The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Social definitions of racism

The discussion about the meaning of the term “racist” has been interesting. I can feel that when most of you guys use the term, it pretty much means “dishonest negative comments about other ethnic groups.” I understand that definition, but considering that almost everyone thinks their own opinions are correct, it isn’t particularly useful: the defense to saying anything negative is “it’s true.” So what’s going on is that you have opposing forces. For the sake of convenience, let’s talk about white and black, although this stuff goes for sexism, cultural elitism, and perceptions of and by Asians as well.

In my mind, this is what happened: there is a natural human tendency to say “my group is the best.” And another to blame the victim after we mug him (“he was stupid to wear that watch in this neighborhood”) or rape her (“she asked for it.”)

Slavery was an economic institution (using human beings as machinery) that had serious off-the-books advantages (the creation of a permanent underclass makes possible a permanent aristocracy. White women in the 18th Century weren’t supposed to be lusty sexual animals…but black women were available. Lower-class whites had someone who was even lower).

Because America considers itself a Christian nation, and the core of Christianity is “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and slavery was considered valuable not just financially but socially, there was a need to justify the economic necessity. So far as I can see from my own research, the most common justification was “blacks are natural slaves.”

Post-slavery, the most FORMAL barriers against blacks dropped, replaced by a gigantic number of relatively informal institutions designed to keep them in their lower status. In addition (and this is what I think the worst side-effect of slavery was) the belief systems designed to justify slavery outlived the institution.

Now you have an interesting situation: millions of people clearly labeled inferior denied the rooting necessary to build a culture, surrounded 10-to-1 by the “Other” who clings to a belief in their inferiority, and have total control of the mechanisms that create education, health care, employment opportunities, housing opportunities, etc.

Life and death. Now, over the years, one click at a time, things get better (although I would take the position that there was never a moment in which there was an advantage even minutely equivilent to the disadvantages. Without that, the chances of “catching up” as a group would be pretty slim. Blacks would have to be SUPERIOR to whites to do so, given the situation.)

Now, then. Through the entire time, blacks have had to hear X percentage of white people making negative comments in every single medium, and in every situation. And they were always supposed to grin and bear it. And some of the comments were pretty pervasively vicious. And we knew very well from our exclusion in media (or the way we were treated when we were present in such media) what White audiences thought of us.

Now…came the 60’s, and the national media was filled with images of black civil rights marchers set upon by dogs, and black civil rights leaders shot dead. A huge backlash of white guilt (“this isn’t the country I love!”) rolled in.

And with it, a push of “political correctness” from what I call the Left. Remember that I think that the Right tends to be more hierarchical, the Left more egalitarian. Both extremes are diseased. But whereas before the set-point assumption was black inferiority (“but we should be nice to them”) the set-point now was black equality. We became very very careful about what we said.

Now…I hate to put it this way, but 100% of the people I have heard complain about “political correctness” are members of the groups that exploited or oppressed. In other words, men complain about “political correctness” dealing with sexism. Whites complain about “political correctness” dealing with blacks. Straights complain about “political correctness” dealing with gays. Christians about “political correctness” dealing with non-Christian minorities, and so on. Never heard the opposite.

What does this imply to me? We LOVE being able to rank others. It is a natural human behavior, and when we find ourselves limited in our self-serving expression, we get ticked off. No one complains that they aren’t allowed to say NICE things about other people.

And saying (for instance) “blacks have greater natural ability at sports” would, in a culture that gave equal weight to body, mind, and spirit, be equivilient to saying “whites are smarter.” But we DON’T give equal weight. Check the obesity stats. So when someone disingenuously says that “well, what’s wrong with saying whites are smarter? I also say that blacks are more athletic” they know, without admitting that they know, that they have just said “whites have more of the most desirable human characteristics.” And it ticks me off when people (in my mind) pretend not to understand what they’ve just said.

Of course, that could be deconstructed further: “according to tests created, administered, and interpreted by group X, group Y is on the average inferior.” Can one understand why a member of group Y would get sick of hearing this?

So when social things shift, and blacks found themselves with enough social, legal, and political power, they enjoyed using it. And whites who sympathized with us cooperated. And to a degree, the entire culture decided that certain kinds of speech would not be used.

