The Charlotte News
SUNDAY, JULY 12, 1936
Papa Franz Boas
He's A Testy And Aged
Teuton, Who Proves That
Racial Blood Streams Are As Fickle As The Waters,
And As Lively.
By W. J. Cash
Site ed. note: In a similar vain, see Cash's review of a book positing that there is no such thing as racial superiority, in "Study of Man" - July 4, 1937.
A FEW DAYS ago, old Franz (Papa) Boas ended his career of fifty years of teaching at Columbia and went into retirement, telling the reporters that he planned to spend his remaining days in attempting to combat the pernicious notion of "race" which is now being exploited by the tin-pot tyrants of Germany, Italy, and Japan.
I gather that by that he probably means that he has in view a book calculated to carry the results of his long years of study in the field of race to a more popular audience than he has hitherto enjoyed. And if so--that is excellent news, indeed.
Papa Boas, if you don't know, is a German--a real German out of the great tradition and not a Nazi swine--and is one of the greatest authorities on ethnology alive. Born in Westphalia seventy-eight years ago, he studied at Heidelberg, Bonn and Kiel, concluded (almost before anybody else had done so) that the only way to establish anthropology on a scientific basis was to go directly to the primitive peoples and study them firsthand, and accordingly immigrated to the United States--not to study the Babbitts but to get at the American Indian. His pursuit of the latter worthy has consumed all his years since and has carrried him over all North America and Mexico. And as a result of his efforts and those of other men who were inspired by him Poor Lo, from being a creature about whom almost nothing was positively known, to a creature whose story existed for the main only in legend and shockers, has become one of the best-known and amost clearly understood of the primitive men of the earth. And as a result of those labors, too, Dr. Boas himself has become the man who above all others in the world knows about race--whether the things we believe about it are true and untrue.
AND WHAT does Dr. Boas say about it? He says flatly and testily that it does not exist. Or at any rate, that it does not exist in the sense in which we ordinarily use the term. He says flatly and testily that there is no such thing on the sphere as a "pure" race--no such thing as an Aryan, an Anglo-Saxon, a conquering Roman (sic), or a Nipponese race. For the idea of race in that sense, he points out, involves the notion of hereditary descent from common ancestors. And there is not only no evidence of such descent on the part of any of the groups named: there is the most overwhelming evidence that everyone of them is an immensely mongrel crew and come down from the most diverse sorts of ancestors.
But a physical type ought to be evidence of common hereditary descent, you think? And you are quite sure that the German, the Anglo-Saxon, the Roman are definite physical types? Everybody knows what a typical German is like? He tends to be tall, or to have blue eyes, a long head, fair hair and complexion? And a Roman? Or as we say, a Wop? He is swarthy, short, with dark hair and eyes, and a short, round head?
Oh yes, a marked physical type does give rise to some presumption of common descent. But unfortunately, as Dr. Boas points out, all the evidence shows only that these physical types belong to family lines and not to whole nations, and that, indeed, the same line so far from being peculiar to one nation, and to one group of those people who commonly speak of themselves as a "race," are actually distributed in varying proportions through many nations.
A German? As a matter of fact, the majority of the German-speaking people, those people whom Hitler and his imitators are nowadays filled up with their guff about an Aryan race, do not belong to the physical type we think of as German at all, but are short, dark of complexion and hair, and short-headed! And if at one extreme the German nation presents normal individuals who are almost albinos, at the other extreme it presents other normal individuals who are well-nigh indistinguishable from Arabs or even Negroes.
A Wop? The population of Italy as a whole contains almost as many tall, fair-haired, fair-skinned, long-headed men as it does short, swarthy and brachycephalic ones. If Venice affords a considerable number of men who might sit for Shakespeare's Moor, Sicily--that farthest point in European swarthiness and shortness--can also show one whose remarkable blondness would cause them to be stared at on the streets of Hamburg or even Oslo.
A TREMENDOUS plexus of family lines focusing here and there, tending to find points of heaviest concentration in this place or that, but spinning out widely, flowing through the whole vast body of all the nations--such is your Europe. And such, too, with necessary changes, is your Asia. Yes, and perhaps even, in the last analysis, such is your whole world. All the rest--all the rest that we loosely ascribe to race, is in fact only a matter of culture-complexes.
I hope Papa Boas writes the popular book which I assume he means to write. It won't do any good in his native Germany, for it will not be read there under the Terror. But perhaps it will get some sense into the heads of some of our American Ku Kluxers who seem so hotly bent on taking us into Fascism, willy-nilly.
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