The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Obama, the Jukes and the Kallikaks

A note: whether Obama wins the nomination, or the Presidency, something remarkable is happening. Educated, successful black people I know are STUNNED by his success. They can't believe it, and the undercurrent of hope and optimism is just amazing. I think that the 21st Century's racial issues will be much different than the 20th's. But this lack of believe is the result of BOTH actions by whites over 400 years AND the protective self-pity that human beings use to shield their egos. When you fail, (and we all do) it is tempting to look for a scapegoat. Well, we've had a perfect one, a genuine historical boogieman. But while you can't get rid of racism completely, you CAN reduce its effects to the point where a black person willing to give 110% (Tananarive says 125%) can get the results of a white person giving 100%. And you know something, frankly? That ain't fair, but it ain't bad, either. Life, for all human beings, has been a hell of a lot worse than that.

Let me address one question indirectly. Decades ago, before I was ever a professional writer, I had the idea of writing a story about a black scientist who develops a sort of EEG that measures intelligence in unborn infants, a completely culturally neutral device…and discovers that blacks really do have lower I.Q.’s. His dilemma was whether or not to publish his results. My mother was aghast that I would even think about such a thing.

Years later, when black friends knew I was reading “The Bell Curve” I was subtly accused of being a race traitor. My take on it is that, at a very deep level, they had been so hurt by racism that they were afraid that B.C. might be correct. I HAD to read the book, because
1) I had faith that the thesis was flawed.
2) I had to know what the truth was, regardless.
3) I believe that, if an intractable difference DOES exist, it is far better to know it than not. Whatever the ills are in the black community, better to have an accurate diagnosis than treat the wrong disease.

I hope I’m still that clear on it. Mike, is it possible that among the permanently impoverished there is a lower amount of “basic stuff”? Well, honestly, I can see that possibility. In fact, it’s almost certain, isn’t it? I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who believes that there is no difference between people at all. God knows some folks are just smarter and have better memories and ability to correlate data than others. I’ve seen it since kindergarten.

But…and this is a big “but,” to the degree that my perceptions about the costs of racism in America (I’m not saying I’m right, just asking you to look at the world through that lens for a moment) I have never met ANYONE who proposed a biological difference in intelligence between whites and blacks who struck me as having the slightest real awareness of the barriers. That doesn’t make them wrong, but it definitely makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Because when people talk about 1 1/2 standard deviations difference between whites and blacks, they also often explain how this difference is responsible (in their minds) for the gap in academic performance, crime statistics, health and longevity, income, and so forth. In fact, it is amazing how precisely the intelligence difference seems to explain this.

In fact, one needs no other explanation to see how poor, unfortunate blacks are actually performing at the outer edge of their ability, and (sniff sniff) they just don’t quite have it…

The problem here is obvious. Either I’m wrong about the barriers I’ve seen to performance, health, self-image and accomplishment…or THEY are wrong about that 1 1/2 standard deviation difference being biological, intractable, and responsible for the measured difference.

Now, of course this is an over-simplification, but it will give you a broad view of my reasoning. Until I meet one of the biological I.Q. folks who strikes me as having any grasp at all of the cultural and social problems attending 400 years of bullshit, I feel no obligation to respect their conclusions.

And so I would say that, within a population with similar environmental pressures and opportunities, those who over generations accomplish consistently at lower levels could reasonably be suspected to have less…capacity. So a thousand black families who has lived in the ghetto or in poverty for ten generations might be reasonably suspected to, on average, have less capacity than a thousand black families who have lifted themselves to upper middle class and remained there over the same period of time.

However, it would be dicier comparing the lower-class black family with a middle-class white family because of the advantages the white family has. Drawing THAT comparison is risky. Personally, if I see two people, one white and one black, operating at the same level of income and excellence, I assume that the black one is smarter just because I know the obstacles that person probably overcame to get there.

So…from my POV, looking at intergenerational poverty ain’t a bad way to make guesses about the Jukes and the Kallikaks. But when you compare them to the Jeffersons, you have to take a whole lot more into account to catch my attention.


Anonymous said...