It that a hinderance to rapid flow of information and social discourse? To a degree, yes, any inhibition of honest opinion is such a hinderance. And that is regrettable. But since we will NEVER come to what all agree to be a perfect balance of censorship and self-expression on this issue, on which side should we err?

I suggest to you that in the vast majority of cases, the only ones who believe we should err on the side of freedom of expression are those who feel they would benefit from it. And in the vast majority of cases, that would be men on issues of sexism, straights on issues of homophobia, whites on issues of race.

That natural human need to “rank” is strong. When I’m around black folks, and they start talking about the Natural Superiority of black athletes (or whatever) I have to sigh and get ready for odd looks. And when I’m around white friends and they ask “what’s wrong with telling the truth…” I could get all existential and say that there is no ultimate truth perceivable by human beings, just opinions with varying levels of support.

That’s how we got to the point where the word “racist” which denotatively means to ascribe negative characteristics on the basis of genetics, has connotatively come to mean a bad and dishonest person. Unfortunate, but just the pendulum swinging back the other way after 400 years of whites being able to say any damned thing they wanted, and have full social support for it.

I’m sure the straight-jacket pinches a bit. But it is an utterly insignificant fraction of the “pinch” my side felt, folks.
Unless there was a Cosmic Judge prepared to come down and set things straight, all we have is fallible human logic and emotion. We’re doing the best we can, and sometimes we do it clumsily. And when America is browner, and brown-skinned people outnumber whites, and the language begins to be shaped by racist comments that go back the other way, with the legal, political, economic and social power to back it up…we’ll see if whites can be as sanguine about the insults as they seem to expect blacks to be. Is it fair? HELL, NO! But is it MORE fair than it used to be? I would say absolutely yes.


Pagan Topologist said...

I have certainly heard negative things said about white people by black people that hurt, emotionally speaking. I admit that I do not think that such things are better than white people saying things about black people that hurt, no matter which group is oppressed. More understandable, but not more acceptable. One of the more disturbing ones was when a black person told me that it was wrong of me to treat black people decently, especially young black people (students.) The reasoning was that this would prevent these young people from learning the important lesson that white people can never be trusted. Sorry, but I think the idea that "white people can never be trusted" is a pretty bad thing for black people to believe.

Steven Barnes said...

Jesus. May I be allowed to apologize for a truly ignorant and sad comment? I believe in courtesy. Note that we've been discussing VERY difficult things on this blog, and no names have been called? No one's parentage or patriotism called into doubt? That is simply the result of a context of courtesy and mutual respect. Every person writing in to this blog has something to teach me. Suggesting that ANYONE has the right to be rude or hurtful to others creates a break-down in civilization. I kinda like civilization. I've seen human beings living at the edge between human and animal, and it isn't pretty at all.

Anonymous said...

"So when someone disingenuously says that “well, what’s wrong with saying whites are smarter? I also say that blacks are more athletic” they know, without admitting that they know, that they have just said “whites have more of the most desirable human characteristics.” And it ticks me off when people (in my mind) pretend not to understand what they’ve just said."

I cannot agree with your assertion that such comments mean that whites have more of the most desirable human characteristics. Intelligence is indisputably a survival trait -- without it humans could not have survived long enough to have built societies. That being said, strength and other athletic traits also are survival traits. There is another factor not explicitly mentioned as often as it should be mentioned: environment. If evolution is true (and I believe it to be true), the environment where a group lives will alter the group (actually the group will evolve to better compete in the enviromnment). Accordingly, the characteristics that are beneficial and their relative importance must be considered in light of the environment (consider sickle cell anemia). In a modern, third world society, I.Q. is the best predictor of economic success. However, it is not necessarily true that I.Q. is equally beneficial in non-urbanized societies. Moreover, economic success does not necessarily mean evolutionary success (i.e., successful reproduction). Look at reproduction rates relative to economic status. It turns out that the most economically successful people in the U.S. are reproducing at significantly lower rates than some (but not all) groups of lower economic status. Assuming average I.Q. is different for these economic groups, it means that I.Q. is not necessarily the most valuable trait in evolutionary terms in modern third world societies. Accordingly, when you say that I.Q. is a more "desirable human characteristic," you are making a societal value judgment -- our society values I.Q. more than it values athleticism. Unless you clarify such statements, you are mixing societal desireability with evolutionary desireability.

