New Private Diaries Suggest Einstein Was Lowkey Racist
The travel diaries of the famed scientist revealed xenophobic attitudes during his travels.
Newly published private diaries from Albert Einstein's tour of Asia have revealed xenophobic attitudes toward the people that he met -- especially while in China.
The first time the diaries have been printed as standalone volumes in English, The Travel Diaries of Albert Einstein: The Far East, Palestine, and Spain, 1922-1923 was published by Princeton University Press.
The five-and-a-half month trip Einstein and his wife Elsa took saw the physicist journey to countries he had never been before, encountering new cultures.
Edited by Ze'ev Rosenkranz the diaries are described as an "intimate glimpse into a brilliant mind encountering the great, wide world", as well as containing "passages that reveal Einstein's stereotyping of members of various nations and raise questions about his attitudes on race".
Despite later becoming a champion of civil rights in the United States -- calling racism "a disease of white people" -- Einstein described the Chinese he encountered as "industrious, filthy, obtuse people", a "peculiar herd-like nation" as well as insulting Chinese women.
"I noticed how little difference there is between men and women; I don’t understand what kind of fatal attraction Chinese women possess which enthrals the corresponding men to such an extent that they are incapable of defending themselves against the formidable blessing of offspring."
In another passage Einstein also described "bandit-like filthy Levantines". "Screaming and gesticulating Levantines of every shade, who lunge at our ship. As if spewed from hell," he wrote during a stop in Egypt.
Rosenkranz told The Guardian the racist language is jarring with the public image of the great scientist and humanitarian.
"A lot of comments strike us as pretty unpleasant," Rosenkranz said, "What he says about the Chinese in particular".
He theorised that Einstein may have succumbed to the "threat" of "the Yellow Peril" (a racist theory that the people of East Asia were a threat to Western cultures).
"They’re kind of in contrast to the public image of the great humanitarian icon. I think it’s quite a shock to read those and contrast them with his more public statements. They’re more off guard, he didn’t intend them for publication."
Einstein emigrated to the United States in 1933 after Hitler's rise to power. Throughout his life he was praised for his humanitarian efforts. When his theory of relativity catapulted him into the global spotlight Einstein used his newfound fame to support causes he saw dear to him.
In 1921 he travelled to the U.S. to raise money for a Hebrew university in Jerusalem writing, "I am really doing whatever I can for the brothers of my race who are treated so badly everywhere".
After WWII Einstein continued to challenge American attitudes toward race, in 1946 he wrote an essay titled "The Negro Question" where he called out the racist attitudes of white Americans.
"There is, however, a somber point in the social outlook of Americans," Einstein wrote, "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".
In the introduction to the diaries Rosenkranz wondered how Einstein could have worked so hard for humanitarian efforts later in life, having documented his own prejudices years earlier.
"It seems that even Einstein sometimes had a very hard time recognising himself in the face of the other."
Featured image: Lambert/Keystone/Getty Images.