“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 of Albert Einstein’s writings were discovered after his death and gathered into a group of papers known as the Dead Sea Scrolls of Physics. One such essay is titled “The Negro Question,” and was written by Einstein in 1946. In it, he addressed what he had come to see in American society after having only lived in the United States for about ten years: the attitudes of white Americans toward ‘Negros.’
“Many a sincere person will answer: “Our attitude towards 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 unworthy condition.”
For Einstein the answer is clear, there is a tradition of prejudice which is not based on any real science of difference.
“The ancient Greeks also had slaves. They were not Negroes but white men who had been taken captive in war. There could be no talk of racial differences. And yet Aristotle, one of the great Greek philosophers, declared slaves inferior beings who were justly subdued and deprived of their liberty. It is clear that he was enmeshed in a traditional prejudice from which, despite his extraordinary intellect, he could not free himself.”
Einstein goes on to state that this tradition of prejudice is “unworthy and even fatal” to American society. He also has a prescription for what each of us should do to combat this evil prejudice.
“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.”
In 1946, Albert Einstein knew that the disease of racism would not be easily cured. He knew that it would take a great deal of work and time. Unfortunately, current events show that we still have a long way to go. But according to Einstein, the important thing is that each of us devote our best energies to the service of the good cause.