And yes, when I make statements like those you mention, I do realize that I am saying that whites have a more desirable distribution of a societally favored trait. However, evolution is most assuredly not fair. And, I tend to look at these types of discussions from an evolutionary perspective.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

"It that a hinderance to rapid flow of information and social discourse? To a degree, yes, any inhibition of honest opinion is such a hinderance. And that is regrettable. But since we will NEVER come to what all agree to be a perfect balance of censorship and self-expression on this issue, on which side should we err?"

Working for Obama so far.

"What was his defining charactistic was his [Obama's] personification of hope and newness and revolution, and no one wanted to deviate much from that script (and Oprah-palooza played into that nicely, obviously). I'm not saying that it wasn't warranted — it was Oprah, for God's sake — but I am saying that framing Obama's support in terms of a wave of hope and optimism and Clinton's support as inevitability imposed by a suffocating dynasty might have been just a tad unbalanced. It's funny, even as I write this I feel the need to check and recheck to make sure I don't somehow say this wrong. Obama is that candidate — the one you are careful writing about. I don't think it's just me. (RS)"

Steven Barnes said...

I'll tell you why I think people are making a "mine is better than yours" when I.Q. is mentioned regarding race. Because I tested it. For the first forty years of my life, when I heard people make comments about how whites have more intelligence than blacks, I would smile politely, and sometimes probe around just a little. But at another time, minutes or days later, I would lead them into a discussion of human characteristics and their relative desirability. Invariably, the same people who made the I.Q. comment believed that such things as intelligence, maturity, ability to love, honesty, etc. were their top five...or ten most desirable human characteristics. PHYSICAL ABILITY WASN'T EVEN ON THE LIST. There is absolutely no way that people can say: "my group has more of the most important characteristic than yours! Yours has more of a characteristic I don't give a damn about, and isn't really very important" and not be ranking themselves over the other group.
I'm not saying you can't do that. You can say whatever you wish, as long as you say it politely. But if you say that the position "whites have more intelligence" isn't saying, at the base of it, "whites are better" I think you have a blind spot.
Now about those other moral qualities? Curiously enough, the same people who hold that blacks aren't as smart also suggest that that lack of intelligence is responsible for differential crime statistics. And what exactly are criminals supposed to be, other than those of lesser moral quality? So the "I.Q." thing joins into the "they're not as good" and the "they're of lesser moral quality." There is just no way that the judgment of white people that white people are superior is ever going to be met by me with anything other than derision.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

It's worth noting that the #1 guru of less-intelligent-blacks, Charles Murray, co-author of "The Bell Curve," is literally a cross burner. And the superior genetics crowd has never even found this worthy of comment, as far as I've seen.

When a black researcher comes up with a study that says blacks are less intelligent, I'll pay close attention. As long as it's coming universally from white conservatives, I think not.

There's zero question that there are genetic differences among various groups of humans. And -- right about the time that we really do know what those differences are -- we'll be in shape to alter them. Maybe my grandchildren won't be genetically designed -- but my great grandchildren sure will be.

Frank said...

Kukulkan said

In a modern, third world society, I.Q. is the best predictor of economic success.

Actually, IQ is not a predictor of economic success: it is a predictor of success in the educational environment that we have created.

It really doesn't speak to anything other than this.

While it necessarily measures one's capability for abstract thinking, it is only and "intelligence" test if this is how we define intelligence.

There are very many people with average or below average IQs that are extremely successful economically. The are large numbers of people with high IQs that are not so successful.

On an anecdotal level, take me and my brother: I have a superior IQ, his being average mine being around 135. He's a millionaire, retired at 45. I'm a working still (granted I'm an engineer, but I work for "the man" and he was self-employed for most of his career)

With regards to racism, it is a natural consequence of the way our brains work. Humans can think, and they can perform this skill quite well when they want to, but thinking does not come effortlessly to humans. More importantly, it turns out it is very demanding energy-wise. Thinking hard burns about three times more calories than does idling. As a result we don't do it often.

