Superior
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Superior

The Return of Race Science

By Angela Saini

With everything going on in the world right now, it seemed apropos to try to educate myself on the history of race science.

Race science has a long and sordid history. A history in which no Western country truly remains innocent but in which the UK can be considered one of the leaders in the racist "science" of eugenics.

To file away what happened during the war as aberrant, as something that could only have been done by the worst people under the worst circumstances, ignores the bigger truth. This was never a simple story of good versus evil. The well of scientific ideas from which Hitler and others in his regime drew their plans for ‘racial hygiene’, leading ultimately to genocide, didn’t originate in Germany alone. They had been steadily supplied for more than a century by race scientists from all over the world, supported by well-respected intellectuals, aristocrats, political leaders and women and men of wealth. Among the most influential of them all, as far as the Nazi regime was concerned, was a pair of statisticians working at 50 Gower Street, Bloomsbury – not in Germany, but in the famous old literary quarter of London.

I say "science" and not science because this is the very crux of this book. Race science is not grounded in any real scientific fact. Skin colour, eye colour, "race". These things are only important in as much as they're considered to be politically important.

Ultimately, politics is always a feature of the science, just as it was in the very beginning. Once there was the backdrop of slavery and colonialism, then it was immigration and segregation, and now it is the right-wing agenda of this age. Nativism remains an issue, but there is also a backlash against greater efforts to promote racial equality in multicultural societies. And just like before, the message of those with racist intentions is tailored gently, carefully sculpted to appeal to populist fears while at the same time sounding logical and reasonable. Communicating with me, for example, Gerhard Meisenberg uses the word ‘culture’ alongside the word ‘race’ as though they’re fully interchangeable, understanding how much most people these days value and respect cultural boundaries, even if they don’t recognise biological race.

There's far too much for me to unpack from this book, it's an important and valuable read that I'd recommend to absolutely everyone. Come for the dismantling of race science but stay for the absolute dismantling of our current political and anti-science political climate.

Cheers,