then again, Harvard is also the place where in January 2005, then-president of the University, Larry Summers, espoused his belief in the genetic inferiority of women. At a conference discussing why women are underrepresented in tenured science and engineering jobs at the best universities and research institutions, Summers stated that one explanation might be the “different availability of aptitude at the high end.” Summers went on to say that his “best guess” was that “there are issues of intrinsic aptitude,” meaning men tend to have a broader range of I.Q. scores than women. As a woman, Grace surely realizes the absurdity of Summers’ argument, an absurdity that’s true of her own as well.

What do Grace’s views mean for her future career? The Harvard Law Review is one of the premier journals of legal scholarship in the country. Grace is an editor of the journal, and will soon be an attorney. In her practice, will Grace be espousing racist legal theory? She graduates this week.

Many of the journal’s alumni have gone on to be Supreme Court justices, cabinet secretaries, and U.S. government officials. But only one went on to become president of the U.S. — Barack Obama, a man who was admitted thanks to affirmative action.

irene-headshot.jpgWhile Grace might argue that Obama is advantaged in terms of genetic intelligence because he’s biracial — as opposed to black — let’s remember that it was his Kenyan father who graduated from Harvard with a Ph.D. in economics, not his white mother.

Not surprisingly, Harvard Law School’s dean, Martha Minow, has denounced Grace’s email, stating that the school is “committed to preventing degradation of any individual or group.” But as long as discrimination along the lines of race, class and gender persist, girded by attitudes of white superiority like Grace’s, society will miss out on the future Barack Obamas of the world.

Rev. Irene Monroe

Published by the LA Progressive on May 26, 2010
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About Rev. Irene Monroe

Rev. Irene Monroe is a Ford Fellow and doctoral candidate at Harvard Divinity School. One of Monroe’s outreach ministries is the several religion columns she writes - “The Religion Thang,” for In Newsweekly, the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender newspaper that circulates widely throughout New England, “Faith Matters” for The Advocate Magazine, a national gay & lesbian magazine, and “Queer Take,” for The Witness, a progressive Episcopalian journal. Her writings have also appeared in Boston Herald and in the Boston Globe. Her award-winning essay, “Louis Farrakhan’s Ministry of Misogyny and Homophobia”, was greeted with critical acclaim.

Monroe states that her “columns are an interdisciplinary approach drawing on critical race theory, African American , queer and religious studies. As an religion columnist I try to inform the public of the role religion plays in discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. Because homophobia is both a hatred of the “other ” and it’s usually acted upon ‘in the name of religion,” by reporting religion in the news I aim to highlight how religious intolerance and fundamentalism not only shatters the goal of American democracy, but also aids in perpetuating other forms of oppression such as racism, sexism, classism and anti-Semitism.”

Comments

  1. Yeah ;

    God forbid we should ‘ waste time & money ‘ trying to educate *all* Americans regardless of race or ethnicity so they’d have a chance to disprove this sort of bullshit .

    Anyone who claims racial superiority is clearly inferior in their own reasoning capabilities .

  2. Jessica says:

    There are a lot of people across this world who feel the same way the Harvard student does. What I have found in my 52 years, is people who are secretly hiding major issues with their self esteem actively seek to harm or belittle others. If you feel secure in who you are and secure in your own abilities, you dont feel the need to demonize others. Clearly, the young lady is in a certain amount of pain. My best friend is a Quantum Physicist and she is the kindest, smartest person that I know. I have never seen her belittle anyone for not being as bright as she is, or as attractive as she is. She has confidence in herself and doesn’t feel the need to elevate herself at the expense of others. If you are truly supperior you don’t have to shout it from every rooftop, it will be so blatantly obvious, all will have to acknowledge it. By the way, my best friend is a tall, blonde hair, blue eyed German girl. She is my son’s Godmother. My son and I are African Americans. My 9 year old son’s I.Q. is 150, mine is 126. The young lady should rethink her critically flawed argument.

  3. jubilee shine says:

    we threw out the president of rutgers u.(home of imus’ “nappy headed hoes”) for the same thing.

    (Francis Lawrence, president of Rutgers University, may lose his job because of a comment about African Americans)(American Survey)

    http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G1-16529433.html

  4. These attitudes from people at Harvard are to be expected. The only unusual thing is that this woman spoke out. While it is true that Harvard offers opportunities to exceptional students from the “working” class and “minorities” hoping to turn them into managers who will do the dirty work for the ruling oligarchy of the wealthy the main agenda of liberal Harvard is to maintain the power of the oligarchy. The working class and minority students that Harvard and schools like it recruit are supposed to have the courtesy and intelligence to keep their mouths shut about who they serve. If they do they are put on the gravy train.

    If haven’t studied sociology, check out C. Wright Mills and others, and you don’t understand class society then one finds institutions like Harvard confusing and peculiar. Once you realize that Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, etc are about protecting and enhancing the power and prestige of the ruling minority in this country then the sooner one can make sense of what goes down. “Education” is not bias free. Why do large parts of the working people get shunted toward trade schools, on the job training etc while the children of the rich go to private schools, expensive universities and so forth. Get wise.

  5. Steve Lamb says:

    Someone in 2010 seriously entertains the notion of genetic racial inferiority/superiority? Really? They had high SAT scores? Huh?

  6. All racism is sad. In this era of advanced science it is intellectually kaput and must go, it really must go so we can make a better world for our grandkids.

    http://historyscoper.com/racismmustgo.thml

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