Culture Einstein's travel diaries reveal 'shocking' xenophobia - And that racist's name? Doot, doot, doot...

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Einstein's travel diaries reveal 'shocking' xenophobia


Private journals kept by the scientist and humanitarian icon show prejudiced attitudes towards the people he met while travelling in Asia

Alison Flood

Tue 12 Jun 2018 12.32 EDTLast modified on Wed 13 Jun 2018 08.29 EDT

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Unfamiliar face of an icon … Albert Einstein in 1921. Photograph: Doreen Spooner/Getty Images
The publication of Albert Einstein’s private diaries detailing his tour of Asia in the 1920s reveals the theoretical physicist and humanitarian icon’s racist attitudes to the people he met on his travels, particularly the Chinese.

Written between October 1922 and March 1923, the diaries see the scientist musing on his travels, science, philosophy and art. In China, the man who famously once described racism as “a disease of white people” describes the “industrious, filthy, obtuse people” he observes. He notes how the “Chinese don’t sit on benches while eating but squat like Europeans do when they relieve themselves out in the leafy woods. All this occurs quietly and demurely. Even the children are spiritless and look obtuse.” After earlier writing of the “abundance of offspring” and the “fecundity” of the Chinese, he goes on to say: “It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.”

Ze’ev Rosenkranz, senior editor and assistant director of the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology, said: “I think a lot of comments strike us as pretty unpleasant – what he says about the Chinese in particular.

“They’re kind of in contrast to the public image of the great humanitarian icon. I think it’s quite a shock to read those and contrast them with his more public statements. They’re more off guard, he didn’t intend them for publication.”


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A page from Einstein’s travel journals, written while in China in 1922. Photograph: Princeton University Press
Rosenkranz has edited and translated The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein, which have just been published for the first time as a standalone volume by Princeton University Press, including facsimiles of the diary pages. The diaries have only previously been published in German as part of the 15-volume Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, with small supplementary translations into English. A spokesperson for Princeton University Press said: “This is the first time Einstein’s travel diary will be made available to anyone who isn’t a serious Einstein scholar.”

Further passages in the diaries, which are thought to have been written for Einstein’s stepdaughters in Berlin while he and his wife were travelling in Asia, Spain and Palestine, and as an aide memoire, see him writing of the Chinese that “even those reduced to working like horses never give the impression of conscious suffering. A peculiar herd-like nation [ … ] often more like automatons than people.” He later adds, in Rosenkranz’s words, “a healthy dose of extreme misogyny” to his xenophobia with the observation: “I noticed how little difference there is between men and women; 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”.

In Colombo in Ceylon, Einstein writes of how the locals “live in great filth and considerable stench at ground level” adding that they “do little, and need little. The simple economic cycle of life.”

Einstein’s perceptions of the Japanese he meets are, in contrast, more positive: “Japanese unostentatious, decent, altogether very appealing,” he writes. “Pure souls as nowhere else among people. One has to love and admire this country.” But Rosenkranz points out that he also concludes that the “intellectual needs of this nation seem to be weaker than their artistic ones – natural disposition?”

“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. The disquieting comment that the Chinese may ‘supplant all other races’ is also most revealing in this regard,” writes Rosenkranz.

“Here, Einstein perceives a foreign ‘race’ as a threat, which … is one of the characteristics of a racist ideology. Yet the remark that must strike the modern reader as most offensive is his feigning not to understand how Chinese men can find their women sufficiently attractive to have offspring with them. In light of these instances, we must conclude that Einstein did make quite a few racist and dehumanising comments in the diary, some of which were extremely unpleasant.”

Rosenkranz told the Guardian that although views like Einstein’s were prevalent at the time, they were not universal. “That’s usually the reaction I get – ‘we have to understand, he was of the zeitgeist, part of the time’ – but I think I tried here and there to give a broader context. There were other views out there, more tolerant views,” he said.

In his introduction, Rosenkranz writes how it is important to explore how a humanist icon such as Einstein – whose image was once used for a UNHCR campaign with the slogan “A bundle of belongings isn’t the only thing a refugee brings to his new country. Einstein was a refugee” – could have written xenophobic comments about the peoples he encountered.

“The answer to this question seems very relevant in today’s world, in which the hatred of the other is so rampant in so many places around the world,” he writes. “It seems that even Einstein sometimes had a very hard time recognising himself in the face of the other.”


Since you’re here …
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Spl00gies

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Einstein’s perceptions of the Japanese he meets are, in contrast, more positive: “Japanese unostentatious, decent, altogether very appealing,” he writes. “Pure souls as nowhere else among people. One has to love and admire this country.” But Rosenkranz points out that he also concludes that the “intellectual needs of this nation seem to be weaker than their artistic ones – natural disposition?”

Einstein confirmed for OG weeb. Forsees the 'art' of manga, anime and hentai.

Natural disposition?
 

Haramburger

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Since you’re here …
… we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the Guardian than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too.
this isn't on the actual article/archive, it's cute how they slip that in when you copy & paste articles elsewhere.
 

Cthulu

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Since you’re here …
… we have a small favour to ask. More people are reading the Guardian than ever but advertising revenues across the media are falling fast. And unlike many news organisations, we haven’t put up a paywall – we want to keep our journalism as open as we can. So you can see why we need to ask for your help. The Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. But we do it because we believe our perspective matters – because it might well be your perspective, too
Really? Lol. Insert shameless plug here
 
Reactions: Koby_Fish

Shugo

kiwifarms.net
Maybe there's something to having a high IQ and noticing patterns in groups of people? Maybe he might not have prejudged Chinese as "A peculiar herd-like nation [ … ] often more like automatons than people" but came to that conclusion through his lived experience?

