Note: I wrote this essay in 1998, under circumstances outlined below. After posting my comments recently on the passage of Proposal 2 in Michigan, it was/is time to share more on this subject. In fact, I had an interesting email dialogue on this same topic with a friend that was sparked after he read the essay below. He wondered whether I had read Race Matters, by Cornel West, which I have not. I will post that dialogue soon, and eventually read Mr. West’s book. Without further delay, I present:
Why Race Matters… NOT!
Counterpoint to Scholarly Conjecture
While it may be considered unprofessional, I am about to pan a book by a noted and respected professor and philosopher without even reading what he has to say. Why Race Matters: Race Differences and What They Mean, by Professor Michael Levin of City College of New York, is the latest book that attempts to establish an intelligence “pecking order” that is delineated by race. Professor Levin falls in line with a group of men who have attempted, in a scholarly way, to sell the idea of a racial intelligence stratum. However, his conclusions do not add up.
I sat down to write this paper after listening to an interview with Professor Levin on a local Los Angeles radio talk show, where he parroted theories that were presented by Richard J. Hernstein and Charles Murray a few years ago in their book, The Bell Curve, and Nobel Laureate William Shockley in published articles in the 1970s. He essentially concludes that among the racial “Big Three,” meaning whites, blacks, and Asians, blacks on the whole fall significantly behind whites in intelligence quotient (IQ) with an average score of 85. Whites average roughly 15 points more at 100, only three points behind the average Asian. For those who rely on numbers alone to draw their conclusions, then I guess this pretty much sums it up. This would be the key to establishing a caste system, ostensibly based on intelligence, by which to view, judge, enhance, and perhaps limit the opportunities of individuals—based on their race—from now on. Reading the glowing quotes from Professor Levin’s colleagues, it looks like his views have many enthusiastic supporters in academia. But given even a small amount of thought without a pre-existing bias, they don’t hold water.
I do not refute the numbers that the tests show. They speak for themselves, and should indeed be taken as a probability indicator. However, the data should not be construed to be a descriptor of human coding, genetic or otherwise, for it is not an indication of intelligence, either relative or absolute.
I do refute the conclusions that Professor Levin and other proponents of the race stratification idea draw from the numbers, and the importance that they are attempting to place on them. Said importance is more for personal and professional gain than any attempt to provide meaningful information to humanity. At a $65 asking price, it appears the publisher doesn’t expect to sell many copies of this book, except perhaps by inciting a few Jerry Springer-like or WWF inspired confrontations during interviews. However, there are likely to be enough people and libraries out there that will buy it on the basis of its scholarly presentation.
Professor Levin’s theories are presented with just the right dose of scholarly objectivity to give people with decidedly less IQ than himself all the sanctioning they need to continue hating people of different races. But, it’s not based on race. Hatred, fear, and resentment will indeed lower one’s IQ, for these states of consciousness stifle genius. However, they are states of consciousness. Remove the hatred, fear, envy, and resentment, IQ will rise as creativity, humanity, and the willingness to share it, is revealed. These changes are not conditioned by race whatsoever, except if individuals believe that they are. Professor Levin’s theory does us all a disservice because it attempts to prop up this bogus idea as a truth for the public to believe in.
Clearly, being a professor or philosopher (or in my case, the phaelosopher) doesn’t make one’s views intelligent, even if a test says that they have a high IQ. Professor Levin’s conclusions represent an exhaustive case-in-point.
Please note that I have not accused Professor Levin of being a racist. Whether he is, or is not, is of no concern to me. I do not know his motivation. However, the idea that he has claimed to have researched and hold ownership to is important. Left on its own, without reasoned counterpoint, it takes on the veneer of truth, and would not be mitigated by emotional responses. Fortunately, it does not require $65 and 425 pages to show that his views are not unquestionable.
If we accept that in standard intelligence tests, blacks do indeed score lower than whites on the whole, who also score lower than Asians, it does not mean that Asians are genetically smarter, or more intelligent than blacks or whites, or that whites are smarter or more intelligent than blacks. It means that Asians are, on the whole and at this point in time, more focused in their determination to possess and demonstrate knowledge than members of the other groups. They are more dedicated to mastering certain skills, or information; all for some very practical, though not genetic reasons.
The determination of Asian citizens in the United States manifests as behavior in their drive to excel scholastically, and their high level of cooperation and support – not only for other Asians but also, for anyone needing the knowledge, talents, or services they have to offer. It results in a culture where, in Southern California, even Asian gang members maintain “B” averages or better in school. This has no bearing on innate intelligence. It is much more a function of values that have been inculcated into their culture. The more relevant the knowledge that one can master, the more valuable the skill, the more options they will create and/or exercise in the course of their lifetime. This is particularly true in a land where one is free to envision his or her most wonderful dreams, and make them real. It is a process that can never be achieved via government decree or political policy.
By way of contrast, black Americans appear not to be as culturally invested, or collectively galvanized to participate in the scholastic derby without some form of remedial, institutionally enforced “net,” as compared to whites or Asians. They also appear not to be as collectively dedicated to supporting each other in the demonstration of intelligence, or willing to collaborate, without bias, with members of other groups. As an example, consider the popularity of ebonics, and the attempts that were made – often led by black educators – to legitimize it as a “black language.” Some educators even went so far as to suggest that this practice of fractured linguistics might have had a genetic basis.
Ebonics, and other forms of sub-cultural communications like gang graffiti, evolved out of the adopting group’s desire to have a franchise on communication that was separate and distinct from the mainstream. However, it also tends to alienate the adopters, as they tend, through disdain, to lose touch with the mainstream’s way of communicating. IQ tests only measure how well an individual or group is paying attention to, understanding, and demonstrating a “mainstream” way of thinking and communicating. Change the test, and those who scored, as genius would appear dumb. We should also acknowledge that, over time, what constitutes “the mainstream” will itself change.
Generally speaking blacks are more so invested than Asians and to a lesser degree, whites, in modes of physical expression such as sports, dancing, and entertainment; also for very practical reasons. This is a residual example of coping behavior that was adopted during slavery and passed on to succeeding generations, to survive what has been a far more dangerous social environment for blacks in America even as recently as thirty years ago, and in very isolated instances, an hour ago. While things have gotten much, much better since then, many blacks have not yet given up the non-threatening behaviors, or the deep-seated anger of their forebears. How they fare on IQ tests presents a clear picture of where their attention and energy has not been focused. However, if they do choose to turn their determined attention in this area, the numbers will rise over time. Dr. Levin’s theory holds no such hope.
Here are some examples of what non-threatening behavior in America used to be. Blacks, and particularly black men, clearly had no extraordinary dreams or aspirations beyond perhaps playing with a football or basketball as entertainment pawns and chips. In general they dream of having a job and not being castigated by others simply for being what they are… beige, brown, and dark brown-complexioned humans. This makes them excellent, productive members of a workforce, but rarely leaders in the realm of innovation and ideas. They are great, and highly, if not openly prized, though under-appreciated assets for any society.
It has also been considered “non-threatening” behavior for blacks to content themselves with victimizing each other, warring among themselves, and most of all, staying mad or angry at the world. However, irrespective of race, an angry man or woman is powerless because he or she can be manipulated by and through the emotions. This is applies to angry feminists as well.
Passion is the only emotion that liberates. As long as individuals stay angry – blaming someone or something else for their problems – they’ll remain powerless. They’ll also be visionless, unable to see a way out of, or through their situation if it should become untenable. On the whole, Asians do not appear to be angry. They face the same kinds of discrimination from both whites and blacks. But they tend to set the emotional shackles aside, and then persevere, undaunted. If you question this assertion, do the math. See the results.
