Race Science Files: New York Times edition

Just what level of racist insanity does an "expert" have to exhibit before the New York Times starts to think they're not an expert?

The New York Times offices in Manhattan.

I recently downloaded a copy of a book from a white-supremacist website (sorry, no links here). It claims that, because of evolutionary forces at work in Africa, black people have smaller brains, lower IQs, more sex hormones, higher rates of crime, and are worse parents than whites. (It also reports, with what seems like a touch of sour grapes, that black men have larger penises.) Why did I do this to myself? Because the author, the late J. Philippe Rushton, had just been cited in an op-ed appearing in the New York Times as an authority on—wait for it—morality.

The Times op-ed, which offers advice on how to raise a “moral child,” cites a 1975 Rushton study on how various sorts of interventions would affect children’s likelihood to behave generously, so it’s not hard to see why it wouldn’t have set off any red flags. But do the Times editors not have Google? It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that when websites with names like “white power forum” are eulogizing someone, you might want to take a second look. If you did, you would discover that he consistently made claims like the following from his 1995 Race, Evolution, and Behavior:

The reason why Whites and East Asians have wider hips than Blacks, and so make poorer runners is because they give birth to larger brained babies … Further, the hormones that give Blacks an edge at sports makes them restless in school and prone to crime.

And “Blacks are more aggressive and outgoing than Whites [and] also have more mental instability than Whites.” They might also have found out that Rushton got in trouble a few times for things like surveying first-year students about the sizes of their penises and how far they could ejaculate, or setting up shop in a mall and paying shoppers to tell him about their sexual habits.

Now, the fact that the British-born Rushton–he partly grew up in South Africa after his family migrated there the year Apartheid was introduced–is, in University of North Carolina Anthropologist Jonathan Marks’s elegant gloss “… a guy who ass-rapes evolutionary ecological theory in order to show that Africans have an innate intellectual ability equivalent to mentally handicapped Europeans” does not necessarily mean that his findings on child behavior are invalid. But it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, either.

And it also raises a question, just what level of racist insanity (to say nothing of prurient, icky fascination with black men’s penises) does an “expert” have to exhibit before the New York Times starts to think, “Maybe we should ask our author to find himself another expert?”

Further Reading

The entitlement of Bola Tinubu

The Nigerian presidential candidate’s claim of ’emi lokan’ (it’s my turn) reveals complex ethnic politics and a stagnated democracy. Most responses to it, humor and rumor, reflect how Nigerians enact democratic citizenship.

Father of the nation

The funeral of popular Angolan musician Nagrelha underscored his capacity to mobilize people and it reminds us that popular culture offers a kind of Rorschach test for the body politic.

A city divided

Ethnic enclaves are not unusual in many cities and towns across Sudan, but in Port Sudan, this polarized structure instigated and facilitated communal violence.

The imperial forest

Gregg Mitman’s ‘Empire of Rubber’ is less a historical reading of Liberia than a history of America and racial capitalism through the lens of a US corporate giant.

Africa’s next great war

The international community’s limited attention span is laser-focused on jihadism in the Sahel and the imploding Horn of Africa. But interstate war is potentially brewing in the eastern DRC.

The Cape Colony

The campaign to separate South Africa’s Western Cape from the rest of the country is not only a symptom of white privilege, but also of the myth that the province is better run.

Between East Africa and the Gulf

Political encounters between the Arab Gulf and Africa span centuries. Mahmud Traouri’s novel ‘Maymuna’ demonstrates the significant role of a woman’s journey from East Africa to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.


It’s not common knowledge that there is Iran in Africa and there is Africa in Iran. But there are commonplace signs of this connection.

It could happen to us

Climate negotiations have repeatedly floundered on the unwillingness of rich countries, but let’s hope their own increasing vulnerability instills greater solidarity.