It must be realized we have a hunter-gatherer's brain. What we are best at is heuristics: or chunking of data. AKA: thinking for dummies; pseudo-thinking.

We have hardwired within us various routines and sub-routines (to use a software metaphor) for making it so that we don't have to think. In a hunter-gatherer world, thinking doesn't have as great a survival value as being able to make quick and generally accurate snap decisions. And one of the best ways the mind has for doing this is by classifying things in broad groups. But we have other methods as well. Dr Kelton Rhoads gives a fine example that is especially suited for this group:

...let's say you're shopping for a stair climber, because you want the convenience of working out at home. You enter a sports store and start looking at the different models. Some have what look to be shock absorbers, some have chains and sprockets, some have cables and pulleys, others have levers that balance on a fulcrum. Which is best? Which will stand up to the wear and tear of your vigorous workouts? you wonder. At this point, you have a choice. You can process centrally--you can go to the library and find a book on mechanical engineering. With several months of concerted effort and concentration, you may be able come to your own conclusions about which mechanical system is best. Or you can process peripherally--find some sort of shortcut.

Various shortcuts might entail 1) asking the salesperson which is best; 2) bringing along an opinionated friend; 3) choosing a stair stepper based on the color; 4) choosing a stair stepper based on your recognition of a brand name; 5) choose a stair stepper based on the attractiveness of the model in the advertisement ("She looks gorgeous! Look at how small her waist is."); 6) deciding to purchase the stair stepper marked "SALE;" 7) deciding that the most expensive model is the best model ("Why would they charge so much if it weren't really good?"). And so you give your brain a break by relying on a quasi-thinking strategy called a "heuristic." Heuristics work pretty well most of the time....

...Dr. Gregory Neidert, says that we humans are running our brains at idle about 90% to 95% of the time. Only when a topic is important to us and actually requires effortful thought do we engage our brains and make them do some real work. The rest of the time, we're coasting, baby.

Racism is a natural consequence of all of this. It is easier and faster to chunk data. Even if it isn't very accurate, it is often accurate enough for the hunter-gatherer in us.

Dr Rhoads points out

You may have noticed that people who think for a living (lawyers, doctors, investors, consultants) are paid a lot of money. That's because they are doing something for you that you'd rather not do for yourself--learn, memorize, and think!

How often on this very forum have people as other people to find and compile information when they could have done it themselves? Then you have to ask, if they held such and such an opinion, how come they don't have this information that is critical to supporting that opinion? How did they form that opinion in the first place without having that information?

The answer, of course, is heuristics.

All people are racist in the sense that all people have, and rely on, the built-in heuristic-generation machine in order to avoid thinking as much as possible. And even when they do a lot of thinking, there is no avoiding the built-in heuristic-generation machine; there is only your ability to subvert it, if you choose to use it.

The only way around this is to recognize this and treat people as individuals who may or may not exhibit the characteristics you have arbitrarily assigned to the group.

Anonymous said...

"Unfortunate, but just the pendulum swinging back the other way after 400 years of whites being able to say any damned thing they wanted, and have full social support for it."

My right to say any damned thing I want doesn't depend on whether I have anybody's social support. It never did and it never will.

Better white men than I'm likely to ever be have died for that right. You don't get much less "social support" than when they take you out in the public square and behead you, or burn you alive. Nevertheless, some of us have considered freedom of thought, speech, and belief worth dying for. And if that degree of determination goes away, you can forget about anybody's adult freedoms lasting very long.

Nor does the truth or falsehood of what I say depend on social support. If every black and feminist in America decided that political correctness required 2 + 2 to equal 5, I would still be right to instead call it 4. To abandon that fundamental belief is, I think, to surrender one's honestas -- that ancient Roman word that meant both "honor" and "honesty".

On a more personal and trivial level: saying what I believe to be true has been getting me in social trouble since ... well, basically since I started grammar school. I'm vividly aware that trying to tell the truth is a great way to be unpopular. If progressives (self-described) managed to convert the whole U.S. to a code of political correctness, it'd just be one more form of socially mandated dishonesty. Nothing new.

