The obsession underlying this supposedly scholarly study -- and one can with fairness call it an obsession, though the tone...



The obsession underlying this supposedly scholarly study -- and one can with fairness call it an obsession, though the tone is persuasive and mild -- is the idea of the inequality of the races, and more particularly, of the mental inferiority of Negroes. Shades of Jensen. The author, an Oxford cytologist, says that ""the ethnic problem"" has been swept under the rug ever since Hitler's atrocities, and that this is too bad because it deserves objective consideration. Any such consideration would have to deal with the poverty and inconclusiveness of the evidence; but Baker's book is, rather, a patchwork of assertions stitched together from misinterpreted zoology, genetics, linguistics, anthropology and intelligence-testing. Baker puts the physical anthropology of selected races in the context of zoological taxonomy, attempting to demonstrate that the races are biological realities -- and since they differ physically, and therefore genetically, they must also differ in mental capacity. (He tends to equate ""difference"" with ""inequality"" and ""mental capacity"" with Western rational cognition.) Baker's shaky parallels between animal and human interbreeding have racist and eugenicist undertones; he is objective and fairly informative on ""Jews,"" ""Celts,"" and ""Europids,"" but in the much longer section on Black Africans, he skips over physical anthroplogy (except to find ""thick lips"" and ""flattened noses"" missing from African kings and geniuses) to demonstrate the cultural inferiority of blacks -- their failure to invent a civilization -- not from the accounts of anthropologists but from those of 19th-century explorers, whose unconscious bias against ""savages,"" so obvious to modern readers, is quoted without comment by Baker. This is connected to the very problematic cognitivetesting data from America, which Baker takes to confirm that ""Negrids"" are dumber than ""Europids"" and ""Mongolids"" -- dismissing without adequately meeting the arguments that such testing is culturally biased. Now that, far from denying human differences, we are rediscovering the skill and wisdom of ""uncivilized"" peoples (as botanists, medics, artists, psychotherapists) and the savagery of the ""civilized,"" this is a reactionary book and a scientifically irresponsible one, quite likely, against its author's expressed wish, to play into the hands of irresponsible policymakers.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 1973


Page Count: -

Publisher: Oxford

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1973