I was closely involved
with the Milwaukee Project
(see quoted summary below)
my ex___ designed and ran the program for the mothers
as a PhD student
I also knew the grad students
who designed the educational materials used with the babies

his results illustrate that
HeadStart starts way too late
and it is deeply
sorrowful that the gains
were dampened by the less than ideal circumstances when the children
left the program and entered the public school system

still he demonstrated very clearly
that "cultural-familial retardation
is preventable

too bad "The System" didn't
make the Project a national effort


The Milwaukee Project

In the late 1960s, under the supervision of Rick Heber of the University of Wisconsin, a project was begun to study the effects of intellectual stimulation on children from deprived environments. In order to find a “deprived environment” from which to draw appropriate subjects for the study, Heber and his colleagues examined the statistics of different districts within the city of Milwaukee. One district in particular stood out. The residents of this district had the lowest median income and lowest level of education to be found in the city. This district also had the highest population density and rate of unemployment of any area of Milwaukee. There was one more statistic that really attracted Heber’s attention: Although this district contained only 3 percent of the city’s population, it accounted for 33 percent of the children in Milwaukee who had been labeled “mentally retarded”!

At the beginning of the project, Heber selected forty newborns from the depressed area of Milwaukee he had chosen. The mothers of the infants selected all had IQ’s below 80. As it turned out, all of the children in the study were black, and in many cases the fathers were absent. The forty newborns were randomly assigned, 20 to an experimental group and 20 to a control group.

Both the experimental group and the control group were tested an equal number of times throughout the project. An independent testing service was used in order to eliminate possible biases on the part of the project members. In terms of physical or medical variables, there were no observable differences between the two groups.

The experimental group entered a special program. Mothers of the experimental group children received education, vocational rehabilitation, and training in homemaking and child care. The children themselves received personalized enrichment in their home environments for the first three months of their lives, and then their training continued at a special center, five days a week, seven hours a day, until they were ready to begin first grade. The program at the center focused upon developing the language and cognitive skills of the experimental group children. The control group did not receive special education or home-based intervention and enrichment.

By the age of six all the children in the experimental group were dramatically superior to the children in the control group. This was true on all test measures, especially those dealing with language skills or problem solving. The experimental group had an IQ average of 120.7 as compared with the control group’s 87.2!

At the age of six the children left the center to attend the local school. By the time both groups were ten years old and in fifth grade, the IQ scores of the children in the experimental group had decreased to an average of 105 while the control group’s average score held steady at about 85. One possible reason for the decline is that schooling was geared for the slower students. The brighter children were not given materials suitable for their abilities and they began to fall back. Also, while the experimental children were in the special project center for the first six years they ate well, receiving three hot, balanced meals a day. Once they left the center and began to attend the local school, many reported going to classes hungry, without breakfast or a hot lunch.

Kai Jones said...

I would never accept "racial" differences in basic abilities (like IQ) until they had experimental and control groups with:

- equal maternal nutrition during pregnancy

- equal parental attention (frequency, duration, meaningfulness, affection) after birth

- equal environmental richness (educational resources like blocks, books; parks, museums)

- equal community values (importance of learning, of healthy activity and diet, of strong positive relationships with others)

And they'll never manage it. But those things may be the most important in affecting gene expression, if there is a genetic connection to intelligence that differs by "race" (in quotes because first we'd have to agree on a definition).

Frank said...

Gloria Steinem wrote an OpEd in the New York Times today.

In it she claims that women have had it harder in this country than blacks. So you should vote for Clinton, of course

Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. This country is way down the list of countries electing women and, according to one study, it polarizes gender roles more than the average democracy.

That’s why the Iowa primary was following our historical pattern of making change. Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot, and generally have ascended to positions of power, from the military to the boardroom, before any women (with the possible exception of obedient family members in the latter).

If the lawyer described above had been just as charismatic but named, say, Achola Obama instead of Barack Obama, her goose would have been cooked long ago. Indeed, neither she nor Hillary Clinton could have used Mr. Obama’s public style — or Bill Clinton’s either — without being considered too emotional by Washington pundits.

This is pure drivel, but it's where "identity politics" brings you.

If Obama does win the nomination, and loses, I fear that there will be many who will claim it was because he's black. If it is only a few, that won't be a problem.

