When Racism and Genism Mix

Posted by Pete Shanks September 13, 2010
Biopolitical Times
Thilo Sarrazin

There have recently been several disturbing indications in Europe of racism with a genetic twist:

  • In Holland, Patrick de Bruin, a neo-Nazi, donated sperm on condition that it should only be used for white couples: "I want as many blond blue-eyed children to be born as possible." Two sperm banks initially accepted his conditions, though others turned him down.
  • In Sweden, Per T K Wahlberg, a minor politician, claimed that Africans have a "child rape gene." This was too much even for the far-right party to which he belonged, and he quit.
  • In Germany, Bundesbank board member Thilo Sarrazin told a newspaper that Jews share a distinguishing gene, and Basques share another; he also claimed that Muslims could not or would not integrate into western societies. He was promoting a book, Germany Abolishes Itself, and got so much publicity that he was forced to resign.

Ironically, in Israel, comments about "the Jewish gene" have been made by leading politicians without causing any comparable fuss. Also, it must be noted, without scientific justification. In August, Eli Yishai, currently one of four Deputy Prime Ministers, told the Jerusalem Post:

"A convert, if he converts through the Orthodox, he has the Jewish gene. If he doesn't convert through the Orthodox, he doesn't have the Jewish gene. As simple as that."

The idea of a "gene for Judaism" or an African "gene for rape" may be absurd, but it is also potentially dangerous, since it links crackpot racism with overstated genism. DNA has been promoted as an indisputable identifier in criminal matters, not to mention the ancestry and disease-prediction industries. Early last year, we saw calls for a Turkish politician to have his DNA tested to prove he was not Armenian. What's next? DNA testing for immigrants? For tourists?

Thus far, the mainstream reaction has been harsh criticism of racist statements. But Sarrazin's book is flying off the shelves (four printings total 80,000 copies), and he has his defenders, as does de Bruin (see comments here) and even Wahlberg (comments). There is a continual need to remind people that the well-meaning racists of the early twentieth century gave rise to the genocidal maniacs of mid-century. Eugenics is not far beneath the surface of modern politics.

Previously on Biopolitical Times: