Feb. 11, 1925] The Nation 139
Brains and the Immigrant
(The Second Article of a Series on the The Nordic Myth)
By Melville J. Herskovits
The sea was rough, and there were few people in the dining-room. The chief officer, a tall, blond, blue-eyed American, was talking about it. "What do you expect from those Germans? They're so dumb they don't know enough to keep from eating dill pickles and salami when they're seasick. I tell you," and he grew reminiscent, "you'd be thankful, too, that they passed those restriction laws for immigrants if you could have run back and forth between Europe and America since the was like I have. Those Polacks! You see 'em looking around after 'em as if wondering where the mud of the barnyard is on the ship. And they're dumb, just dumb. They don't know how to act, or to talk, or to eat..." And then, a few days later, the immigration officials came aboard at Quarantine. There was an intelligent German on the ship - a non-citizen - who had made his home for some years in the Middle West. He had to wait in line at the pleasure of the doctor and the inspector - American citizens had finished long since and were looking at the Statue of Liberty - and he remarked as he came out on deck, "Yes, they make you feel that you're an alien, all right."
That the psychology of superiority - and particularly of the superiority of the white race and that part of it that comes from Northern Europe - is rampant in the country today is obvious to the most casual observer. The books and articles from the pens of prolific writers such as Professor MacDougall, Dr. C. C. Josey, Mr. Madison Grant, Mr. Ernest Cox, and Lothrop Stoddard, and the works of Dr. Brigham and other psychologists, plus deductions from the psychological tests given in the army during the war, all lend sanction to official actions such as the recent quota so as to favor Northern European stock. In addition to this, other laws are advocated enforcing the study of English, or making the requirements for citizenship more and more difficult, and we have the folklore current about the lack of ability and low intelligence of the large Negro section of the population. This phenomenon is a growing thing; we find the identical works that are produced here published in England and seriously discussed; a controversy about the value of race now raging in Germany, and a large institute for the study of race-biology in Sweden maintained by the state under a director who believes that the salvation of his country lies in the maintenance of racial purity.
A part of the theories which are accepted as almost axiomatic by those who urge the superiority of the North European type - the "Teutonic race," as it was called in pre-war times, more widely known today as the "Nordic" - is based on a lack of understanding of the criteria which determine race, and a false correlation between physical form and cultural achievement. Underlying all this, and perhaps fundamental to it, is an attitude which is as old as the ages, rationalized with the help of the earlier anthropologists and the psychologists. This is the wide-spread dislike of what is different. All of us are used to doing things in the way we have always seen them done, hearing the syllables and seeing the gestures we have always heard and seen, and the person who speaks our language with an accent, or contravenes some of the ways of action to which we are accustomed, excites in us an emotion out of all proportion to the action which has aroused the feeling in us. Even this, however, may be set aside if the pattern of the society calls for it; thus, in Europe, the mispronunciation of a word by a foreigner does not excite the ridicule which this act occasions in the United States; however, people do become irritated when inbred patterns of behavior are not adhered to.
The early rationalization of this irritation followed the studies on head-form which announced the existence of the Teutonic race. This race was supposed to be the flower of mankind, and to have developed civilization to its highest point. The inability to see that cultural difference does not necessarily imply cultural inferiority, and that time perspective is essential in the determination of even such values as may be compared and weighed was the reason why Teutonic superiority seemed so plausible. Then came the work of Binet and Simon, with their tests to determine the relative standing of school children, and the adaptation of these tests for American use by Dr. Terman and others. As they were given in the schools, it became apparent that the children of immigrants of Polish and Italian origin, and of Negroes, did not do so well as children of other stocks, and it was soon concluded, first, that these tests determine native intelligence, and second, that those racial groups from the North of Europe may be considered as having the greatest intelligence.
When we consider some of the figures in the case, we might be led to agree that there is a real superiority in favor of the Teutonic group. In the army tests, for example, we find the following mean standing for persons of the countries indicated, in terms of "combined scale," which consolidated the results of the various tests used:
These figures are impressive, particularly when to them are added such results from school-testing as those of Arlitt, in which Italian children were found to be far below those of American birth as to I. Q. (Intelligence Quotient) or of Preston, who found Latins to stand consistently below non-Latins and others. But they bear, perhaps, further examination, and the consideration of certain other data and results which are too often left out of account. To return to the army tests, when we look at the median scores of foreign-born recruits arranged according to years of residence in this country, we find the following:
0-5 years in U.S.&11.29
6-10" " "&11.70
11-15" " "&12.53
16-20" " "&13.50
over 20" " "&13.73