Race and Intelligence: Separating Science from Myth

By Jefferson M. Fish | Go to book overview

an era of growing economic and social polarization, it has become fashionable for white elites, neoconservative and moderate politicians, and intellectuals to stress individual merit as determined by IQ, impudence, hard work, and motivation. They attribute the absence of African Americans, Latinos, and Native Americans in many high-level corporate, government, educational, and cultural positions not to the extrinsic advantages of wealthy white Americans but to the hereditary defects of nonwhite people, with the exception of a few wealthy and well-educated Asian Americans. Underscoring the biological determinism arguments made by Herrnstein and Murray (1994), these whites argue that socioeconomic disadvantages suffered by blacks, Latinos, and Native Americans originate from their mental inferiority, which accounts for their inherent inability to succeed in U.S. society (Lind 1995). In his latest attack on government educational and social aid, Jensen (1998) pointed out that psychological and educational techniques to raise IQ among nonwhite children rarely increased scores by more than 5 or 10 points. Emphasizing that such IQ modifications remain temporary at best, Jensen argued that the evolution of mental development should not be left to the mercy of unpredictable environmental coincidence. He then concluded that the genetic and evolutionary nature of human intelligence protects human beings from the vagaries of the environment.

The Bell Curve embodies not only the neoconservative agenda, but encompasses liberal and moderate concerns involving affirmative action, crime control, and welfare reform (Scott, 1994). The political and social mobilization of African Americans, Latinos, Native Americans, women, gays, and lesbians since the 1960s has effectively questioned the social and gender construction of “whiteness” (Daniels, 1997). The recent public support for initiatives to end affirmative action, abolish bilingual education, encourage involuntary sterilization of poor women, and enact immigration restrictions, however, signifies a growing polarization within U.S. society (Feagin & Vera, 1995). Although it remains unlikely that The Bell Curve will be used as a direct justification for conservative legislation or court decisions, it serves as a powerful subtext for nearly every policy decision about race, class, and social welfare that leads to the elimination of social programs for impoverished and disadvantaged groups (Scott, 1994). Despite its timing, the ideas presented in The Bell Curve reflect the continuity of racial bigotry and prejudice that have legitimized the socioeconomic, cultural, and political oppression of people of African descent.


REFERENCES

Alland, A., Blakely, M., Brace, C., Goodman, A., Molnar, S., Rushton, J., Sarich, V., & Smedley, A. (1996). The eternal triangle: Race, class and IQ. Current Anthropology, 37, S143–S181.

Allen, G. (1995). Eugenics comes to America. In R. Jacoby & N. Glauberman (Eds.), The bell curve debate (pp. 441–475). New York: Times Books.

Appiah, K. (1995). Straightening out the bell curve. In R. Jacoby & N. Glauberman (Eds.), The bell curve debate (pp. 311–313). New York: Times Books.

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