In 1946, physicist Albert Einstein, speaking at an American college that was the first to give degrees to black people, denounced racism in a speech that birthed one of his most popular quotes: “Racism is a disease of white people.”
Two decades earlier, he may have been diagnosed with the same disease had people then been aware of a bunch of diary entries the Nobel-winning scientist wrote during an Asia tour.
Those diary entries have been made public recently and have sparked a debate on Einstein’s views on race and of people from India, Sri Lanka and China.
Einstein seemed to have believed, Indians were “biologically inferior” and were hampered by the subcontinent’s climate that “prevented them from thinking backward or forward by more than a quarter of an hour.”
This, according to Ze’ev Rosenkranz, the assistant director of the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology, and the editor of a book that compiles Albert Einstein’s travel diaries.
The diary entries are from Einstein’s travels to the Far East, Palestine and Spain between October 1922 and March 1923.
In them Einstein makes comments that are “in contrast to the public image of the great humanitarian icon”, Rosenkranz told British newspaper The Guardian.
Einstein on Indians
Writing in the introduction of his compilation of Einstein’s travel dairies, Rosenkranz says that the scientist’s comments about Indians, Chinese and Japanese display a belief that is “a clear hallmark of racism”.
Einstein, the editor writes, came across Indians in Colombo during his Far East voyage and mentioned their existence by referring to their “primitive lives”.
“Einstein also believes that ‘the climate prevents them from thinking backward or forward by more than a quarter of an hour’, an attitude that reveals both Einstein’s belief in geographical determinism and in the Indians’ alleged intellectual inferiority,” Rosenkranz writes.
The climate and its alleged effect on Indians comes up again in Einstein’s diaries.
According to Rosenkranz, Einstein attributes the “alleged stoicism of the Indians he encounters to geographical determination [by asking]: ‘Wouldn’t we too, in this climate, become like the Indians?’.”