Why Porteus HallBy David Stannard
must be renamed
In a column in this space last week, Elizabeth Dole Porteus, the daughter-in-law of the late Stanley D. Porteus, defended him against claims that his professional work was racist, and against demands that, because of this, his name be removed from the Social Science Building at UH-Manoa.
Elizabeth Porteus claims that her father-in-law's critics have "dug out quotes" from just one of his books, "Temperament and Race," to make their charges. She notes that this book was published in 1926 -- 71 years ago.
Her point is that it is unfair to criticize him for having ideas that supposedly were common at the time. And, she adds, he was "only reporting facts" that emerged from his "research."
In truth, Stanley Porteus's racist ideas were far from "facts." They were opinions that were already long out of date among genuine scholars at the time that he first expressed them in the late 1920s.
And on top of that, he continued to publish them for the rest of his working life, until 1970.
What were these ideas? That non-Nordic (not just non-white) people were biologically inferior to "Nordics," and that they posed a great danger to the United States.
America, he said, is a "Nordic stronghold" that "belongs to the white race by right of peaceful conquest."
Because of this, the Japanese and others must be prevented from migrating to the U.S. while other incorrigibly "defective" people should be forcibly sterilized. Failure to act in these ways, he wrote, would be to commit (white) "race suicide."
These quotations come from his book, "Temperament and Race." But they are not "dug out" of the book. They are representative of its entire 364 pages.
In those pages, Porteus took the racist gossip of white plantation overseers in Hawaii as his "data" and compiled them into a pseudo-scientific "Racial Efficiency Index."
Porteus claimed as "scientific fact" that supposedly are "engrained in racial character through heredity" some of the following:
Hawaiians are inherently "an immature race" that is "fond of continuous or monotonous exertion." They have a "shallow emotional life" and poor "mental keenness."
The "obstinate" and "self-satisfied Chinaman" is "secretive" and "criminal." Chinese females have an especially low "brain capacity."
Filipinos are incapable of taking care of themselves, so "pathological" is their "distrust and suspicion," their "irresponsibility," and their "primitive jungle fear." Trying to educate Filipinos is a waste of money.
The Japanese are "of no better social or industrial grade than the other immigrant groups." However, because they are "remarkably clannish," and "difficult and unreliable," as well as having "no sense of loyalty," the Japanese were the first group whose further immigration to the U.S., Porteus insisted, must be "rigidly" prevented.
The Portuguese scored very low in intelligence, Porteus claimed, and many had "indifferent" morals and a wide "yellow streak" of inborn cowardice. But the Portuguese in Hawaii should "not be considered representative of their race" -- allegedly white -- because of their considerable mixture of negro blood."
"Negroes," he added, were characterized by "absolute inferiority."
The sum of all this and much more was Porteus' "mathematical calculation" that the non-white races in Hawaii, taken together, possessed an innate mental capacity that was more than 25 percent lower than that of Anglo-Saxons.
This, he said, was alarming because such "low indices are thoroughly characteristic of mentally defective and psychopathic" people. Which meant that the continuing presence of these dark races in Hawaii would result in "economic waste, poverty and shiftlessness and social dependency."
And so on, and so forth. Not only for page after page, but for book after book, article after article -- non-stop, for almost 50 years. As late as 1970, Porteus was still arguing in print that the races that live close to the equator suffered from "ethnic group retardation" because of the "extreme speed of rotational spin" they must endure as inhabitants of the outer edge of the earth.
If only the rest of "science" would catch up with him in recognizing and addressing this problem, he wrote, "perhaps the Africans in the USA would not be averse to returning to Africa."
As for Hawaii's being closer to the equator than the homelands of his own Nordic people, it was clear, he wrote, that the only students at the University of Hawaii "who have shown creativity" are white people who "have brought their mental energy with them."
This, it must be repeated, was published in 1970. But that should not be surprising. Throughout the 1960s, Porteus published similar racist nonsense, while serving on the boards of directors of numerous eugenicist organizations -- "eugenics" being the ideology of "race improvement" that underlay the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust.
In 1960, he was one of the editorial founders of the openly racist and antisemitic publication, Mankind Quarterly, which he remained actively associated with until his death.
In 1961, Science, the official journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, referred to the editorial policy of Mankind Quarterly as "pseudoscience" that tries "to establish postulates of racial superiority or inferiority based on biological differences."
Porteus' compatriots on the advisory board of Mankind Quarterly included an activist for the White Citizens' Council, the leader of Italy's eugenicist movement under Mussolini, and the Nazi physician who had been the mentor of Joseph Mengele, the Auschwitz extermination camp's so-called "Angel of Death."
In the 1960s, Porteus also served on the Executive Committee of the International Association for the Advancement of Ethnology and Eugenics -- the leading self-styled "scientific" organization promoting white "master race" thinking in the United States.
He also was an official adviser at this time to the Foundation for Education on Eugenics and Dysgenics, a blatantly racist organization put together to promote William Shockley's infamous ideas of the 1960s and 1970s on the biological inferiority of black people, and the need to prevent the "breeding" of blacks by coercing African-American women to submit to sterilization.
Stanley Porteus lived a long life that is impossible to condense into this short space. Readers with Internet access can receive more detailed coverage of it by looking under Porteus Biography on the web page of the Institute for the Study of Academic Racism at Ferris State University in Michigan -- http://www.ferris.edu/isar/.
But in all of this, there are two simple points to remember.
First, Stanley Porteus' writings for nearly a half century, from at least 1926-70, were consistently racist in content and violent in implication. For all those years, he claimed to have scientific proof of the genetic inferiority of non-white people and of non-Nordic Europeans. And he advocated taking action -- from immigration restriction to forced sterilization -- based on this claim. These were not ideas incidental to his scholarship. They were the centerpiece of his professional life.
Second, from the very start of his career, Porteus was criticized and ridiculed for these ideas by the leading scientists of his time. Typical of many was a review of his work in the American Journal of Psychology of 1928, which concluded that the only reason to pay any attention to Porteus' writings was because they "may do much harm to the development of psychology."
Naming a building on a university campus after someone is to honor that person, to hold that person up as a public symbol of what the university stands for.
To have a building at UH named after Stanley Porteus is no different, and no less insulting than to name a building at the University of Tel Aviv after a notorious, outspoken and lifelong eugenicist and anti-Semite.
In 1974, the UH Board of Regents made a mistake in naming the Science Building after Stanley Porteus. It was a mistake not based on Porteus's supposed scholarly contributions, but because of the political and social clout wielded by members of his family.
It is well past time for the current Board of Regents to undo this outrage. Non-white children growing up in Hawaii today should not have to endure official racial insult as part of their education at the state's major university.
David Stannard is a professor of American studies
at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, where he teaches
a course on race and racism.