Claiming Racial Equality

Ross argues that all humans share the same innate potential, regardless of ‘race’.

As his views on race shift, Ross remains convinced that Europeans are superior to other peoples of the world, but he also comes to understand this superiority as historically contingent, and not due to any biological or otherwise innate difference. He often warns Europeans that non-Europeans are equal in human potential, both physical and intellectual, and that this innate equality poses a current and serious threat to European global hegemony. This argument is most thoroughly developed in his 1932 book Der Wille der Welt, where he starts with observations he had made over the course of his travels overseas:

“If you take a child from any savage tribe and put it on a reservation where it can go to school, it will learn to read and write, and learn math and geography just like a white child. In Queensland, I visited a missionary school where black children were educated in a classroom together with the white children of the missionaries and government officials. I sat in on a lesson, and could not find any difference between the achievements of the children with civilized and savage backgrounds. Actually, I have to admit that the notebooks of the little savages were actually much neater, and their work had far fewer mistakes, than those of our six-year-old Ralph”. (74)

This equal propensity for learning continues beyond childhood as well: “At the Negro university Alice of the Scottish mission in Natal, I met young black students who had come straight from the kraal to the missionary school, who were now studying theology, medicine or law, and who would have held their own against any white student”. (74)

Ross knows that this information will be troubling to his readers, who will find “something shocking, even deeply uncanny about how quickly our knowledge, our technical civilization, can be taken and copied by other races that are far behind us in historical development” (76). Many different historical factors have brought Europeans to their current position of power in the world, but ultimately, it is a somewhat arbitrary situation, and could conceivably be reversed. It is important for Europeans to accept the basic fact of common human potential, because it should guide the choices they make in their colonial policies and world politics: in order to maintain the global hegemony they are fortunate enough to enjoy, Europeans should cease all transfer of knowledge and technology to the outside world. While the other races have the capacity to achieve these on their own, Europe may be able to maintain its lead through new innovation and development.

Kristin Kopp

Colin Ross. Das Weltgefühl des primitiven Menschen. In: Der Wille der Welt: eine Reise zu sich selbst. 1. Aufl. Leipzig: F. A. Brockhaus;1932;60-85.

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