“Racial Antagonism,” pages 96-110
The times have changed enough since 1951 that this chapter on race is a little unsettling today – though not as unsettling as Russell’s writings during the eugenics era.
The English and French spent most of 750 years at each other's throats, but they didn’t have an inherent dislike for each other. Americans descended from the English, however, have generally been quite contemptuous of Native Americans. This sort of hostility, rooted in biological differences [Russell claims], is the subject of this chapter. Russell also thinks that in terms of numbers and biological differences, the important racial divisions are between “the whites, the Mongolians, and the Negroes [p. 97].” Later (p. 98), when he is providing rough statistics on the global population by race, Russell notes that people in India don’t fit neatly within these racial divisions.
Russell praises the Russians for being less insolent towards other races than are most white people. Partly as a result, non-white people tend to be politically more friendly with Russia than with the English-speaking (predominantly) white countries.
The horrors of the enslavement of Negroes are well known, and profound injustice towards Negroes long has outlived slavery. As conditions have improved for Negroes in the US, they have deteriorated for blacks subject to white rule in Africa, with King Leopold II being a shocking example. South Africa, previously more humane, is now engaged in behavior that seems designed to build sentiment favorable to Russia among blacks. Leopold and the torturers of South Africa proclaim fervent Christianity.
Southern Europeans can be as cruel towards blacks as are Northern Europeans, but they don’t seem to hold the same racial animus. There is no evidence for the frequent suggestion of some Nordic-type whites that racially mixed offspring are biologically disadvantaged.
White southerners express great confusion towards black people, claiming they find them physically repulsive but wanting to use them as servants. What they really can’t abide is equality and justice for blacks. But is there an instinctive basis for the views of whites?
If Chinese and Japanese were allowed to immigrate to “white” countries, their work habits would soon make them dominate the labor market. The threat that this would happen led the American and Australian democracies to limit immigration from Asia. A world democracy, alternatively, would welcome open borders. [Russell writes, somewhat enigmatically: “Those who hold – as I certainly do – that it would be regrettable if California and Australia ceased to be white men’s countries, must seek some principle other than democracy to justify their position [pages 100-101].” Russell doesn’t provide such a principle. What would Russell make of the fact that non-Hispanic whites now form less than 40% of the population of California?] In some parts of Asia, the Chinese population faces the sort of antipathy that Jews face throughout much of the world.
The awful prejudice against Jews started as religious, but economic motives then joined in. The eventual Nazi hatred of Jews was divorced from religion.
If we examine the current antagonism many Gentiles feel towards Jews, we will hear various charges of sharp business practices and whatnot. But in fact, it is the aversion that comes first, and the charges are developed to justify the aversion. Some of the dislike itself is based on the success of Jews – how to explain losing out to them, unless they competed unfairly?
Other groups (such as Quakers) are successful in business, without meeting with the same aversion. It is the fear of the strange that underlies the hatred against Jews, and underlies racial prejudice more generally. In other words, cowardice stokes prejudices: “If Hitler had been a brave man he would not have been an anti-Semite [p. 104].”
Skin color as a basis for bigotry seems to be rather modern. Russell offers an analysis of Othello in which the social problem of the Othello-Desdemona pairing draws more from class distinctions than from racial ones. “No one objected to Pocahontas as a white man’s wife; on the contrary, she was treated with honor [p. 104].” The instinct for racial prejudice probably draws not only from ideas of stranger danger, but also from the fear of being dominated by the other – a fear that all slave-owning societies face.
The instinctual basis for racial hatred is but a small part of the story, and one that can easily be re-written by exposure and acclimation. Other elements are more durable: differing habits engendering a view of our own race’s superiority, envy at the success of others, or condemnation of their work habits if they are not successful. Further, we are all descendants of those who survived countless wars, so the search for someone to hate is ingrained – racial differences can fill that void. But now wars against the hated others bring disaster to all participants.
Feelings of both superiority and inferiority fuel racial tensions. People like to think well of themselves, and hence tend to disparage groups – including genders and nationalities – that they are not part of. Feeling superior licenses a certain condescending goodwill to others – but then fears of inferiority darken one’s views. When the subjugated (including women and slaves) become willing to protest their treatment, the oppressors respond with hatred.
Some racial hatred reflects a sort of self-interest, but the US domestic version is in no one’s interest. The dislike of poor foreign immigrants might be in a nation’s economic self-interest, however. “Hostility to Jews is wholly irrational [p. 106]”; it undermined Spain and destroyed Germany.
All in all, the best solution to avoiding the problems of racial hatred is equality – as opposed to a species of apartheid or a caste system, for instance. “Some way must be found by which Jews and Gentiles, Negroes and white men, can live peaceably side by side in one community [pages 107-108].” The equality should include intermarriage – there is no biological rationale for separating the races. Advantages to racial purity are lacking in the historical record; the evidence that does exist rather seems on the side of impurity. Keeping economically disparate races geographically separate (by limiting immigration) where they already are separated can keep the peace, perhaps, while living standards are raised in the relatively less developed nation. But where races already intermingle, full equality is the best policy.
“Racial antagonism is an illiberal and irrational heritage from our animal past [p. 109].” This antagonism must be extirpated if any human races are to survive into the next century. Governments declare wars, but they are goaded by widespread hatreds in the populace – hatreds that provide a seeming rationale for war. So we must rid our hearts of these hatreds, or pay a massive price.