Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro by Frederick Hoffman

Essay Literature
Sep 12, 2019

The disinclination towards African American people were predominant even after the emancipation of slavery. Some chose to express their racist views or their belief in abolitionism in essays or novels they write. Aside from the prevalent manifestation of racism in American literature , in May 1896,  Frederick L. Hoffman published Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro with the intention to prove that American Negros were uninsurable. This college essay will talk about Hoffman’s work and some negative responses it elicited.

Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro

Hoffman is a well-known skilled statistician specifically selected by Prudential Life Insurance Company to author the book partly because of his racial outlook. Being a strong believer of white supremacy and racial hierarchy, Hoffman has had a hard time separating his personal beliefs in his research and application of science. He boldly broadcasted his racism then generalized and made an outcast of an entire race in the United States in his book.

Hoffman sees the offer by Prudential Life Insurance Company this as a big opportunity to prove that American Negros were definitely inferior to white Americans and that they are better off as slaves instead of free men. His attempt to hide the racism plaguing the book is by riddling his work with statistics to ensure reliability proved to be quite successful. Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro is by far the most racist yet most comprehensive work on the Negro Problem that used statistics to provide evidence supporting the authors claims.

This is Prudential Life Insurance Company’s response towards the new state laws that banned discrimination against African Americans . The company was determined in proving that the American Negros were not to be given insurance. Hoffman’s delivered output was very much tinged with racism and has received both support and backlash. As a well-known statistician who has made significant contributions in the medical field, Hoffman and his work was put under the microscope and was dismissed as unscientific due to glaring loopholes that radiated racist undertones. In due time, his and the book’s reputation gradually waned after thorough anaylsis by fellow professionals.

Hoffman presents in Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro that the American Negros are slowly degenerating due to the fact that they are not as mentally capable as the whites and are having a hard time adjusting to their new state of living as they were former slaves. He postulated that minority races were not only biologically inferior; their presence can also hinder social progress. Hoffman claims that the reason for this is the race traits and tendencies of American Negros instead of their living conditions and circumstances. He completely ignored that immigrants living in the same place, under the same conditions were also suffering the same health problems, mainly tuberculosis, as revealed by W.E.B. DuBois.

In addition, Hoffman seems to have contradicted his own logic that the American Negros’ rising death rate is attributable to their race traits and tendencies as opposed to their conditions of life. Figures show that there has been an increase in urban population and also an increase in death rates. The death rate of American Negros surpassed those of whites by 12 per thousand people. High infant mortality rate is a big contributing factor to the large number of American Negros’ death rate.

However, one cannot simply dismiss that half of the American Negro children who died did not receive or is unable to receive medical attention. Hoffman managed to dodge this observation by saying that being unable to give medical care to their children is because of their ignorance and is a most unfortunate condition. So even if the birth rate of American Negros exceeds those of whites, it is possible that the high infant mortality rate offsets it.

Hoffman as mentioned earlier, harbors racist views and firmly believes that the abolishment of slavery did little to help the African Americans in the United States. Aside from believing that African Americans are inferior to whites, Hoffman believed that American Negros, in order to attain a trace of success, need to be dependent on whites as seen in this statement of his:

This tendency if persisted in will probably in the end prove disastrous to the advancement of the colored race, since there is but the slightest prospect that the race will be lifted to a higher plane of civilization except by constant contact with the white race.

In consequence of his holding on to his racial biases, Hoffman often forgets that he is proving the inferiority of American Negros with unusual disadvantages against the vigorous and intelligent whites. His belief that the inferiority of the American Negros threatens their extinction is not agreed upon by everyone.

It took Hoffman 10 years of research to gather all the data and figures that is needed. He then compiles all of the raw data along with the interpretation in Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro. He put demographic figures, which some students of social problems refuse to accept, along with morbidity and mortality figures, economic conditions, and incarceration trends, among others. Because of the huge bulk of statistical information presented in the book, many readers were utterly convinced.

Critics of the Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro

Even if Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro was recognized as a work of a genius, its critics both during its time up until the modern era simply cannot be ignored. There had been constant attacks against his and his work because of the racist premise and his flawed presentation of data and analysis.

