Einstein the Anti-Racist? Not in His Travel Diaries

Einstein the Anti-Racist? Not in His Travel Diaries

In Japan

• “Japanese unostentatious, decent, altogether very appealing,” Einstein writes, adopting a more flattering tone, though in some instances it veers into eugenic territory.

• “Pure souls as nowhere else among people. One has to love and admire this country.”

• “Intellectual needs of this nation seem to be weaker than their artistic ones — natural disposition?”

In Ceylon:

• Visiting the British colony that later became Sri Lanka, Einstein writes that the residents of Colombo “live in great filth and considerable stench at ground level,” adding that they “do little, and need little. The simple economic cycle of life.”

While many may insist on dismissing the diary entries as merely reflecting the attitudes of the era, Mr. Rosenkranz told The Guardian, the xenophobia and prejudice they revealed had been far from universal. “That’s usually the reaction I get: ‘We have to understand, he was of the zeitgeist, part of the time,’” he said. “But I think I tried here and there to give a broader context. There were other views out there, more tolerant views.”

In China, however, many social media users seemed willing to give Einstein the benefit of the doubt, or even to agree with him.

“That was the impression China gave to the world back then,” wrote one user of Weibo, a Twitter-like social network. “If it were now, Einstein wouldn’t say such things.”

“Diaries are extensions of private thought, and there’s no sin in thought,” a Weibo user said. “No matter what he thinks, as long as he doesn’t speak or act in a racist way, then you cannot implicate him. Not to mention the racial climate back then and the limitations of his own youth.”

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