As for racism: I personally haven't disagreed at all with your definition of the word. It's the technically correct definition. I have pointed out that, by that very definition, it's at least possible to imagine a situation where one's choice is squarely between being a racist truth-teller and a non-racist liar.

If political correctness is a synonym for what used to be considered common decency and courtesy, I can live with that. But if it's a synonym for the automatic, universal presumption that I'm supposed to lie about my understanding of objective facts about the external, non-subjective physical world, then I'm not going to always be politically correct under all circumstances -- not if I care about being an honest scientist or an honest man.

You've written "there is no ultimate truth perceivable by human beings, just opinions with varying levels of support". To the extent you really believe that, why on earth are you trying to argue about anything at all? If you absolutely believe that, with no external facts about the world that you consider to be at least practical certainties or logical certainties (things true by definition), then what basis do you have for rational discussion of any topic whatsoever?

--Erich Schwarz

Unknown said...

Political correctness seems to me a fuzzy term which sometimes does boil down to just common decency and courtesy, and other times to the suggestion that people who proclaim view X are going along not to get in trouble, while people who hold view Y are telling an unpopular truth.

An example of where political correctness seems to me to just amount to common courtesy - the whole business where the name you can politely call a group changes, and some people grumble about it and drag their feet. When I was young, "Negro" was the normal word for black people. Then at a certain point, "Negro" turned into the code word that indicated that you weren't listening, that darn it, you were going to keep calling people Negroes whether they liked it or not, because you shouldn't have to keep up with silly name changes. Which, to my mind, is just rude; it doesn't cost me anything to call people what they say they should be called. So what if at one point I hear I should say "Indians," and later "Native Americans," and still later that "Native Americans" is passe? So what if sometimes I don't keep up and get it wrong? Once I'm told, it doesn't cost me anything to use the name people want.

On the more substantive stuff, people have the right to say what they believe to be true, just not the right to say it and not expect to be criticized for it.

Anonymous said...

" ...the belief systems designed to justify slavery outlived the institution."

That's probably true, and if so, a scary thought. When will those bad beliefs finally die off? Only when those who hold them literally die off, as illustrated by your stats on age groups voting for Obama?

And: Did you see this cartoon? Ii illustrates your point about unfair IQ tests:

-- Paul Worthington

Anonymous said...

Oops: the whole link did not paste.

-- Paul

Anonymous said...


I'm three sheets to the wind (or whatever phrase means more than sufficiently drunk) but, here goes:

"I would lead them into a discussion of human characteristics and their relative desirability. Invariably, the same people who made the I.Q. comment believed that such things as intelligence, maturity, ability to love, honesty, etc. were their top five...or ten most desirable human characteristics. PHYSICAL ABILITY WASN'T EVEN ON THE LIST."

This precisely establishes my point. These are societally determined traits. Do you think evolution cares one whit for honesty? In comparison to athleticism? Intelligence is valued by third world societies more than athleticism. Howevever, without a third world society, I am not certain that evolution would penalise an 85 IQ over a 100 IQ. Both are lightyears ahead of a buffalo's IQ.


Same disclaimer re alcoholic inebriation.

"IQ is not a predictor of economic success"

Wrong. Zimbardo, PG Psychology and Life (1988) (IQ scores are valid for two types of prediction: academic success and the status of one's occupation); and Brody & Brody (1976) (IQ predicts what kind of job one will obtain). Certainly there is some dispute as to whether IQ itself determines social status, or whether IQ determines academic success, which itself determines social status. However, even if #2, then IQ predicts social status better than anything other than academic success. Your experience with your brother? Anecdotal.

NB- Lucky Baldwin's is the best pub I've found in the L.A. area. The only pub that comes close is Father's Office, and it doesn't match (of course, my last experience with Father's Office is circa 1999). Recommendations?

Anonymous said...


"Jesus. May I be allowed to apologize for a truly ignorant and sad comment?"

You are not the designated spokesperson for people of African descent living in the U.S. Don't sully yourself with associating with such a viewpoint.