Nah, just a racist. It's not like people still regard the Chinese as ant-like herd people. He just hated them because their skin color and eyes looked different, dumb racist.

He also talks about how in Ceylon "lived in filth and surrounded by stench." How is that a racist remark? The country was obviously covered in stench and filth, these people lived just fine in it. Is it racist to criticize a place covered in filth, or to attribute piles of filth to the people living there, when he obviously visited plenty of other places not covered in filth?
 

Elwood P. Dowd

I am the lizard king. I can do ... anything.
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Or am i being too :optimistic:?
Too optimistic by far. Gandhi's racism got reported on, then as best I can tell, got promptly memory holed. I expect a similar outcome here.

WaPo
Archive is acting up, sorry. :(

Edit: Does WaPo block archive.li now? Damn.

Screenshot 2018-06-13 at 12.10.07 PM.png

What did Mahatma Gandhi think of black people?



By Rama LakshmiSeptember 3, 2015Email the author


Was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the revered leader of India’s freedom movement, a racist?

A controversial new book by two South African university professors reveals shocking details about Gandhi’s life in South Africa between 1893 and 1914, before he returned to India.

[Why some Indians want to build a statue of Mahatma Gandhi’s killer]

During his stay in South Africa, Gandhi routinely expressed “disdain for Africans,” says S. Anand, founder of Navayana, the publisher of the book titled “The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire.”

According to the book, Gandhi described black Africans as “savage,” “raw” and living a life of “indolence and nakedness,” and he campaigned relentlessly to prove to the British rulers that the Indian community in South Africa was superior to native black Africans. The book combs through Gandhi’s own writings during the period and government archives and paints a portrait that is at variance with how the world regards him today.

Much of the halo that surrounds Gandhi today is a result of clever repackaging, write the authors, Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, professors at the University of Johannesburg and the University of KwaZulu Natal.

[5 people who seem like naturals for the Nobel Peace Prize — but never won it]

“As we examined Gandhi’s actions and contemporary writings during his South African stay, and compared these with what he wrote in his autobiography and 'Satyagraha in South Africa,' it was apparent that he indulged in some ‘tidying up.' He was effectively rewriting his own history.”

Prize-winning Indian author Arundhati Roy says the book, which will hit stores next month, is “a serious challenge to the way we have been taught to think about Gandhi.”

Here is a sample of what Gandhi said about black South Africans:

* One of the first battles Gandhi fought after coming to South Africa was over the separate entrances for whites and blacks at the Durban post office. Gandhi objected that Indians were “classed with the natives of South Africa,” who he called the kaffirs, and demanded a separate entrance for Indians.

“We felt the indignity too much and … petitioned the authorities to do away with the invidious distinction, and they have now provided three separate entrances for natives, Asiatics and Europeans.”

* In a petition letter in 1895, Gandhi also expressed concern that a lower legal standing for Indians would result in degenerating "so much so that from their civilised habits, they would be degraded to the habits of the aboriginal Natives, and a generation hence, between the progeny of the Indians and the Natives, there will be very little difference in habits, and customs and thought."

* In an open letter to the Natal Parliament in 1893, Gandhi wrote:

“I venture to point out that both the English and the Indians spring from a common stock, called the Indo-Aryan. … A general belief seems to prevail in the Colony that the Indians are little better, if at all, than savages or the Natives of Africa. Even the children are taught to believe in that manner, with the result that the Indian is being dragged down to the position of a raw Kaffir.”

* At a speech in Mumbai in 1896, Gandhi said that the Europeans in Natal wished “to degrade us to the level of the raw kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with, and then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”

* Protesting the decision of Johannesburg municipal authorities to allow Africans to live alongside Indians, Gandhi wrote in 1904 that the council “must withdraw the Kaffirs from the Location. About this mixing of the Kaffirs with the Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly. I think it is very unfair to the Indian population and it is an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of my countrymen.”

* In response to the White League’s agitation against Indian immigration and the proposed importation of Chinese labour, Gandhi wrote in 1903: “We believe also that the white race in South Africa should be the predominating race.”

* Gandhi wrote in 1908 about his prison experience: “We were marched off to a prison intended for Kaffirs. There, our garments were stamped with the letter “N”, which meant that we were being classed with the Natives. We were all prepared for hardships, but not quite for this experience. We could understand not being classed with the whites, but to be placed on the same level with the Natives seemed too much to put up with.”

* In 1939, Gandhi justified his counsel to the Indian community in South Africa against forming a non-European front: “I have no doubt about the soundness of my advice. However much one may sympathise with the Bantus, Indians cannot make common cause with them.”

Read More:

Indian textbooks delete Nelson Mandela, English poets and country’s first prime minister

The irony behind Britain’s new Mahatma Gandhi statue

The dark side of Winston Churchill no one should forget



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Cosmos

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It's almost like we only started realizing that racism is bad a few decades ago or something.

Also, tbh I was expecting way worse. The most offensive things he said were that he found Chinese women mannish and unattractive and that he was afraid of China overtaking the world (which is kind of prophetic). Other than that he said that Chinese people are extremely hardworking and he fawned over how amazing Japan is.
 
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