Molecular biologist Dr. James Watson shared the 1962 Nobel prize for medicine with Francis Crick and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins for their description of the double helix structure of DNA. Is it possible that Watson’s findings also concluded that the genetic structure of Europeans is fundamentally different than that of people of African descent? A recent interview with the Sunday Times would suggest so. This week, Watson was quoted saying,
“(I am) 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.”
As a 80s baby, sometimes it’s easy to forget that blatant racism like this was a national standard in the United States, only a few decades ago. Should this ridiculous statement come as a surprise, from a 79-year old? This guy was born in 1928 – he’s old enough to have had slave holding grandparents. Old enough to have voted against the Civil Rights Bill. He was in his mid-20s Emmitt Till was murdered and Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. It would not be a stretch of the imagination for Watson to whole-heartedly believe that Africans were intellectually inferior. Being a Nobel Prize laureate does not exempt him from being a racist bigot. Lucky for Watson, he’s got some publicity people covering his wrinkled butt. The day after his racist statements were made public, he issued the following apology:
I can only apologize unreservedly… There is no scientific basis for such a belief… I cannot understand how I could have said what I am quoted as having said.
A spokeswoman for Dr Watson’s publisher went on to say: “Dr. Watson feels he needs to go home and sort things out.” Most likely, the only thing Dr. Watson will need sort out, is how to keep his personal beliefs to himself during interviews. Dr. Watson has since canceled his London book tour, and has been dropped from several Scientific boards. Read more here.
Why should we care? Because Dr. Watson’s suggestion that Africans are intellectually inferior is a perpetuation of the same mentality that led to the genocide we call the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Many people still hold this belief and that is one of the reasons why people of African descent continue to suffer, globally. This mentality is part of the reason why “slow/remedial” classes are filled with Black/Latino children, while “Advanced Placement” classes are 90% white/Asian. This is why the Prison Industrial Complex is disproportionately filled with people of color. Not because people think we’re stupid, but because of institutional marginalization that is justified by the same stream of racism that would allow an otherwise brilliant Nobel Prize laureate to become invested in a ridiculous claim that has no scientific justification.
What do you think? Is this worth our time, or should we just ignore this ancient man?