Posted by: CS | May 4, 2012

Race and IQ in America

One seemingly objective and thus non racist way of denigrating black people is to point out that African Americans score lower on IQ tests than other Americans. Thus, in an essay for Taki’s mag that precipitated his firing by National Review, John Derbyshire states: 

The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites. The least intelligent ten percent of whites have IQs below 81; forty percent of blacks have IQs that low. Only one black in six is more intelligent than the average white; five whites out of six are more intelligent than the average black. These differences show in every test of general cognitive ability that anyone, of any race or nationality, has yet been able to devise. They are reflected in countless everyday situations. “Life is an IQ test.”

Freed Reed, commenting on the killing of Trayvon Martin, makes similar points:

… on every known measure of cognitive ability, on IQ, SATs, GREs, everything, blacks average about one standard deviation, fifteen IQ points, below whites. The gap is a fact. It exists. It is reflected in performance. It has proved intractable. In a technological civilization that rewards intelligence, the deficit sharply limits legitimate access to the higher reaches of money, power, class, and prestige.

There are two common responses to such statements.

One is to say that IQ tests were invented by white people and, in America, are mainly administered by white educational bureaucrats and thus are undoubtedly culturally biased in ways that lower the apparent IQ of black people.

The other is to say, yes, the black-white difference in IQ is real and that to acknowledge it is simply a matter of scientific realism. Furthermore, it may be noted, although white people invented IQ tests, Asian Americans nevertheless score higher on IQ tests than European Americans, so cultural bias cannot explain the racial differences.

Both arguments make a valid point, but both ignore realities of greater significance.

On the question of cultural bias, Fred Reed provides pertinent evidence:

The death [of Trayvon Martin] has been improbably termed, by professional blacks, “genocide.” Whatever happened to dictionaries, I wonder.
 
Perhaps the worst thing about the case is the appalling English it revealed, “He dont be doing nothing aint right he just….” Usually the brighter and more literate of a group spend time on the internet. Heaven help us. These inarticulate mutterings devoid of punctuation or any grasp of the structure of the language illustrate what we know but ignore: We are screwed.

Clearly, those with no use for Webster’s dictionary or knowledge of standard English grammar cannot be expected to perform well on an IQ test for users of standard English or to spell in a way that reflects standard English pronunciation. But that in no way proves that failure to learn standard English is necessarily proof of inferior intelligence.

As a child, I lived in a community of non-standard English speakers, namely, the country folk of South Devon, England. What we spoke was English, yet it would have been unintelligible to a graduate of Harvard University. The conjugation of verbs had a remarkable complexity, the vocabulary was distinctive, and the pronunciation  provided a barrier to easy communication with the educated middle-class.

Sadly, though brought up bilingual, I have been away from Devon so long that I have forgotten the speech of my home county, where the natives are now rarely to be encountered since they have been swamped by hoards of foreigners from London, Birmingham, and Bristol, not to mention India, Bangla-Desh, the African continent and China. I do recall, though, how an old fellow hoeing cabbages in cottage garden summed up some road directions for me: 

Just fancy you’m be in the arrrmy: Left, Roight, Left, Roight.

A man capable of such pithy speech must surely have a brain in good order, yet an IQ test for standard English speakers could hardly be expected to reveal the full extent of his ability.

But even better evidence of the influence of culture on IQ test results is the so-called Flynn Effect.

In his study of IQ tests scores for different populations over the past sixty years, James R. Flynn discovered that IQ scores increased from one generation to the next for all of the countries for which data existed. …Research shows that IQ gains have been mixed for different countries. In general, countries have seen generational increases between 5 and 25 points. (Source)

Thus, there can be no doubt whatever that IQ is highly influenced by cultural, socio-economic or some other environmental factors, and that since that influence varies greatly among countries it will surely vary also among groups within a country.

But that inter-racial IQ differences are in part culturally determined, does not alter the fact that, in America, blacks as a group are at the bottom of the heap in terms of income, education, unemployment, rates of crime and imprisonment, and the proportion of single-parent families. And it does not alter the fact that it is at the bottom of the heap where American blacks, as a group, will remain so long as their communities are led by those who blame black poverty and frequent criminality on the racism of others rather than their own failure to strive to become, through their own efforts, what they presently are not.

It is also true that even though differences in intelligence, temperament, physical attributes both physiological and structural unquestionably exist among the races or classes of mankind, to speak as though group characteristics define the individual amounts to the crudest form of disparagement. If a Devon country lad has, on average, an IQ 15 points less than a graduate of Eton College, does that make the Etonian a better man? To many in England, the answer may be an emphatic yes or no, depending on the class to which they belong. But either answer is absurd, since it judges the individual not on their merits but on their group affiliation over which they have no control and over which individual genius or heroic determination may prevail.

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