"a disease of white people"
Many biographies have been written on the life of Albert Einstein (1879-1955), "the" genius. Before Jerome and Taylor published "Einstein on Race and Racism" in 2006, one aspect of his life remained ignored: Einstein's public attitude to racism (via).
The scientist, pacifist and Jew Einstein was forced to leave Germany in 1932. He left and renounced his citizenship. In 1933, he ended up in Princeton where he discovered another kind of racism, one that targeted black US-Americans. Princeton University did not accept black students.
Einstein spent much time with the local African-American community "Witherspoon" (via). In 1946, he visited Lincoln University, "the first degree-granting college for African-Americans" where he was supposed to give a lecture on physics and where he also addressed racism calling it "a disease of white people" (via). The same year he wrote a letter to President Truman and asked for a passage of an anti-lynching law (Jayaraman, 2007). Einstein made it clear that it was not his intention to be quiet about his opposition to racism (via). His "courage in defending the right to the freedom of expression is all the more remarkable for the great lack of it that characterized academic life, particularly in the sciences, in the United States even in the post-McCarthy era." (Jayaraman, 2007).
He supported Princenton's black community, paid one student's tuition, formed relationships with black leaders, such as W.E.B. Dubois (who he witnessed for at the beginning of McCarthyism), invited the famous black American contralto Marian Anderson to stay in his home when she was refused a room at the Nassau Inn in 1937 and together with Paul Robeson worked on the American Crusade to End Lynching (via).
A Message to my adopted country (Einstein, 1946):
(…) In the United States everyone feels assured of his worth as an individual. No on humbles
himself before another person or class. Even the great difference in wealth, the superior power of
a few, cannot undermine this healthy self-confidence and natural respect for the dignity of one’s
There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans. Their sense of
equality and human dignity is mainly limited to men of white skins. Even among these there are
prejudices of which I as a Jew am clearly conscious; but they are unimportant in comparison with
the attitude of the “Whites” toward their fellow-citizens of darker complexion, particularly
toward Negroes. The more I feel an American, the more this situation pains me. I can escape the
feeling of complicity in it only by speaking out.
Many a sincere person will answer me: “Our attitude toward Negroes is the result of
unfavorable experiences which we have had by living side by side with Negroes in this country.
They are not our equals in intelligence, sense of responsibility, reliability.”
I am firmly convinced that whoever believes this suffers from a fatal misconception.
Your ancestors dragged these black people from their homes by force; and in the white man’s
quest for wealth and an easy life they have been ruthlessly suppressed and exploited, degraded
into slavery. The modern prejudice against Negroes is the result of the desire to maintain this
(…) I believe that whoever tries to think things through honestly will soon recognize how
unworthy and even fatal is the traditional bias against Negroes.
What, however, can the man of good will do to combat this deeply rooted prejudice? He
must have the courage to set an example by word and deed, and must watch lest his children
become influenced by this racial bias.
I do not believe there is a way in which this deeply entrenched evil can be quickly healed.
But until this goal is reached there is no greater satisfaction for a just and well-meaning person
than the knowledge that he has devoted his best energies to the service of the good cause.
That is precisely what I have tried to do in writing this. (via)
- Jayaraman, T. (2007) in Wadia, S. R. (ed.) The Legacy of Albert Einstein. A Collection of Essays in Celebration of the Year of Physics. Singapore: World Scientific Publishing
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- inspired by Open Culture