James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA’s double helix shape and probably one of the most well known figures in modern science, announced today that he would be resigning from his position as chancellor of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and from its board. This follows after some comments he made earlier this week questioning the intelligence of people of African descent. Here are some choice quotes:
[I'm] “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa [because] all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really…people who have to deal with black employees find this not true”.
“there is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so”.
There is a lot that can be (and has been) said about his comments but one thing missing from the dialogue is the the difference (if any) of his obviously negative stereotypes about people of African descent and the (presumed) positive stereotypes of people of Asian descent. We’re all familiar with the ‘Asian’s are better at math & science’, ‘Asian’s are more analytical’ shtick. How are these stereotypes any less harmful than what Watson said about Africans? Don’t they both distill an entire racial group into a two dimensional caricature? Yet you don’t see scientific leaders or captains of industry resigning from their posts when they make statements qualifying Asian intelligence.
Of course, varying degrees of outrage is an all too familiar story in the world of racial politics. Asian-American’s are lucky if we see a single media mention when some radio DJ or television show decides we’re fair game. I don’t assume this chasm of racial outrage will be assuaged any time soon…but that doesn’t mean we should stop trying.