Former Heritage Foundation scholar Jason Richwine’s widely-denounced research — which claimed immigrants possess lower IQs — hearkens back to a darker time in American academia.
Although Jason Richwine, the controversial co-author of the Heritage Foundation’s widely discredited study on the costs of immigration reform, resigned from the Heritage Foundation, he has not backed down from his assertion – made in his 2009 Harvard dissertation – that Hispanic immigrants have IQs too low to broadly assimilate into U.S. culture.
His views were not limited to Hispanics, however. He also stated in 2008 talk at the American Enterprise Institute that
“[…] race is different in all sorts of ways, and probably the most important way is in IQ… decades of psychometric testing has indicated that at least in America, you have Jews with the highest average IQ, usually followed by East Asians, then you have non-Jewish whites, Hispanics, and then blacks. These are real differences, and they’re not going to go away tomorrow, and for that reason we have to address them in our immigration discussions and our debates.”
Nevertheless, the views he espouses are not unique, but part of a certain segment of right-wing thinking; his philosophy is not new or alien because it is eerily representative of a historical point of view that creates and supports societal inequality and then blames the targets of that very inequality for the result.
The following, excluding the conclusion, is an excerpt from my book, When Racism Is Law & Prejudice Is Policy: Prejudicial & Discriminatory Laws, Decisions and Policies in U.S. History.
The diabolic beginning
“To understand why eugenics gained such a following in the first three decades of the 20th century, one needs to examine the economic, social, and political context in which it flourished. Science, or what is claimed to be science, is a product of culture like any other human activity” – Dr. Garland E. Allen.
American eugenics developed in the wake of turbulent economic and social problems following the Civil War. The rapid growth of American industry, coupled with the increased mechanization of agriculture, created the first major migration away from farms, and cities expanded faster than adequate housing.
Exploitation of labor created militant labor union organizations. Price fluctuations bankrupted many businesses and precipitated a series of depressions, starting in 1873, and reoccurring about every decade through the early 1900s. The situation, in the minds of the American elite, was made worse by an ever-increasing tide of immigrants, mostly from Southern and Eastern Europe, which peaked just before, and again after, World War I.
Social Darwinism had attempted to explain away social and economic inequalities as the “survival of the fittest.” However, by the turn of the century, this simplistic idea had been turned on its head. A declining birthrate among the wealthy and powerful indicated that the captains of industry were, in fact, losing the struggle for existence. The working class not only was organizing against them, but they were also out-reproducing them.
A new epoch in science – and a belief in a sort of faux science – eventually led to more drastic measures. Under these conditions, it is not surprising that the revelations of a new science of genetics gave birth to a new science of social engineering… eugenics.
Genetics appeared to explain the underlying cause of human social problems such as perpetual poverty, mental illness, alcoholism, non-conformity, criminality, and prostitution as the by-product of defective genes. Eugenicists argued that society paid a high price by allowing the birth of defective individuals who would have to be cared for by the state. Sterilization of one defective adult could save future generations thousands of dollars.
Eugenics was seen as a way to solve all of these combined problems because it placed the cause in the defective genetics of individuals and ethnic groups, and not in the structure of society itself. Eugenics used the cover of science to blame the victims for their own problems. Eugenicists seemed to have the weight of rigorous, quantitative, and thus scientific evidence on their side.
Those with economic and social power were now emboldened by this new “scientific” rationale that appeared to offer an effective approach of treating social problems. Further, eugenicist argued that “defectives” should be prevented from reproducing, through custody in asylums or forced sterilization.
Sterilization allowed the convicted criminal or mental patient to participate in society, rather than being institutionalized at public expense. Sterilization was not viewed as a punishment because these doctors believed, erroneously, that the social failure of “unfit” people was due to irreversibly degenerate genetics.
The Domino Effect
The first eugenics/forced sterilization law that was passed in the United States was in Indiana in 1907 — it was also the first eugenics/forced sterilization law that was passed in world history. It began in the Indiana prison system.
A law was passed that allowed for the involuntary sterilization of inmates. The law extended to cover all “wards of the state,” and those “maintained wholly or in part by public expense,” to include “feebleminded, insane, criminalistic, epileptic, inebriate, diseased, blind, deaf; deformed; and dependent.”