It has become trendy in these days of boutique rage (e.g., road rage, air rage, supermarket rage, etc.), to be angry, almost as much as it is to be a victim. Rudeness is on the upswing as well. Many whites are sliding down the slippery slope of rage, marinating in rudeness, and flirting with the forbidden fruit of victimhood. It’s a slide that blacks should be encouraging them not to take, but instead some may actually be enjoying the fall as it represents one way that the “playing field” of perceived racial opportunity and privilege, gets leveled. However, some blacks, as well as many whites, appear to be gettin’ over in the angry victim game, and are glamorizing being “bad” as the ultimate statement of cool. What they are really doing is helping perpetuate the powerlessness of those who embrace their examples. While a generation invests itself in ill-fitting clothes and fractured language, they are also losing valuable time and opportunity to gain skills that will enable their own self-determination. In this sense, many blacks and a growing number of whites are peas in the same sorry pod.
The Asian phenomenon is not eugenic. It has evolved through environmental, cultural, and historic factors. Remember that at the end of World War II, the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Do not think for a moment that this was not a wakeup call of sorts to all of Asia, including Mainland China. It had a galvanizing effect, first on the people of Japan, who totally reinvested themselves in non-destructive, technological, industrial, and financial pursuits. The proclivity fanned out over the entire area, spreading to Hong Kong, Korea and other countries.
This is pure speculation, but it is quite possible that if the war was in a different theater, and the U.S. had dropped atomic bombs on nations in Africa, the same kind of mass social behavioral shift might have occurred. That is, provided the survivors did not harbor anger toward Americans and went forth to rebuild their lives, as Asians appear to have done. There is no corollary in known human history for how a people will respond given the devastation that was heaped on Japan at the end of World War II. But it is clear that in a relatively short period of time they made a remarkable recovery. It is likely that before the bomb their IQs would have tested lower on American standard tests, and higher afterwards.
The War in Vietnam had a similar galvanizing effect in Southeast Asia. Vietnamese people had to feel for, and protect each other in the face of the looming threat by political forces of the West and East. Those who have come to America, believing it to be a land where freedom is a real idea, must be the most motivated, focused, and determined of all. What’s more, they have come here with hope, and without animus toward their new, chosen home. As such, it is not a surprise to see that many Asian people are indeed excelling. They are not overnight successes. They are simply, succeeding at building new lives, using freedoms that are available in America – equally or not, but nonetheless available – to people of all races.
Blacks can compare their historical trials and tribulations with other groups all they want. I would not refute or deny that said tribulations were, and are real. However, this does not mitigate the fact that greater achievement is possible, but takes vision, time, energy, desire, effort, and continued determination. It also takes belief, not only in one’s ability to achieve, but also in what they are achieving for. Finally, it requires a sort of self-emancipation from fear, envy, and resentment. Irrespective of their race, if a man or woman does not believe that they can go as far as their dreams will take them, then they will either scale back their dreams, or not work as hard as they can to achieve them. If fear, envy, and resentment toward other groups consume them, then that will be their preoccupation. Either way, they will take on the profile of a powerless underclass.
The solution to this dilemma is not in creating an intelligence hierarchy and declaring blacks to be the dimmest bulbs, whites brighter, and Asians the brightest. It lies in the hands, minds, and hearts of blacks to get on with the business and art of living today, as many members of other racial groups appear to be doing. Black identifying individuals must now be willing to equate the pursuit and demonstration of excellence, along with service to humanity, with being free, instead of suggesting that it means one is “acting white.”
Achievers not only believe in their dreams, they are willing to take the risks necessary to make them happen. They are also willing to take responsibility when their risks do not pan out as envisioned. Then, they make new plans and try new approaches. They do not have time to blame someone else for their failure, for to see one’s self as a failure is to have concluded that they couldn’t succeed. To make this conclusion is to never have really believed in the first place.
Does this end the debate over who is smarter and who is not? Probably not. But it is great food for thought. Freedom is a choice that many more people are able to experience than are actually choosing to do so. The freedom that I refer to is not necessarily one that comes from wealth, but from loving something so much that it is a joy to experience, and to share with others. Love is color blind, as is freedom. But we must embrace both. The magic of love and freedom cannot touch us if we will not allow our minds to see, and believe in the great potential that our hearts can imagine. This is the crux of the statistical problem, for IQ tests measure actualized behavior, and conclude that it represents all that a group is capable of doing. Scholarly or not, it would be a big mistake to believe that.