My dear white supremacist friend
I recently found out that a dear old friend of mine has white supremacist beliefs.
He read a book that supports Hitler’s belief in a master race (although couched in more “scientific” terms) and as a blue-eyed blonde, my friend apparently had no problem believing his ancestors happen to be the smartest in any room! Published in 1994, “The Bell Curve,” by psychologist Richard Herrnstein and political scientist Charles Murray, asserts that socioeconomic factors and historical constructs play only a small — if any — role in racial disparities today.
Differences in levels of education and income and cycles of poverty don’t have their roots in slavery, Jim Crow laws, separate and unequal school policies, and systemic racism. No, the gaps are simply due to the existence of a “cognitive elite” (the “white” people) vs. those who are not.
Unsurprisingly, the book received a fair amount of criticism — cited for not having enough controls and failing to be submitted for peer review before being published (a common practice before publishing anything truly “scientific”).
I wondered how anyone could believe such useless drivel! But then I wondered how many people actually have some white supremacist beliefs — even subconsciously?
The Human Genome Project has brought the study of human genetics a loooong way since 1994. Today’s geneticists explain that we humans share 99.9 percent of our DNA. Traditional classifications of “race” are based primarily on skin color, height, hair, and eye color, however, these seemingly big differences are the .1 percent which “reflect environmental and external factors,” not core biology. And as it turns out, “the evolution of skin color occurred independently and did not influence other traits such as mental abilities and behavior. In fact, science has yet to find evidence that there are genetic differences in intelligence between populations. Ultimately, while there certainly are some biological differences between different populations, these differences are few and superficial.” *
My main point, though, is that I wouldn’t need a book to tell me that!
Over the years, I have brought several of my white friends home to meet my extended family—field trips of a sort! Inevitably, they leave inspired by the depth of conversation, connection, and sheer intelligence of my family. I can’t bring everyone home with me! However, there are plenty of impressive Black authors, poets, scientists, artists, and scholars to study to prevent one from falling prey to just any ole ridiculously biased claim.
Even if our educational systems have not done a great job of representing Black people, we can educate ourselves. Here are just a few places to start:
~ James Baldwin (The Netflix documentary, “I Am Not Your Negro,” based on the writings of and including footage of James Baldwin, is excellent. In fact, Netflix has done an excellent job of educating over the years.)
~ South African President (and lawyer) Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, “The Long Walk Home”
~ Maya Angelou, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (and other writings), and the documentary of her life, “And Still I Rise.”
~ Science fiction writer Octavia Butler (if you prefer fiction)
~ Michelle Obama’s Netflix documentary, “Becoming” (and/or her book of the same name)
~ Martin Luther King, Jr. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”
~ Alex Haley, “Roots” and “The Autobiography of Malcom X”
~ Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist, author, lecturer
~ Dr. Cornel West, professor, philosopher, activist
~ Ta-Nehisi Coates, journalist
~ Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations
~ The Facebook page “Good Black News” (followed by over 90,000 people), founded by my brilliant writer friend and Harvard grad, Lori Lakin Hutcherson. The page highlights the myriad accomplishments of Black doctors, scientists, computer geniuses, entrepreneurs, artists, etc. all over the world.
Watch documentaries about and by Black people. And pick up the occasional book by a Black author. Education is the only way forward.
* Vivian Chou, Harvard University article, 2017