But there may be people who have an interest in promoting that particular, and very damaging, meme.

Steven Barnes said...

I want no one voting for Obama because he's black, and find it regrettable that there have EVER been those who voted along racial lines--but they've always been there, and always will be.
Gloria Steinem, I would bet serious money, has never performed my experiment: ask black women which has been the greatest burden, gender or race. I doubt she really wants to know.

Frank said...

I doubt she really wants to know.

I'm sorry to say, but I doubt she really cares.

She wants Hillary nominated and if she has to guilt women that's what she, and the Clinton campaign will do.

Is there anyone here who seriously believes that Clinton is in trouble because she's a woman?

Anonymous said...

-- "Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life..." --

Oh please! I am a woman and I've never been aware of any "restricting force."

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Frank, your pure drivel looks purely accurate to me. Isn't perspective interesting?

Steve, I'm dead certain I could go poll a group of black feminists and get back the answer that being a woman's been more of a drawback for them. (And asking any black women working at an abused women's shelter, or in one, would get you a "Hell yeah!" on top of it.)

I'm also reasonably sure I could ask the same question of a group of black women involved in black civil rights generally and get back the answer that being black's been more of a disadvantage.

Be curious to know T's take on this one.

Far as I know no blacks are being sold due to the color of their skin in this day and age. Women are being sold all around the world, though....

I said a few posts back I thought Hillary had a tougher road, getting to the nomination, because of her gender, than Obama does because of his race. Nothing I've seen since has changed my opinion in that area, to be sure.

Frank said...

Dan said

Frank, your pure drivel looks purely accurate to me. Isn't perspective interesting?

There are two things here: one is the historical facts and on that Steinem is correct.

But the overriding thing is that she is using this to make the argument that people should vote for Clinton because she's a woman. That Clinton is losing to Obama because she's a woman.

That is pure drivel. Clinton is losing because she is not a great candidate.

Something I heard last night stunned me: Obama's machine is at least as good as Clinton's is. In some areas it appears to be better. Specifically in the area of young voter outreach.

Now this means that there is more than just "the man" and it also means that the machines can be factored out of the equation.

So now the candidates are winning or losing on their standing as a candidate only.

And I'm sorry, but Hillary just doesn't measure up to Barack. In fact, no one on the Democrats side does.

The only ones on the side of the Democrats with real experience are Biden and Richardson and they have been discounted. So that leaves Obama, Clinton and Edwards.

Forget Edwards, he'll be gone after tonight. Even if he comes in second, doesn't matter.

So it's head to head Obama and Clinton: roughly equal in the experience area, roughly equal in the machine; vastly unequal in appeal.

That's just the facts as I see 'em

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Frank, Steinem didn't say that people should vote for Hillary Clinton because she's a woman any more than Oprah said people should vote for Obama because he's black. Zero question in either case that gender/color was a big issue in what's driving them, but I'm sure both Oprah and Steinem are 100% convinced that the candidates they're backing are the best choices for the job.

As to Hillary lo0sing to Obama because she's woman, while I don't think that's the only issue, I do think it's a piece of it. She's been tag-teamed in ways Obama hasn't been, as Steinem notes -- "But what worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex."

To be fair, she's divisive in largest measure because of her last name. I despised her husband myself and had to get past that to be willing to vote for her -- and I'm not even a Republican. But the woman-as-CIC thing, the "bitch" factor, is dead real.

Steven Barnes said...

The fact that women are being sold has little to do with life in America. Obviously, I'd be happy excluding members of any organization that would slant the sample in either direction. Exclude civil rights workers and members of Feminist organizations if you wish. Get your sample at churches, schools, gyms, whatever.
I don't take the position (at this moment at least) that race is more of a burden than gender. I think that it would be difficult to come up with a standard that everyone could agree upon. But to someone who DOES take a position one way or another, I propose the experiment of asking black women.
T says that race has been more of an issue in her life than gender by a factor of ten to one. Frankly, I was a little surprised it was that bad.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

BTW, Lynn -- in 2006, most recent year I can find numbers for, there were 4 black male CEOs and 10 female CEOS in the Fortune 500 -- so women were 2-1/2 times more likely to become CEOs than a black man. These are terrible numbers by any standard, for either group; but the male black population of the U.S. is 6.25%, and the female population is 51% -- so, while there are 8 times as many women as black men, there were only 2-1/2 times as many CEOs, meaning a woman had about a third the chance to become a Fortune 500 CEO as a black man.