Steven Barnes said...


The answer to how I can think nothing can be ultimately known, but still love picking the universe apart is the same reason people love baseball statistics, I think. And football strategy. They're just games, and have no intrinsic importance. Yet and still, people associate with them emotionally, and have great fun doing it. That's my attitude toward life. Nothing really happening here, but there's a game to play, and I love to look at the way people play it, and try to play it the best I can, and investigate the "real" rules as opposed to the rules people assume. But it's just a game. I LOVE the game. But it's just a game.

Murray was a "cross burner"? Ku Klux Klan? Seriously?

Steven Barnes said...

Do I think evolution cares about honesty, in comparison to athleticism. If you're a solitary hunter on the Savannah, I'll go with body. If you're operating within a complex society, I'll take honesty as a survival value.
But the obvious truth is that these are socially promoted values. But we're talking about what people MEAN when they say things. What their conscious or unconscious intent is. To that degree, the fact that they are speaking in a society where the value hierarchy sorts out a particular way is important.

Steven Barnes said...

And the question: is there a situation where one would have the choice between being a racist truth-teller and a non-racist liar? By my definitions, YES, IF there are substantial differences in basic quality between different racial groups. If there AREN'T, then you couldn't make a racist comment that was "true", see? You could make one that you THOUGHT was true, however. In which case you'd be honest, but deluded.
Since I've seen no evidence to convince me there are substantial differences in quality between different racial groups, you can see my problem, here. Now, if there ARE substantive differences in intrinsic quality between groups, it is damn near your responsibility to point it out, isn't it? Whether it's "politically correct" or not. But remember: one of my points is that the term "politically correct" got hijacked to mean "politically correct according to the Left." The Right exerts just as much social pressure to conform. My sense: if you're on the Right, it feels like lotsa pressure comes from the Left. If you're on the Left, it feels like lotsa pressure comes from the Right. Truth is that anyone with power tries to control the environment to maximize their own interests. And, of course, they'll try to say that "the other guys" are doing more of it than them. For much of our nation's history, racist talk, images, laws, and customs were absolutely normal. And there were wide swaths of society where to act in a contrary fashion was not just "politically incorrect" but punishable by law. So, now you get some social disapproval for saying the kinds of things that were not just permitted but encouraged just a couple of generations ago. Not exactly taking it up the tail pipe there, bud.

Anonymous said...

"So, now you get some social disapproval for saying the kinds of things that were not just permitted but encouraged just a couple of generations ago."

I can live easily enough with this in social settings. If I'm in a situation where my primary responsibility is to not annoy people, I'm generally happy to do that (and certainly willing to do that) as part of my overall desire to act like a decent adult.

The breaking point for me comes in situations where I am being asked to deliberately lie about what I know scientifically, or about what my best judgement tells me is at least possible given current knowledge. I see general political discussion as being closely related to that breakpoint, because I simply do not agree with Plato's idea of the "noble lie". I think a free society requires honesty about matters of fact, to have any chance of continuing to function and grow through new problems.

So it's kind of half-and-half for me. Socially? I'll keep my mouth shut or say innocuous things when I sense that a topic is painful for people. Scientifically, or under oath, or when discussing issues genuinely relevant to the country's political well-being? I'll still try not to just be an inflammatory hothead, but I'm willing to be one rather than let dishonesty -- or muddled thinking that I see as highly conducive to dishonesty -- pass unanswered.

On the specific issue of racial groups and whether they have genetically-based variations in "quality": at this point, I'm aggressively agnostic on that. Meaning, if somebody is blowing hard for the position "of course racial groups are genetically superior or inferior", I'll tend to want to deflate them, whereas if somebody is going for the more "progressive" attitude of "of course any such claim is hateful, racist, and scientifically untrue," I'll ... do what I'm doing here.

There will be real science on this, fairly soon, and it may hurt people's feelings. So far we don't have that yet, and we've certainly had plenty of people associated with this topic whose motives were dubious to downright bad. But if Stalin said "2 + 2 = 4", it'd still be true, even if he'd just finished butchering one million kulaks in Ukraine. And if real genetically-based variations causing differing amounts of desirable traits actually do exist between racial groups, they're not likely to stay conveniently invisible for very much longer.

