Albert Einstein’s private travel diaries from 1920s reveal that he was racist in his early life

LONDON: Just translated into English, Albert Einstein’s private travel diaries from the 1920s reveal that he was racist in his early life, at least in his biases toward certain populations. As against this, later in life, he was able to project a sharply different public image of a humanitarian icon who even made the profound remark that racism was a “disease of the white people.”

The diaries were written between October 1922 and March 1923. Indians, Einstein mentioned in his diary, were “biologically inferior” and hampered by the subcontinent’s climate that “prevented them from thinking backward or forward by more than a quarter of an hour.” Einstein, it seems, came across Indians in Colombo during his Far East voyage and mentioned their existence by referring to their “primitive lives”.

The climate and its alleged effect on Indians comes up again in Einstein’s diaries. According to the editor of the diaries, Einstein attributes the “alleged stoicism of the Indians he encounters to geographical determination [by asking]: ‘Wouldn’t we too, in this climate, become like the Indians?’.” In another entry, he wrote that the “Chinese don’t sit on benches while eating but squat like Europeans do when they relieve themselves out in the leafy woods. All this occurs quietly and demurely. Even the children are spiritless and look obtuse.”

Speaking about the “abundance of offspring” and the “fecundity” of the Chinese, he observed: “It would be a pity if these Chinese supplant all other races. For the likes of us the mere thought is unspeakably dreary.” Einstein also derided the people of Ceylon, which Sri Lanka was then known as. In Ceylon, he wrote, the locals “live in great filth and considerable stench at ground level,” before adding they “do little, and need little. The simple economic cycle of life.” Einstein also gave his thoughts on Japanese people, whom he viewed in a more positive light, calling them “unostentatious, decent, alltogether very appealing.” However, he also wrote the “intellectual needs of this nation seem to be weaker than their artistic ones — natural disposition?”

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