Numbers for both improved in '07, I believe, but I don't have numbers for that.

Steven Barnes said...


Hillary is divisive because she creates it. Almost every time I hear her speak, she mentions the historic nature of "the first woman President." She CREATES that. Compare that to the number of times Obama has referred to "the first black President." Frankly, I haven't heard it once. I think that she had a perfect play-book to get swept into history, and have been completely blind-sided. That for whatever reasons, they never saw Obama coming. He neutralizes her "history" message with one of his own, and speaks of resolving dualities--he's literally talking at a higher level of integration than most candidates, and that is a big chunk of what is attracting people: they can FEEL that he synthesizes information into more complex forms. Screw that: he makes them feel good by showing them that the apparent Gordian Knots of life can be mastered. He seems to be playing out of the box, and it's kind of spooky to watch. If he's what he seems like, the guy is money.

Frank said...

Steve said

He neutralizes her "history" message with one of his own, and speaks of resolving dualities--he's literally talking at a higher level of integration than most candidates, and that is a big chunk of what is attracting people: they can FEEL that he synthesizes information into more complex forms.

Yeah, but it's bullshit. I mean this only works until you start actually proposing solutions to problems, then the whole kumbaya thing goes south because people have opinions on how things should be.

I can understand why people want bipartisanship. But when presented with this as a tabula rasa, they imagine that means that people are going to get all bipartisan over their solutions.

He seems to be playing out of the box, and it's kind of spooky to watch.

It is spooky to watch charisma at work. And now is the right time for him not to get specific. He has to win the nomination and it would be difficult for him to unite the Democratic Party behind him if he was forced at this time to say things necessary to appeal to the majority of voters in a General Election

This, BTW, is another shortcoming of the Clinton campaign. In ger six years in the Senate, she carefully chose her voting record to appeal to the mainstream with an eye towards a General Election. She did not want her record to trip her up the way it does with most Candidates from the Senate. The way it tripped up Kerry.

But the trick was she had to get the nomination so she manufactured this meme of inevitability.

But she had two things working against her:

Her personality (her high negatives even among Democrats) and fate in the form of Obama.

Either of these alone she probably could have weathered, but both together are a killer.

Obama benefits from his lack of experience in the nomination process. I judge that Democrats in general don't care as much about experience as Republicans do.

And as long as he doesn't commit himself on issues that would be divisive in the General, and talks about "change" and "bipartisanship" in general terms, he's golden.

In the General, he will have to commit, and many Democrats may not be so happy with what they've bought.

As I've said before, the 'net roots is already leery of him. They suspect something is up.

But the fact remains, that for Obama to win the General, his positions will have to be closer to Bill Clinton in 1992 than John Kerry.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

"The fact that women are being sold has little to do with life in America."

Unless you're one of the women being sold. I'm on a client's network right now, so I can't google sex slavery in America -- but it certainly exists. For that matter, most sweatshop and personal servants who are being held in bondage in the U.S. are also women, though their lots are much better than that of women being held in the sex industry.

"But to someone who DOES take a position one way or another, I propose the experiment of asking black women."

A fair approach. You'd have to make it really anonymous to get an honest answer, I suspect; you'll get different percentages from women who know their men will hear their answer.

"T says that race has been more of an issue in her life than gender by a factor of ten to one."

Surprises me, too, but fair enough. Weighting the question in that way would be interesting too -- not just which is worse, but by how much.

Has your gender or your race been more of an impedement to you in life?

. Race, by a lot
. Race, by a little
. About the same
. Gender, by a little
. Gender, by a lot

Let me think about ways to get that question in front of the correct audience. There are enough special-interest websites out there, I'll bet we can find a place to run this poll. Some website with a lot of black (or other minority) women, driven not by race or gender rights ... has to be out there.

Steven Barnes said...