--Erich Schwarz

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Charles Murray was arrested for burning a cross as a teenager. Claims he didn't know the social significance of it ...

Amusingly, when I googled this, I ran across an article by YASP -- Yet Another Steve Perry:

THIS FRIDAY BELL Curve perpetrator Charles Murray will be in town to speak at the Center of the American Experiment. I mentioned this to a friend the other day, and he reminded me of a little-told story from Murray's past. Near the end of his high school days in Newton, Iowa, Murray and some of his pals went out one night and burned a cross next door to the police station. To my knowledge, the reams of coverage accorded Murray for his pseudo-scientific apologia on behalf of racism have produced only two mentions of this incident. One was in a 1994 New York Times Magazine profile, the other a bit later on the Donahue show. In both instances Murray protested that he had no idea as to the racial significance of cross-burning. There were only two black families in Newton in those days, an old school chum of his added in the Times piece. Well. As it happens, I grew up just 30 miles away from Murray's central Iowa hometown, in an even smaller farming town with no black families at all. But somehow I managed to learn what cross-burning meant by the time I finished high school, and I expect Murray did too.

Here's an op-ed from the NY Times:

Mr. Murray fancies himself a social scientist, an odd choice of profession for someone who would have us believe he was so sociologically ignorant as a teen-ager that he didn't recognize any racial implications when he and his friends burned a cross on a hill in his hometown of Newton, Iowa.

In a New York Times Magazine article by Jason DeParle, Mr. Murray described the cross-burning as "dumb." But he insisted, "It never crossed our minds that this had any larger significance."

Oh, no. Of course not.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

I'm off to bed, and I'm not going to look this up tonight, but I will if someone wants me to later -- I've read that the IQ gap between Protestants and Catholics was, at least at one time, about 15 points -- larger than the IQ gap between American whites and blacks. But the white/black gap is genetic, and the Protestant/Catholic gap isn't? Really?

There are similar cases for other ethnic groups -- Koreans in Japan, where they're a despised minority, do badly on IQ tests. Koreans in the US do about as well as Japanese in the US, though. And so on.

My grandfather was an Irish Catholic from Northern Ireland. You know, one of the stupid guys. They gave me 4 IQ tests when I was young -- I missed 3 questions total across the 4 tests. I must not have inherited much from my dumb Grandpa, so thank God for that....

Anonymous said...

-- "If you're operating within a complex society, I'll take honesty as a survival value." --

Actually, I think getting people to trust you is a survival value. There are two ways to do that: 1. Be honest 2. Be a really really good liar.

Anonymous said...

-- "My sense: if you're on the Right, it feels like lotsa pressure comes from the Left. If you're on the Left, it feels like lotsa pressure comes from the Right." --

And if you're in the middle you get pressure from both sides. I think people who lean left but not far enough for "true believers" may feel more pressure from the left than people who are firmly on the right. The same is true in reverse, of course.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

"the IQ gap between Protestants and Catholics"

Throw in "in Northern Ireland" and that post actually makes sense.

Unknown said...

On the other hand, there was a similar narrowing of an IQ gap in the US for European immigrant groups in the US (including Ashkenazi Jews, who now score above most white people on IQ tests but once scored below average). See Thomas Sowell's 1995 critique of The Bell Curve:

Dan Gambiera said...

I remember Murray and Company before The Bell Curve came out. Back then they had an obsession with penises and brains. I kid you not, cross-my-heart he was saying that Black men's penises were too big, Asian men's penises were too small, but White men's penises were just right. Somehow this was connected to Black intelligence being too low, Asian intelligence too high, and White intelligence just right.

Let's call it the Three Bares Racial Theory.

It tells you everything you need to know about the authors and probably a whole lot more than you wanted to.

The saddest thing was that Stephen J. Gould (ztl) had to go to the trouble to write a whole new introduction to the latest printing of The Mismeasure of Man. It boiled down to "I already demolished this once. Why do I have to do it again?"

Steven Barnes said...

You absolutely must factor in the character of the messenger in evaluating the message.