Bogus science in racist flyers a 'classic' white supremacist tactic, profs say

Pseudoscientific ideas about racial differences are a "classic" tactic that has been used by white supremacists for centuries, local academics say after racist flyers discouraging interracial marriage were mailed to at least two apartment buildings in Waterloo this week.

Flyers circulating in Waterloo region make false claims about interracial marriage

Hate crime investigators with Waterloo regional police are investigating racist flyers sent to at least two apartment buildings. (Submitted by: Isabella Villeneuve)

Pseudoscientific ideas about racial differences are a classic tactic used by white supremacists for centuries, local academics say.

It's a tactic used recently in racist flyers circulating throughout Waterloo region that are now the subject of a police hate crime investigation.

The flyers depict a photo of a smiling interracial couple. Underneath is a typed statement that makes false claims about negative health consequences of interracial marriage.

"[The flyer] presents itself as researched, when in fact it is lies," said Frankie Condon, an associate professor at the University of Waterloo who studies race and class.

"The way those lies work is by invoking those longstanding, racist, white supremacist ideas that continue to circulate, whether we want them to or not."

The author uses medical or scientific language to lend legitimacy to racist ideas, said Dana Weiner, an associate professor of history at Wilfrid Laurier University.   

The history of 'scientific racism' 

In the United States in the 19th century, this type of "scientific racism" was used as an argument against abolition by those who wanted to see slavery continue, said Weiner. Later, she said, it was used to oppose the end of Jim Crow laws.

Laws against interracial marriage existed in the United States until 1967, she noted, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down remaining bans in 16 states.

The resulting annual Loving Day celebration — named after the decision Loving v. Virginia —was celebrated less than two weeks ago.

In Canada, pseudoscience about racial difference has also been used to justify violence against Indigenous people, including the forced sterilization of Indigenous women, Weiner noted. 

Harassment of interracial couples a reality

Although Canada has not historically had the same laws against interracial marriage as in the U.S., Condon noted that interracial couples have nevertheless faced harassment from hate groups, community members and the police.

This type of harassment is a reality across Canada, especially in predominantly white communities, Condon said.

"Whether or not these kinds of flyers have been distributed recently in the Kitchener-Waterloo area, these ideas have been present in our communities," she said.

Condon said she hopes the emergence of the flyers will shake people out of complacency, and encourage them to take action in dismantling white supremacy.

Weiner said she, too, hopes that people will continue to act against racism and refuse to be influenced by a racist piece of paper.

"My hope is that people will push back against these types of messages and do their research and realize claims have no basis in reality and are merely just intended to be divisive and hurtful," she said.

With files from Julianne Hazlewood