That Powerful 'Black Blood'

October 28, 1994|By CARL T. ROWAN

Nashville, Tennessee. -- Ayoung news executive asked me for my reaction to that ''Bell Curve'' book about the genetic &L inferiority of black people.

I laughed. Confused, he said, ''I thought you'd be angry and call it a dangerous book.''

''It is useless, damaging and dangerous in these times of deep racial troubles in America,'' I said.

I was laughing because I was reminded of the funny ways in which claims of black inferiority have graduated from the crude and comical to elitist pseudo-scientific.

I explained how, when I was in Mississippi just before and after the 1954 Supreme Court decision outlawing racial segregation in public schools, the defenders of Jim Crow never talked about genes; ''Negro blood'' was the feared substance.

A circuit judge, Tom P. Brady, was warning white people against ''race mixing.'' He said that ''one drop of black blood thickens the lips, flattens the nose and puts out the lights of intellect. . . . Whenever and wherever the white man has drunk the cup of black hemlock, whenever and wherever his blood has been infused with the blood of the Negro, the white man, his intellect and his culture have died.''

Then I recalled asking others who claimed blacks were inherently inferior how they explained the achievements of Ralph Bunche, Marian Anderson and Jesse Owens. ''Well, they must have some white blood in 'em'' was the frequent reply.

I was grimly amused by the contradictory assertions that one drop of ''Negro blood'' would destroy a white man, yet ''some white blood'' could lift an inferior black to greatness.

These crazy ''blood'' theories were not limited to backwoods bigots. The Rev. G.T. Gillespie, a leader in the Presbyterian church and president emeritus of Belhaven College, wrote an article, ''A Christian View on Segregation,'' in which he said that the child of an interracial marriage would be weaker than either parent. He said that ''the intermingling of breeding stock results invariably in the production of 'scrubs' or mongrel types, and the downgrading of the whole herd.''

Most Americans today would not think that such racist, contradictory, unscientific, even stupid views about ''blood'' could ever control public policy. But they did. My home state, Tennessee, had a constitution forbidding ''the intermarriage of white persons with Negroes, mulattos, or persons of mixed blood, descended from a Negro to the third generation.'' The penalty for such miscegenation was up to five years in prison.

The wording of that old Tennessee law reminds us that in most of America a person can have 87.5 percent ''white blood'' but society still considers and treats them as ''blacks,'' and even as pariahs.

This ''Bell Curve'' book would base all sorts of national policy actions on the supposed lower IQs of ''black people.'' If educational, economic and other public policies are to be based on the mumbo jumbo in ''The Bell Curve,'' which says in effect that it is hopeless to try to lift blacks up to the level of whites, how do we now decide who is ''black''?

I know black children from Black-Jewish marriages who are practicing Jews (or nominal Methodists), brilliant in the classroom and stars on the baseball, football and soccer fields. Do they get a societal assumption that they are smart because they are half Jewish? Or do they get denials of opportunity because they are genetically of some African descent, with the curved bell ringing out stupid cries that they somehow must be a trifle lower in intelligence?

I laughed at my Nashville colleague's question because I remembered going to New Orleans on New Year's Day 1956 to see the first black play in the Sugar Bowl. Jim Crow hotel practices forced me to stay with a Negro family, one of very light-skinned people. One female in that family had been ''passing'' for years and was, in fact, married to one of the richest white men in New Orleans. She came to the family dinner alone and told me how she had recently been attacked by a little dog that tore her stockings.

The dog's white owner had run out to apologize and offer new stockings, explaining, ''I don't know what's wrong with Bitsy. She usually only attacks niggers.''

That dog that discerned so much about the ''blood'' and genes (( of this ''passing'' woman might well have been the chief researcher for Charles Murray and the late Richard J. Herrnstein, authors of this dreadful book, ''Bell Curve: The Reshaping of American Life by Differences in Intelligence.''

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

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