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Before Albert Einstein Spoke Out For Civil Rights, He Had Racist Views

In addition to his scientific research, Albert Einstein also famously advocated for civil rights — but a series of travel diaries recently published in English for the first time revealed that the physicist held racist and xenophobic views, CNN reported.

The writings record Einstein’s experiences in the Middle East and Asia between October 1922 and March the following year. Einstein later became a refugee from Nazi Germany who regularly denounced the racism he saw in the United States and called racial segregation “a disease of white people.” But he wrote during his travels that the Chinese were “industrious, filthy, obtuse people,” remarking how they “don’t sit on benches while eating but squat like Europeans do when they relieve themselves out in the leafy woods.”

Einstein’s dehumanizing characterizations extended beyond the Chinese. Upon reaching Port Said, Egypt, he encountered what he described as “screaming and gesticulating Levantines of every shade, who lunge at our ship. As if spewed from hell.”

The journals have been edited and translated into English by archivist and historian Ze’ev Rosenkranz, who told CNN that the diaries come as a shock considering Einstein’s image as a “humanitarian icon.”

Some argue that Einstein’s xenophobic descriptions simply reflect stereotypes widespread in the West at the time. But Rosenkranz does not believe the scientist can be excused.

“I don’t like that explanation,” he said. “There were other views prevalent at the time that were more tolerant.”

Contact Haley Cohen at hcohen@forward.com

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