Did Einstein believe Indians were stupid? His diaries suggest so
Revelations made in a book compiling Albert Einstein's travel diaries have sparked a debate on the scientist's views of race and of people from India, Sri Lanka and China
In 1946, physicist Albert Einstein, speaking at an American college that was the first to give degrees to black people, denounced racism in a speech that birthed one of his most popular quotes: “Racism is a disease of white people.”
Two decades earlier, he may have been diagnosed with the same disease had people then been aware of a bunch of diary entries the Nobel-winning scientist wrote during an Asia tour.
Those diary entries have been made public recently and have sparked a debate on Einstein’s views on race and of people from India, Sri Lanka and China.
Indians, Einstein seemed to have believed, were “biologically inferior” and were hampered by the subcontinent’s climate that “prevented them from thinking backward or forward by more than a quarter of an hour.”
This, according to Ze’ev Rosenkranz, the assistant director of the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology, and the editor of a book that compiles Albert Einstein’s travel diaries.
The climate prevents them [Indians] from thinking backward or forward by more than a quarter of an hour – Albert Einstein
The diary entries are from Einstein’s travels to the Far East, Palestine and Spain between October 1922 and March 1923.
In them Einstein makes comments that are “in contrast to the public image of the great humanitarian icon”, Rosenkranz told British newspaper The Guardian.
EINSTEIN ON INDIANS
Writing in the introduction of his compilation of Einstein’s travel dairies, Rosenkranz says that the scientist’s comments about Indians, Chinese and Japanese display a belief that is “a clear hallmark of racism”.
Einstein, the editor writes, came across Indians in Colombo during his Far East voyage and mentioned their existence by referring to their “primitive lives”.
“[Einstein] also believes that ‘the climate prevents them from thinking backward or forward by more than a quarter of an hour’, an attitude that reveals both Einstein’s belief in geographical determinism and in the Indians’ alleged intellectual inferiority,” Rosenkranz writes.
The climate and its alleged effect on Indians comes up again in Einstein’s diaries.
According to Rosenkranz, Einstein attributes the “alleged stoicism of the Indians he encounters to geographical determination [by asking]: ‘Wouldn’t we too, in this climate, become like the Indians?’.”
WAS EINSTEIN A RACIST?
Einstein, a Jew who was famously forced to flee Nazi Germany in the face of anti-Semite persecution, may very well have changed his views on race later in his life.
Rosenkranz admits this. In an interview with the American daily Washington Post, Rosenkranz says, “It would be easy to say, yes, he became more enlightened [but] One should emphasize the different elements and contradictory elements in the statements that he made and in his personality.”
It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races
– Albert Einstein
So, was the father of the atomic bomb really a racist? We will probably never know. But, Einstein’s comments about Asians, especially the Chinese, do leave eyebrows raised.
Sample these: “It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races” and “I don’t understand what kind of fatal attraction Chinese women possess which enthrals the corresponding men to such an extent that they are incapable of defending themselves against the formidable blessing of offspring.”
And so, Rosenkranz writes, “Einstein’s diary entries on the biological origin of the alleged intellectual inferiority of the Japanese, Chinese, and Indians are definitely not understated and can be viewed as racist – in these instances, other peoples are portrayed as being biologically inferior, a clear hallmark of racism.”