I disagree with you sharply there. Resolving dualities is the very essence of creating consensus in arguments between people. When excited, people tend to think that it's heads or tails. It takes a clearer mind to grasp that it's a quarter, and that the two people have been arguing over the wrong part of the issue. Seeing beyond appearances would be one of the defining characteristics of geniuses in any field at all.

I feel the depth of your passion on the issue of women and their abuse. I have ZERO interest in diminishing their pain, or the urgency of dealing with any exploitation. I can feel that in your opinion, women have it worse. All right, fine. There's really nothing for me to gain by convincing you otherwise, really. But if you are interested, and conduct the experiment, honor us with the results, would you?
I grant that black male CEOs can be found in greater proportion than women. I would assume you believe this to be because of environmental factors. Look at crime, prison and mortality statistics: blacks are WAY overrepresented there. If we're applying the same reasoning, wouldn't it be reasonable to suggest that this is that same "environment" as well? Women are ON AVERAGE more likely to be limited at the top of Maslow's pyramid than at the bottom. Don't get paid as well, yep. Less likely to die violently or be imprisoned by a long shot. Note: I'll have fun if you try to suggest that one end of the spectrum is nurture but the other is nature, dude. Jeeze, the game of "human being" is fun!
By the bad as you know things are for women, if you find out they're worse for black people, how is that going to feel?

Steven Barnes said...

Oh! And worrying about whether women will answer honestly with "their men" listening...better worry if black people will tell the truth with white people listening as well, just to keep it fair.

Heh heh.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

"Heh heh"

:-) OK, that's funny. But it's not really the case that black people craft answers to avoid angering white people -- unless you tell me otherwise?

But the male/female thing is real.

"I feel the depth of your passion on the issue of women and their abuse. I have ZERO interest in diminishing their pain"

Never got from you that you did, and I certainly hope you're not getting from me that I think being black in the U.S. all roses. I don't. What I do think is that there are more women who are dreadfully abused because they're women, than blacks who are dreadfully abused because they're black, in the present day and age.

As to that poll -- I will find a place to run it, and come back here with the results.

"Note: I'll have fun if you try to suggest that one end of the spectrum is nurture but the other is nature, dude. Jeeze, the game of "human being" is fun!"

I don't have the slightest hesitation in saying yes, I think the violence suffered in black communities is environmental, and the violence suffered by women is biological. How many times in recent years did some nutjob round up black people and execute them? I can think of two cases involving schoolgirls in '07 alone. The male capacity for violence is innate; black social struggles aren't.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

"How is that going to feel?"

There's no answer that makes me feel good, or much worse, if that's of any help. I grew up in a largely black neighborhood in Pomona and three of my first five girlfriends were black -- would have been four of six if August Fullenwider's boyfriend hadn't been a murderer who scared me.

And sure, none of this makes me black any more than having a mother, 3 sisters, a wife, and two daughters makes me female. But learning that I was wrong about all this won't really change my ability to empathize in either direction.

There are more blacks than women in poverty, by percentage. I don't know the numbers, but I know it's true. Given poverty's one of the root causes of dysfunction, that alone argues your point.

Anonymous said...

Steve, did you ever write the story? And if you didn't, are you going to?

Don't forget that if Obama ever does start talking about the history he'll make but being the first black president, he opens the door for his opponents to attack him on that basis. It's as though he's in court acting as his own attorney and witness. He wants to state his case. He wants to win, and he knows that whatever he talks about is 'fair game' for attack, but only if he talks about it first

Daniel Keys Moran said...

I misread an earlier post of yours, though it doesn't actually change my response.

"I grant that black male CEOs can be found in greater proportion than women. I would assume you believe this to be because of environmental factors."

On both sides, yes. I think in a healthy society the odds of an individual woman becoming a CEO would be close to the odds of an individual black man becoming a CEO, and both would be close to the odds of an individual white man becoming a CEO. That said, here and now, there's an advantage for black men in terms of people being willing to defer and accept leadership from those men: in this area, black men have it better than women. Which was virtually my entire point w/Hillary and Obama.

"Look at crime, prison and mortality statistics: blacks are WAY overrepresented there. If we're applying the same reasoning, wouldn't it be reasonable to suggest that this is that same "environment" as well?"

