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Dalton and Blustain Trace Scientific Racism Throughout World History

Kate Dalton, Instructor in History and Social Science, and Malinda Blustain, Director of the Robert S. Peabody Museum of Archeology, examined historical examples of scientific justifications for racial superiority in their presentation “Scientific Racism and the Political Uses of Race” this past Wednesday. Their presentation on eugenics followed a timeline of scientific racism and how it was used in the past to justify discrimination against certain groups of people. Scientific racism is defined as the use of scientific principles to justify racial superiority and inferiority, which Dalton and Blustain briefly defined as “certain beliefs with popular prejudices.” According to Dalton and Blustain, scientific racism existed as early as 18th century in Europe, when European explorers began to classify new species of plants and animals, they also felt the need to classify native humans in the New World. European typologists of the 18th century used color and lifestyle to categorize groups of humans with which they initiated contact. In all of these classifications, white Europeans were the ideal classification. Based on Darwin’s theory of evolution, Europeans decided that less-advanced civilizations were most closely related to apes, and they thus saw themselves as the most most superior civilzation because of their technological advancements. These new ideas, considered scientific by the Europeans, justified their brutal actions. They believed that because they were part of the advanced civilization, they immediately gained the right to control any other inferior communities. European typologists later created the Cephalic Index Theory, which stated that the people with big heads and the largest brains were the most intelligent human beings. This theory contributed to the anti-Immigrant movement and was used to the United State’ advantage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries against the influx of immigrants at that time. White men again represented the ideal human, as they always had the biggest brains. For years, this “scientific” theory was used to rationalize white men’s discrimination against people who they considered inferior. During World War II, Eugenic societies were formed in order to stop the continuation of what was considered “bad breeding.” Eugenic society members such as Henry Ford, the founder of Ford Motor Company, used the power of state supposedly to make a “better” society and to solve social problems. Their goal was to eliminate unfit people and to support the Nordic races. Unfit people were defined as those with complicated social behaviors, mental illnesses, physical disabilities and chronic alcoholism. The biased scientific research projects conducted by these eugenicists prompted institution U.S. Sterilization laws in the mid-20th century. This law made sterilization compulsory for 65,000 people deemed unfit by the government. Dalton and Blustain stated that the thoughts of the Eugenicists were parallel to those of Hitler, although Hitler took far more extreme actions in implementing his steralization plant. They emphasized that these thoughts sprung from racial hatred and used scientific racism for justification. Sterilization came to an end in United States in 1980s. Dalton ended the presentation by saying, “Science says there is only one human race. Some genetic groups are apparent but they are not reliable indicators of different and do not overlap with old-fashioned categories of race.” She continued, “If science tells you to kill people, that is the time to question science. U.S. will tell you that the time of World War Two is the heroic time for United States. But many people, including the soviets, were infected with some of the race science and race hatred, and didn’t let go of it for a long time.” According to Dalton, scientific racism interested her because it shaped history. She said, “[Scientific racism] was a form of belief that allowed people who were in control of the government to force sterilizations and to do pretty harsh things to people based on racial theories that are wrong. It’s a very interesting way to see how ideas about race change over time, and how the authorities of scientific truth enabled and justified some very aggressive racist behaviors.” Blustain said, “Scientific racism has been such a big player in history. I think that part of our job as teachers is to really educate students about things like scientific racism and how it can be used as a tool and how to identify one when you see it.” Students were also interested in the presentation’s connections to their Andover history curriculum. Andrew Schlager ’12 said, “I learned a lot about the nuances but also about the common threads between the eugenics and racial discriminations all over the world.” Suprya Jain ’12 said, “It was interesting to see these events from the perspective of scientific racism, and to see political agenda behind science.” Mackenzie Strabala ’13 said, “I really realized the significance of American history in the context of global history.”