Recently, Princeton University Press published The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein: The Far East, Palestine, and Spain, 1922-1923. Some of Einstein’s writings and criticisms when describing his journey revealed hidden racism. For example, Einstein depicted those selling goods in a port in Egypt as “Levantines of every shade… as if spewed from hell.”
To many, it was shocking to hear about his comments, especially after a report from the Smithsonian Magazine that stated Einstein supported the U.S. civil rights movement.
In fact, he presented a speech at Lincoln University in which he stated, “There is a separation of colored people from white people in the United States. It is a disease of white people. I do not intend to be quiet about it.” These proclaimed views of his don’t necessarily align with what he wrote in his journals. Some of the most offensive criticisms were those of the Chinese people, not holding back on his true opinions. He explained that
“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.”
What many people, like Einstein, failed to understand is that the world consists of many different cultures and backgrounds. What may seem like a norm to someone in Europe very seldom is the norm for a different society or culture. The “norm” and perception of how one should live is limited to a person’s perspective. When analyzing a different culture, one should really try to inform themselves about the people and be open to different ideas.
Einstein commented more on the Chinese people by remarking, “I noticed how little difference there is between men and women; I don’t understand what kind of fatal attraction Chinese women possess which enthralls the corresponding men to such an extent that they are incapable of defending themselves against the formidable blessing of offspring.”
Though many might just brush off Einstein’s thoughts as parallel to those of his times, it’s not true. In Einstein’s writings, he clearly showed that he believed that races can’t intellectually be the same, an idea that was not heavily supported in his time. Does it really come as a shock, though? Society has consistently worshipped “god-like” figures (mostly Caucasian men) who have proven time and time again that maybe they’re not so great after all.
There are many people-of-color and or female physicists that have impacted humanity more than Einstein did. Unfortunately, hardly any of them get the attention or publicity that they deserve or need. Let’s stop idolizing the wrong people.