By Jonathan Storment
“The highest goal of human beings [is] not the preservation of any given state or government, but the preservation of their kind.”-Adolf Hitler
In the 1940’s two Psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark performed a series of tests on African-American children designed to see how living in a segregated society impacted them.
They gave the children two different dolls, identical in every way except one was white and one was black, and asked them questions like “Which doll is nice?” “Which one is bad?” “Which one is good?’
Consistently the kids would point to the white baby as good/pretty/kind, and the black baby as bad/mean/ugly.
And then the researchers would ask the question “Which doll do you look like?”
The test became known as “the Doll Test” and it’s research became a cornerstone piece of evidence in Brown vs. the Board of education to overturn institutionalized segregation in America.
The problem is when black children are given the same test today, they still often give the same answers.
So I wrote last in this series, about how the Myth of White Superiority traces all the way back to a first century Roman historian named Tacitius and his observations about an Anglo-Saxon tribe he believed to be more moral and courageous than other humans he had interacted with.
This is the myth that influenced so many of the founding fathers of America (this is uncontested fact coming from the writings of people like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin).
But today we don’t talk about Tacitus, most of us aren’t even familiar with his ancient line of argument, even as it undergirds the reality we live in.
In fact, in the 19th and 20th century this particular line of argument actually hid behind the two most respected disciplines of the day: Science and Religion.
Next week I’ll talk about the way religion was co-opted for this myth, but today I want to talk about the way a kind of pseudo-science was implemented toward the myth of white superiority.
I want you to imagine having your head physically measured to tell you what kind of job you would have or person you should marry.
Imagine being subjected to a battery of physical tests by “scientists” who already had a priori assumptions about who you were and what your future ought to be, based solely on the color of your skin and their assumptions about what that inferred about your ability to think intelligently.
This is the world that black men and women lived in for centuries, and in some ways have still inherited.
Some scientists used to argue that black men and women were “poor in abstract thought yet good in physical responses.” They were believed (by some scientists as recently as the 1960’s) to have lower IQ’s than other races (of primarily European descent) This lead some politicians to begin to push for all incoming immigrants to America to have to take IQ tests before allowing them entry.
There are so many more, and frankly more disturbing examples of the way the Eugenics experiment in Europe and America both colluded with and compounded the systematic racism against black people. If you grew up in church, you know that Christianity was co-opted in this, but for today what I’d like to notice is that this didn’t start with religion.
It was, in it’s day, a progressive view of the world.
In fact, in a New York Times article from a few years ago titled “The Case For Old Ideas” the columnist Ross Douthat pointed out that religion played a key role in fighting against these ideas:
When technological progress helped entrench slavery, the religious radicalism of abolitionists helped destroy it. When industrial development rent the fabric of everyday life, religious awakenings helped reknit it. When history’s arc bent toward eugenics, religious humanists helped keep the idea of equality alive.
If you’re thinking that this is just another preacher trying to “defend the faith” by spinning some revisionist history consider this. Hitler based much of what he did to the Jewish people on Eugenics theories developed in America and Europe, based on politically motivated pseudo-science that was working toward progress, toward a certain utopia that was built for and by white people of European descent.
Race As A Scientific Category
Adolf Hitler looked across the world and saw a growing population and with a limited amount of earth, he foresaw a growing struggle for land, and so he wrote his book Mein Kampf (German for My Struggle).
He believed that human races were like animal species and that racial struggle was just a part of life.
Hitler rejected any notion of God or religion (although he would manipulate them and use them) and ultimately Hitler said, “If I can accept any divine command, it is this: Thou shalt preserve thy species”
In fact the reason that Hitler was seemingly unstoppable was because the “liberals and socialists [of his day] were constrained, whether they realized it or not, by attachments to customs and institutions; mental habits that grew from social experience hindered them from reaching the most radical conclusions [about their lack of faith in God].”
In other words, the biggest hinderance to actively opposing Hitler, was that Christianity had so captured the imagination of the West, that people still believed the implications of the Gospel, even if they no longer believed the Gospel.
Imagine that, imagine a world, where people believed that all people were created equal, but they slowly begin to no longer believe in a Creator, and you will begin to understand why the brutal force of Hitler’s logic was so effective.
I know that some of you reading this will disagree. Richard Dawkins vehemently denies that Hitler’s atheism had anything to do with his evil ethics.
But the philosopher John Grey, himself an atheist, wrote a scathing response to Richard Dawkins dismissal of in his article in the British Guardian called “The Atheist Delusion”:
Always a tremendous booster of science, Hitler was much impressed by a vulgarized Darwinism and by theories of eugenics that had developed from Enlightenment philosophies of materialism. He used Christian antisemitic demonology in his persecution of Jews, and the churches collaborated with him to a horrifying degree. But it was the Nazi belief in race as a scientific category that opened the way to a crime without parallel in history. Hitler’s world-view was that of many semi-literate people in interwar Europe, a hotchpotch of counterfeit science and animus towards religion. There can be no reasonable doubt that this was a type of atheism, or that it helped make Nazi crimes possible.
In other words, the idea that the first century Roman historian Tacitus promoted, that there was a superior race of Germanic people, had now merged with Nietzsche’s observation that God was all but dead in the European culture and institutions.
And without a Creator who made people in His image, all that is left is power and force and a fight for land.
This is how the evils of slavery, the holocaust, and systemic racism happens. It is what is capable of changing people from being an image-bearing person of dignity to rats (vermin) fit for heinous science experiments.
The Christian hope for the future is to be a place of worship for people from every tribe and every tongue. The Jewish/Christian story is of a God who made all of us in His image, and who stands up for the dignity of everyone.
And it’s that story, and that story alone, that has convinced the world that racism is wrong.
It’s why your heart breaks when you hear a black boy or girl talk about a white doll being better than a black one. Not just because it’s a lie, but because it’s an especially evil one.
The Christian story is the one we are reaching for when we say that the idea that there is a superior race is a myth.
And the world depends upon the people of God to keep saying so.