Between black and white (or Latino or asian or whatever) ... men ... yes. Environmenal. Between men and women, no, that propensity toward violence is biological.

"Women are ON AVERAGE more likely to be limited at the top of Maslow's pyramid than at the bottom. Don't get paid as well, yep."


"Less likely to die violently or be imprisoned by a long shot."

Biological. And we're back to the "have fun" comment -- yeah, some things are nurture and some are nature, and I have no problem drawing that distinction.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for responding to my comments in the main blog.

As with most of the folks who are participating in this blog, I have thought long and hard on the problem of the disparity in life and economic results for the systemically poor.

As a member of the former poor class, I am personallly aware of the limitations that growing up in such a state, lacking many of things that others take for granted, imposes on someone.

As I have mentioned before I grew up in a multicultural and multiracial environment. I have known people from every social and economic class in my lifetime. I have also traveled and see poor people whenever I have been.

I believe that the systemically poor in every country and culture suffer from the same things. Everywhere it seems to me that the poor are treated as lower class, inferior. They are not given the same opportunities as those above them. As such I have never ascribed the problems of the poor to race.

For example I spent some time in Taiwan once. Although to American eyes all the people in Taiwan are Chinese, to the people living on that island there are definitely two classes of people: the upper class (Chinese descent) and lower class (Native Taiwanese). The lower class do all the dirty work, get paid less and have fewer opportunities for education and advancement. I do not see this as being any different than how the poor in the U.S. are treated, only that in the U.S. the urban poor tend to look differently than the majority (i.e. black or brown).

But as has been well documented if one were to group all the poor by race then the largest group (by number) of poor in the U.S. are "white". But it is true that as percentage of the white race the poor white are a smaller percentage than the black or brown poor of their respective groups.

This goes back to several points that you have made in the past.

A) The lower class is treated fairly badly whenever they are.

B) The middle and upper classes are unable to really see nor understand the problems of the poor.

C) Tribalism is a large part of the problem, manifesting itself in the us against them mentality.

D) Very little can be done about it through large measures. It might be useful to remember that poverty used to be the condition of virtually everyone. One needs to only read Dickens or Victor Hugo to see the immense difference in the levels of poverty in England and France 200 years ago, a time when it was thought that poverty for the under was intractable. Against at we can then look at the the relative prosperity of today in those two countries. But, then both countries still have lower classes and poor, only now instead of being esclusively made of natives, they are mostly filled with immigrants.

So, is there any chance that we can look at the problems of poverty in the U.S. as being a combination of conditions, some of which have nothing to do with race, but for which most people cannot see beyond the most visible (and possibly least important factor) which is the color of the skin of those who are in this condition?

Unknown said...

Gloria Steinem is right, sure enough, that some of the opposition Hillary Clinton faces is fueled by sexism. She might even, for all I know, be right that being female is more of a barrier in getting elected President, once you're a Senator, than being black. *Not* that being a woman globally is more of a barrier than being black, because I tend to buy what Steve says about women being limited more at the top of Maslow's pyramid. (And not that I'm necessarily convinced that Steinem actually knows one way or the other which is the greater disadvantage.)

I'm pretty sure she's wrong, though, on the point that, "But what worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex." Obama's seen as unifying by his race because he's Obama, and he has that particular gift. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton sure weren't seen as unifying because of their race, when they ran for President. Hillary Clinton has her qualities - intelligence, hard work, etc. - but being able to speak in a way that draws people in that you might have expected to disagree with her just isn't one of those qualities.

Still, though I'm rooting for Obama to win, it's nice to see an election in which both the whites only and the men only barriers are being broken in terms of having candidates that people are treating as serious contenders. Maybe in my lifetime I can see the time when a woman candidate, a black candidate, or, for that matter, a black woman candidate for President can be as taken for granted a choice as a Catholic candidate is now.

Anonymous said...

I find this whole discussion somewhat disturbing. Who cares whether women or blacks are more discriminated against. If everybody agrees that they both face more discrimination than they should, then we all agree that we need to work toward eliminating the discrimination against both. Of course how we do that is the problem. As someone once said "The devil is in the details."