While perusing Facebook the other day, I came upon a post that really excited me. About Albert Einstein. Yeah…(nerd.)
I really admire the Einstein, thus was a bit shocked by my ignorance of his strong stance on this issue. It’s like my strong stance. How did I miss this? Naturally, I dug through the interweb to see what else I could find to feed my curiosity. I found a feast! There will be more on this topic tomorrow I believe.
I’m pleased to report that I have since forgiven myself for my ignorance, as it became clear that this hasn’t been common Einstein knowledge. It was insignificant, irrelevant, and even egregious for the times. Who would record such nonsense? Of course equality and human dignity were reserved for whites. No questions allowed. But Einstein spoke anyway. Imagine, being afraid of speaking in public, yet being courageous enough to speak publicly on a topic so taboo that he could have literally found himself in danger- political, financial, and physical. That is fierce. That is being action in alignment with cosmic law. That is something I truly admire.
Here’s the catalytic FB post:
Einstein, when he arrived in America, was shocked at how Black Americans were treated. “There is separation of colored people from white people in the United States,” he said. “That separation is not a disease of colored people. It is a disease of white people. And, I do not intend to be quiet about it.” And, he wasn’t.
Although he had a fear of speaking in public, he made all the effort he could to spread the word of equality, denouncing racism and segregation and becoming a huge proponent of civil rights even before the term became fashionable. Einstein was a member of several civil rights groups (including the Princeton chapter of the NAACP).
There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with the attitude of the “Whites” toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly toward Negroes. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.
Many a sincere person will answer: “Our attitude towards Negroes is the result of unfavorable experiences which we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this country. They are not our equals in intelligence, sense of responsibility, reliability.”
I am firmly convinced that whoever believes this suffers from a fatal misconception. Your ancestors dragged these black people from their homes by force; and in the white man’s quest for wealth and an easy life they have been ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded into slavery. The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this unworthy condition.
—Albert Einstein “The Negro Question”, 1946
Little-known aspect of physicist’s life revealed
Harvard News Office
Here’s something you probably don’t know about Albert Einstein.
In 1946, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist traveled to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the alma mater of Langston Hughes and Thurgood Marshall and the first school in America to grant college degrees to blacks. At Lincoln, Einstein gave a speech in which he called racism “a disease of white people,” and added, “I do not intend to be quiet about it.” He also received an honorary degree and gave a lecture on relativity to Lincoln students.
The reason Einstein’s visit to Lincoln is not better known is that it was virtually ignored by the mainstream press, which regularly covered Einstein’s speeches and activities. (Only the black press gave extensive coverage to the event.) Nor is there mention of the Lincoln visit in any of the major Einstein biographies or archives.
In fact, many significant details are missing from the numerous studies of Einstein’s life and work, most of them having to do with Einstein’s opposition to racism and his relationships with African Americans.
That these omissions need to be recognized and corrected is the contention of Fred Jerome and Rodger Taylor, authors of “Einstein on Race and Racism” (Rutgers University Press, 2006). Jerome and Taylor spoke April 3 at an event sponsored by the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research. The event also featured remarks by Sylvester James Gates Jr., the John S. Toll Professor of Physics, University of Maryland.
According to Jerome and Taylor, Einstein’s statements at Lincoln were by no means an isolated case. Einstein, who was Jewish, was sensitized to racism by the years of Nazi-inspired threats and harassment he suffered during his tenure at the University of Berlin. Einstein was in the United States when the Nazis came to power in 1933, and, fearful that a return to Germany would place him in mortal danger, he decided to stay, accepting a position at the recently founded Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. He became an American citizen in 1940.
But while Einstein may have been grateful to have found a safe haven, his gratitude did not prevent him from criticizing the ethical shortcomings of his new home.
“Einstein realized that African Americans in Princeton were treated like Jews in Germany,” said Taylor. “The town was strictly segregated. There was no high school that blacks could go to until the 1940s.”
Gates, an African-American physicist who has appeared on the PBS show Nova, said that Einstein had been a hero of his since he learned about the theory of relativity as a teenager, but that he was unaware of Einstein’s ideas on civil rights until fairly recently.
Einstein’s approach to problems in physics was to begin by asking very simple, almost childlike questions, such as, “What would the world look like if I could drive along a beam of light?” Gates said.
“He must have developed his ideas about race through a similar process. He was capable of asking the question, ‘What would my life be like if I were black?’”
Gates said that thinking about Einstein’s involvement with civil rights has prompted him to speculate on the value of affirmative action and the goal of diversity it seeks to bring about. There are many instances in which the presence of strength and resilience in a system can be attributed to diversity.
“In the natural world, for example, when a population is under the influence of a stressful environment, diversity ensures its survival,” Gates said.
On a cultural level, the global influence of American popular music might be attributed to the fact that it is an amalgam of musical traditions from Europe and Africa.
These examples have led him to conclude that “diversity actually matters, independent of the moral argument.” Gates said he believes “there is a science of diversity out there waiting for scholars to discover it.”
—It’s Tiff again. I just have to comment about that last excerpt from Gates. That “under the influence of a stressful environment, diversity ensures survival” thing. In this case the stressful environment is racially segregated America. The mutually exclusive, dangerously juxtaposed, white vs. black America. To ensure survival, diversity is required. I’ll go out on a limb here and relate this to being mixed like me (after all, these are the mulatto diaries if I recall correctly.) To ensure the survival of America, we have to exist. We are everywhere even though we’ve been largely silent and unrecognized in any genuine manner. Yet things improve, and change happens as we wake up, and adapt, and we are different…and so is America.
“The interaction between organism and environment is central in evolution. Extinction ensues when organisms fail to change and adapt to the constantly altering … stressful environmental changes as documented in the fossil record. Extreme environmental stress causes extinction but also leads to evolutionary change and the origination of new species adapted to new environments.”-Eviatar Nevo
Don’t become extinct!