What do all of the quotations on race and intelligence I’ve amassed in recent weeks really amount to? Aren’t they merely antique bigoted opinions best left on the scrapheap of history? Well, at the least they show that prior to the 20th century there was a consensus among great scientists, philosophers, and statesmen, that the negro was less intelligent than the white man. Moreover, this opinion spread along with the enlightenment, the spread of scientific thinking, and the development of evolutionary biology. “Racism” was not opposed to enlightenment and science, but was the produced by enlightenment and science.
Furthermore, this consensus did not extend to a similar consensus on superiority of Europeans to all other peoples of the world (although Australian aborigines do seem to be uniformly classed with the negroes or even below them). Many of the same figures who confidently asserted that the negro was less intelligent than the white thought highly of the civilizations of China, India, and Japan. While these groups were certainly sometimes compared unflatteringly with Europeans, then were not consistently considered to be less intelligent, as were the negroes. Therefore it is simply wrong to say that Eurocentrism or white supremacy explains the “racism” of this period.
The past existence of a consensus on the question of negro intelligence does not imply that the consensus was correct, but it does imply that those who with to overthrow it ought at least to explain on what grounds they are doing so, and what evidence they have to show that they are right.