The Mismeasure of Minds: Debating Race and Intelligence between Brown and the Bell Curve

The Mismeasure of Minds: Debating Race and Intelligence between Brown and the Bell Curve

The Mismeasure of Minds: Debating Race and Intelligence between Brown and the Bell Curve

The Mismeasure of Minds: Debating Race and Intelligence between Brown and the Bell Curve

Synopsis

The 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision required desegregation of America's schools, but it also set in motion an agonizing multidecade debate over race, class, and IQ. In this innovative book, Michael E. Staub investigates neuropsychological studies published between Brown and the controversial 1994 book The Bell Curve. In doing so, he illuminates how we came to view race and intelligence today.

In tracing how research and experiments around such concepts as learned helplessness, deferred gratification, hyperactivity, and emotional intelligence migrated into popular culture and government policy, Staub reveals long-standing and widespread dissatisfaction--not least among middle-class whites--with the metric of IQ. He also documents the devastating consequences--above all for disadvantaged children of color--as efforts to undo discrimination and create enriched learning environments were recurrently repudiated and defunded. By connecting psychology, race, and public policy in a single narrative, Staub charts the paradoxes that have emerged and that continue to structure investigations of racism even into the era of contemporary neuroscientific research.

Excerpt

In 1954, in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that de jure racial segregation in educational facilities violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. It was hailed at the time — and has continued to be acclaimed to the present day — as the historic culmination of a decades-long struggle to achieve racial justice under the law, particularly with regard to the often inadequate public schooling available to African American children. Brown thus signaled the end of a Jim Crow apartheid regime and represented real progress as it promised to each American “a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.”

Brown’s legacy, however, has been far more complex and contradictory than a capsule summary may indicate. With Brown, the Supreme Court finally reversed Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 case that affirmed the noxious doctrine of “separate but equal.” Yet it is also true that the Brown decision managed to misidentify a key element of the Plessy verdict. By the 1950s — as historian Daryl Michael Scott has observed — it was largely taken to be common sense (as it was by Chief Justice Earl Warren, who wrote Brown’s unanimous opinion) that the court in Homer A. Plessy’s day had been centrally “concerned about Plessy’s inner world and that it had simply lacked the scientific knowledge to decide on the plaintiff’s behalf.” An understanding that science had the ability to analyze an individual’s “inner world” became central to the Brown opinion; this had not been the concern of Plessy. the earlier decision had observed that if African Americans declared white supremacist laws to confer upon them a lower caste status, they had only themselves to blame. “We consider the underlying fallacy of the plaintiff’s argument to consist in the assumption that the enforced separation of the two races stamps the colored race with a badge of inferiority,” the majority opinion in Plessy stated. “If this be so, it is not by reason of anything found . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.