So I just read this blog post on SciAm by one of the editors who recently saw known asshole James Watson speak at NYU. Last year Watson was quoted as saying that black people are genetically inferior and less intellegent than other races (read: white people), mixing up a shameful public controversy.
Watson again “apologized” for his remarks before promoting his new book at NYU, first by explaining the controversy, and how he was unfortunately misquoted left and right:
…He got right to it, explaining that he wanted to “indicate my own horror about the remarks I reputedly made in the London Sunday Times, which, when I read them, I would clearly hate the person who made them.” He continued: “I certainly have never believed that one, you know, group of people is better than another.” Then he made a strange remark that he’s “always been aware that I’m not very good as a mathematician.”
Next he cited the “particular[ly] awful couple of sentences” from the Times in which he seemed to imply that “my black colleagues at Cold Spring Harbor weren’t doing their job well.” The passage in question quoted Watson as saying he hoped everyone was equal, but that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.”
So how does he qualify the above explanation?
He told the audience at NYU: “We have only two black students at the Watson School [of Biological Sciences at Cold Spring Harbor], both girls, both very spunky and, I think, very good. And my secretary for 10 years was a black woman until she decided that she wanted to help her husband. So I’ve worked with people of all sorts of races.”
Let’s review Watson’s three main points:
1) I know some black people who are very articulate
2) I have a Black Friend™
3) I have encountered people in the past who are not white or male (i.e. black women)
Therefore, I can’t be racist.
Well done sir, you’ve surely convinced me that you are not racist.
Now, this isn’t really surprising, I guess, but that doesn’t make it okay. Watson is a public figure, and I’m disturbed by the number of people in positions of authority, especially in the science community, who think his remarks are okay simply because he’s old (see the comments below the post). This is an argument I don’t understand. Because he was born in 1927, he’s somehow excused from basic human decency? My grandmother was born in 1920, and is white, but still manages to recognize racism when she sees it. In fact, I’ve noticed that she is the least racist of all my white relatives, because she lived through most of the 20th century and has historical referents that many of us lack. So excuse me, “I’m old” is not an explanation for racism. That goes for you too, John McCain: “gooks” is a racial slur, so knock it the fuck off.