Michael Kundu, the Marysville School Board member who circulated an email earlier this month linking race and brain size to explain the achievement gap, may be a garden-variety bigot. The Everett Herald reports that in 2000 Kundu referred to the Makah Indian Tribe as a "cryptic and dying culture." (He apologized when he ran for the board a few years later.) Nevertheless, Kundu's use of Canadian writer J. Philippe Rushton's bogus race science adds a narrative twist that aligns more with old-school eugenics.
It's the flat-earth racialism of eugenics, a signal belief of American progressives a century ago, that's so insidious. Ideas have consequences. Think war, immigration, and the forced sterilization of the mentally ill.
Race science and eugenics inform the key actors in Evan Thomas's terrific new history, The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898. Teddy Roosevelt and Massachusetts Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge promoted the liberation of Cuba and the Philippines in part out of a sense of racial paternalism. Thomas writes:
When Roosevelt was an undergraduate and Lodge a graduate student and briefly an instructor, Harvard was a hotbed of eugenics and other long-since-discredited racial theories. Lodge earned his doctorate by studying histories, largely bogus, of the foundation of democracy and liberty in the dark forests of the ancient Teutonic tribes in Germany. Harvard scholars were sure that Anglo-Saxons had emerged as the master race over the centuries that followed. There was, however, a problem: the "lesser" races were multiplying at a faster pace — and arriving on American shores in ever greater numbers.
Enter Washington's Albert Johnson to tackle those lesser races arriving on American shores. Johnson, a former Hoquiam newspaperman and eugenics booster (Johnson briefly ran the Eugenic Research Association) was first elected to Congress from this state in 1912. His political career culminated with the notorious Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 that indexed immigration to existing ethnic populations within the United States (a boon for northern Europeans, but not so good for southern Europeans and Asians).
In his excellent 2007 Crosscut essay, Knute Berger notes that Washington was one of the first states to translate eugenics into public policy. These new laws, predicated on a Darwinian misreading of human progress, resulted in the forced sterilization of unwed mothers, the handicapped, gays, and racial minorities.
Ignorance, like ego, is a permanent feature of human nature. It will be fascinating to see if Kundu, in his role as a school board member, understands this history.
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