Critics of the book were eager to point out the dodgy mathematical analysis and dubious partial sources seen in Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro. They were dedicated to having the book removed from proper science bookshelves as it had been met with harsh criticism from prominent members of the scientific community. These critics correctly posited that Hoffman had dared include personal racist beliefs in his application of science. 

While the positive and passionate reception of Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro drowned the voices of critics, noteworthy points were nevertheless raised by Hoffman’s peers. It delivered a blow to the supposedly inviolable significance of the study. Veiled racism is easily discernible in the work because of a fatal error. Hoffman failed to take into consideration the many contributing factors behind the data that he presented.

Preeminent sociologist W.E.B. DuBois provided the most eye-opening criticism out of them all. He stressed that while data presented in the book can provide a picture, careful consideration was largely missing in the preceding investigation of the surrounding circumstances as to how and why they came about. There was no mention nor elaboration of the varying conditions of life, lack of opportunity, environmental factors, and socioeconomic status that the American Negros were exposed to.

To solidify his argument, DuBois referred to the data with regard to the health outcomes of other minority or immigrant groups whose economic resources were virtually identical to those of African Americans. DuBois’s point is secure. Hoffman made the mistake of oversimplifying his data in the process obscuring causality. It resulted in an inconsistent and thoughtless generalization of a race. This mistake raised a very troubling question: how could Hoffman, an accomplished and leading statistician of the time, have committed the ridiculously elementary mistake of failing to exclude racism in his work?

It is telling enough to say that Hoffman, as brilliant and devoted a man of science as he was, possessed no extraordinary rational attitude that could have helped him withstand the barrage of fallacies that defined his time. He believed in racial hierarchy and had no hesitation in showing his favor towards white supremacist views which is somehow unbecoming of a scientist but it is far from surprising, as such racist beliefs were dominant at the time.


Hoffman’s views and works mirrored the way of life in the era that he lived with. Whether he was deliberately racist during the time can never be determined, but it is strikingly clear that he chose not to deviate from the popular thinking. Thereby tainting an otherwise influential piece of work and exposing learnings that are now considered racist and an affront to science.

Hoffman believes that even though the American Negros managed to have their own property, it does not mean that they have come to the same level as the whites. For him, American Negros were still deficient especially mentally and were still a heavy burden to the progress of their nation. Hoffman’s work relied heavily on the presented statistics about American Negros which turned out to be his downfall in the end as critics have found out that he employed unscientifically the statistical method.

In today’s modern society, racism is not confined to mere proclamation that one race is superior to another. Any similar assumption, if lacking scientific basis, qualifies as racism. It is an imperative consideration that was not in practice during the publication of Hoffman’s work. A close examination of Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro and the circumstances that influenced its commission, author, and disciplines used, is beneficial to understanding the many ways in which personal prejudices can affect the validity of research that is vital to society.

As much as Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro served as the proponent of the eventual appearance of similar studies and disciplines, it is beyond doubt that it was shaped by the fusion of oversimplified raw data and racial outlook. Detaching oneself from personal bias when writing college essays, argumentative essays, dissertations, and capstone projects is essential because one needs to present facts and not deviate readers by including personal opinions on the topic.

Formal writing often requires the straightforward presentation of facts excluding unnecessary statements including personal biases. If you’re having trouble dealing with this because you are too invested in your topic, message us for we are willing to assist you in your academic paper writing needs. From custom literary essays to law essays, CustomEssayMeister can surely help you. Our professional writers here at CustomEssayMeister provides quality custom essays. Aside from that, we can assure that all our papers are well-researched and that we avoid plagiarism.


Works Cited

Hoffman, Frederick L. Race Traits and Tendencies of the American Negro. New York: Published for the American Economic Association by the Macmillan Company, 1896.

Miller, Kelly, et al. A review of Hoffman's Race traits and tendencies of the American Negro. Washington, D.C., Published by the Academy, 1897. Pdf. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/09024191/>.

Wolff, Megan J. “The myth of the actuary: life insurance and Frederick L. Hoffman's race traits and tendencies of the American Negro.” Public health reports (Washington, D.C.: 1974) vol. 121,1 (2006): 84-91. doi:10.1177/003335490612100115



Let’s get your assignment done!

place an order