Also included on the list were “orphans, ne’er-do-wells, tramps, the homeless and paupers” (the statements in quotations were taken from the Indiana Sterilization law of 1907). Many states would follow Indiana’s lead. Here are the states in chronological order:
— Indiana- 1907
— Washington- 1909
— California- 1909
— Connecticut- 1910
— Nevada- 1911
— Iowa- 1911
— New Jersey- 1912
— New York- 1912
— North Dakota- 1913
— Kansas- 1913
— Minnesota- 1913
— Michigan- 1913
— Nebraska- 1913
— Vermont- 1917
— Oregon- 1917
— South Dakota- 1917
— Alabama- 1921
— Montana- 1923
— Vermont- 1924
— Virginia- 1924
Other states that passed eugenics laws: Idaho, Utah, Maine, Mississippi, North & South Carolina, West Virginia, Arizona, Delaware, New Hampshire, Oklahoma & Maine.
The eugenics movement coincided with one of the greatest eras in U.S. immigration. During the first two decades of the 20th century, 600,000-1,250,000 immigrants per year entered the country through Ellis Island (except during World War I). Unlike earlier waves of immigrants who came primarily from northern Europe, the 20th century brought an influx from Southern and Eastern Europe.
Eugenicists, most of whom were of Northern and Western European heritage, worried that the new immigrants weakened America biologically, and lobbied for federal legislation to selectively restrict immigration from “undesirable” countries.
With regard to eugenic sterilization, the United States served as an example to the rest of the world. As was stated previously, the first sterilization law was passed in Indiana in 1907. Between 1928 and 1936, a number of European countries also passed sterilization (eugenics) laws, including Denmark (1929), Germany (1933), Sweden and Norway (1934), Finland (1935), and Estonia (1936).
The American – Nazi Germany connection
All these laws, according to Dr. Marie Kopp, who toured Germany studying the Nazi Sterilization Laws for the American Eugenics Society in 1935, were modeled and inspired by American efforts.
The Nazi sterilization law was circulated on July 14, 1933. Within two months, the Eugenical News (a publication of the eugenics organization, published by the Galton Society) printed a major evaluation of the law, including its complete text in translation. The Nazi government was praised for being the “first of the world’s nations to enact a modern sterilization law.”
The German law “reads almost like the American model sterilization law” (a scientist by the name of Harry Laughlin was the architect of the “American” law). The German law along with the American statutes were expected to “constitute a milestone” in the movement to control human reproduction.
“The new law is clean-cut, direct and model.” Its standards are social and genetical,” the Eugenical News article commented. “Its application is entrusted to specialized courts and procedure. From a legal point of view nothing more could be desired.”
Now, to be clear, there is no evidence that the American scientific community supported the Nazi extermination program or the “Final Solution.” Indeed, a Yale study from 2000, based partly on old editorials from the New England journal and the Journal of the American Medical Association, demonstrated how the U.S. eugenics movement gradually waned while its Nazi counterpart carried out 360,000 to 375,000 sterilizations during the 1930s and grew to encompass so-called “mercy” killings.
Nevertheless, by 1945, when the murderous nature of the Nazi government was made perfectly clear, the American eugenicists sought to downplay the close connections between themselves and the German program. But the damage had already been done.
The American intellectual and scientific community’s support for, first German, and then Nazi ideas on eugenics had already left its fingerprints on the most comprehensive attempt to enforce racial purity in the history of the world.
The fault, I believe, lies in either a disregard or an indifference towards the reality that inherent in the ideology of forced sterilization (“they should not be allowed to reproduce”) is the seed that gives birth to extermination (“they should not be allowed to exist”).
The Supreme Court case that effectively deemed forced sterilization illegal was Skinner v. Oklahoma (1942) and the opinion was written by Justice William O. Douglas. He highlighted the inequity of Oklahoma’s law by noting that a three-time chicken thief could be sterilized while a three-time embezzler could not.
This clearly shows the bias of the eugenics laws against the poor. Douglas said: “We have not the slightest basis for inferring that the inheritability of criminal traits follows the neat legal distinctions which the law has marked between those two offenses.” Despite the Skinner case, sterilization of people in institutions for the mentally ill and mentally challenged continued through the mid-1970s.
It should be crystal clear where the road leads when there is a fervent belief in the inherent inferiority of any group of people. Why the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute saw fit to allow Jason Richwine the platform to champion such views is only a question they can answer.
Nevertheless, we need not wait for their explanation or excuse because the verdict is already in on this brand of prejudicial nativism – history has judged it; weighed it in the balances of justice and found it defective.