Reader Balfegor writes:

I think that formulation obscures a lot of what White-supremacists used to think (and probably think today as well, although I'm a lot less certain about their present beliefs). For example, it's not merely that they thought Africans were congenitally stupid. Their real fear seems to have been a belief that they were innately violent and oversexed -- hence all the KKK fear-mongering about how Blacks will ravage White women.

With Chinese (and Bengalis), it was something of the reverse. You can see the Bengali stereotype in Kipling's story, "The Head of the District," in which an Oxford-educated Bengali officer of the Imperial Civil Service is sent out to govern a district, and everything falls apart, not because he is not intelligent or because he is uneducated, but because he is supposed to be womanish and incapable of resolute action. Incidentally, my understanding (from reading Gilmour's Ruling Caste, I think) is that the British actually had to institute affirmative action for Britons after they implemented a meritocratic examination system for the Civil Service in the mid-19th century. Otherwise all the civil service slots would have been filled up with Indians.

As for the Chinese, we need look no further than the novels of Sax Rohmer -- the "brow like Shakespeare and a face like Satan." Dr. Fu Manchu is brilliant, and evinces a pretty clear Western anxiety about superior Asian intelligence. But the idea there is that he is remorseless and cruel -- that he is morally unfit to govern the world, however intelligent he may be, because he lacks the humanity and soul of a Westerner. You got the same sort of thing (albeit to a lesser degree) back in the 90s when Californians complained about too many Asians getting into the top UC schools, after racial preferences were ended -- they weren't socially involved in the kinds of things Berkeley-ites thought they ought to be, or whatever.

You also heard a similar complaint against Jewish "grinds," once the SAT was introduced and preppies couldn't just slide into the Ivies anymore -- hence all those letters of introduction and extracurriculars that have become part of the American college application process. Similarly (though much more horribly), the Nazis don't seem to have denied Jewish intelligence, as such, but tried to argue (or propagandize) that they lacked true creative genius, such as only the Aryans possessed, i.e. they were "parasites," etc. etc.

So yes, you could boil it down to Goldilocks -- not too smart, not too stupid -- but the stereotypes involved here are a lot more complicated (and a lot more interesting) than that. Intelligence is only one dimension of the White-supremacist worldview. Or Weltanschauung, as they might say.

To which Rob Lyman replies, tongue firmly in cheek:

I feel pretty comfortable just going with half-baked caricature when it comes to white supremacists. I'm not sure the time it takes to fully understand the subtleties of their belief system is going to pay off for me.

True, but Balfegor's post was still pretty interesting.