The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Race and I.Q.

I thought I'd comment specifically on my thoughts concerning race and I.Q., since that is an issue as volatile as any in the American dialogue.
1)  My most basic belief is that there are probably genetic differences in mental attributes between major racial groups, but those differences are not primarily responsible for the differences in performance on IQ tests or life itself.  What are those differences? Don't know, but it would make sense that they might exist.  But I hold any "ranking" of different racial groups with great suspicion and doubt.
2) One of the reasons I hold such rankings in doubt is that there seems an interesting breakdown in people who believe one way or another about, let's say, The Bell Curve.  I see people across the political and racial spectrum who believe "Guns, Germs, and Steel" (primarily an environmental explanation for cultural differences), whereas 99% of the supporters for the Bell Curve are white conservative males.  A little vested interest, there? 
3) There are highly intelligent people who take both sides, but mainstream geneticist, the American Psychiatic Association, damned near every cultural or biological anthropologist I've ever read or spoken to seems to shade stongly toward "GGS".  The other side of the argument seems to be, well, kinda fringie to me.
4) A disproportunate percentage of the "BC" supporters seemed to be of Southern heritage, constructing apologies for the misdeeds of their ancestors, maybe?
5) A VERY telling point to me: all the "BC" supporters think that genetics are such a strong factor that, in essence, they explain 95%+ of the social and performance difference between, say, whites and blacks.  Very interesting.  In other words, they think  that 300+ years of slavery, jim crow, segregation and prejudice, which only REALLY broke down in the 70's, would have no difference on performance.  Wow.  We black folk are really resiliant.  On the other hand, the closest to an admission that environment might hurt performance was an analysis by a conservative think tank basically saying that the black family survived all of that just fine, but was murdered by Welfare and "The Great Society."  Damn those pesky liberals!  If the "BC" supporters had ever said something like: "we think this is responsible for 50% of the difference, and the rest is the horrific social conditions imposed for 300 years..." I would have been willing to consider that they were not as politicized as I think they are.
6) To me, "Bell Curve" is a hyper-conservative political tract written backwards from a premise, that premise being that social programs to improve performance do not work, so why spend money on them?  All the rest is a justification for that position, and they are being disingenuous to say otherwise.
7) I like "guns, Germs and Steel" because it's conclusions can be studied whereever you see small, isolated groups of human beings, regardless of racial background.  Population density is important for social progress, and you can't have that without other kinds of preconditions.  If Asians are said to be the highest on the IQ rank, then isolated Asian groups out on islands and in Polynesia or the Arctic should have developed technological civilizations. As far as I can see, what they developed was roughly comperable to what was developed in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Location, location, location.
8)  One of my favorite metaphors: if you saw three men running over broken ground, and that race continued for a thousand years, and at the end of that race they were within a fingernail's distance of each other, is there some huge difference in their abilities?  If you saw two men running, and one was fifty feet in front of the other, and you came back a year later, and there was only a forty foot gap, would you assume the runner in front was better?  Wouldn't you ask questions about the time and position in which they began their race?  I often hear those who like the Bell curve that, because blacks haven't completely closed several gaps in social measurement, this must be proof of genetic inferiority.  My sense is that, if black genes were inferior, then the gap would WIDEN year after year, not remain stable.  And certainly not narrow, as it has in most measures.  And IQ?  The so-called "Flynn Effect" suggests that IQ is raising by several points per decade, across racial divides.  Anyone who thinks this is genetic needs to post to me immediately--I'd love to hear that argument.  And, again, the gap has remained roughly the same--which I interpret to mean that the starting positions were different socially.
And in the secret nasty depths of my heart?  I look at the two men running a race for three hundred years, with the one behind traversing brutally more severe territory, and see the gap narrowing.  And I wonder if those who believe the Bell Curve hypothesis cling to it so desperately because, deep in THEIR hearts, they wonder if the reverse might be true.


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Anonymous said...

What Dr. James D. Watson said is totally True.

The races do have different races.

Africans in usa have IQ of 82-85.

15-18 gap with whites of 100

Africans in africa have IQ of 70 in sub-saharian africa.

All facts known to the world via internet and google.

Google the truth. google truth.

Look at SAT scores from NSF: national science foundation.

Races do diifer in IQ scores.

Races differ in SAT scores. From the National science foundation

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