Einstein's Newly Published Old Travel Diaries Reveal His Hidden Racism
In a 1946 speech at Lincoln University, Albert Einstein famously said segregation was "a disease of white people," adding, "I do not intend to be quiet about it."
Despite Einstein's humanitarian efforts later in life, his attempts to foster peace in the wake of the atomic bomb, and the discrimination against Jews like Einstein in Nazi Germany, a new book reveals that Einstein himself held a number of overtly racist views, including toward the Chinese.
The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein: The Far East, Palestine, and Spain, 1922 - 1923, exposes the secret racism hiding inside the universally beloved physicist, a man who saw the Chinese as "industrious, filthy, obtuse people," among other comments.
"I think a lot of comments strike us as pretty unpleasant—what he says about the Chinese in particular," said Ze'ev Rosenkranz, the editor of the diaries.
"They're kind of in contrast to the public image of the great humanitarian icon. I think it's quite a shock to read those and contrast them with his more public statements. They're more off-guard, he didn't intend them for publication."
And some of Einstein's other observations about the Chinese in his diaries are just as concerning. He often doesn't just reduce them to stereotypes; his descriptions can have the effect of dehumanizing them entirely.
"Even those reduced to working like horses never give the impression of conscious suffering. A peculiar herd-like nation [ … ] often more like automatons than people," writes Einstein.
After observing that the Chinese tend to have many offspring, he further comments, "It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us, the mere thought is unspeakably dreary."
Though Einstein later expressed a positive opinion toward the Japanese, in his diaries he questions whether their weaker "intellectual needs" are a "natural disposition."
According to Rosenkranz, this hints at a troubling and deep-seated racist mindset:
"Einstein's diary entries on the biological origin of the alleged intellectual inferiority of the Japanese, Chinese, and Indians are definitely not understated and can be viewed as racist—in these instances, other peoples are portrayed as being biologically inferior, a clear hallmark of racism. The disquieting comment that the Chinese may 'supplant all other races' is also most revealing in this regard."
You can purchase the book from the Princeton University Press website here.