Archive for scientific racism
It seems that the theme of intellectual inferiority along racial lines has gained renewed public attention in the past month with the Watson debacle and then, as if in his defense, the online magazine Slate’s 3-part series “Created Equal” by William Saletan appeared shortly afterward. I won’t revisit Saletan’s argument in detail here, but will point you in the direction of Daniel Koffler’s excellent vivisection of the piece. A key point of Koffler’s is this:
the principal study on which Saletan rests his case is a two-year old paper by J. Phillippe Rushton and Arthur Jensen.
To put this as fairly as it can be put: Rushton and Jensen are anything but a new wave of scholars come to shed light on a heretofore intractable problem, as Saletan presents them. On the contrary, they have spent nearly a century combined harping on the same theme again and again, in paper after paper, and that theme is black racial inferiority. (Care for a taste of just how old-fashioned they are? They group human beings into a tripartite classificatory scheme of “Caucasoids,” “Mongoloids,” and “Negroids.” It’s in the 2005 paper, and it’s roughly as credible as the Shem/Ham/Japheth theory of race.)
Koffler is correct in his assessment of this literature, and the theme of racial intellectual inferiority is one that goes back decades in the United States. Earlier in the twentieth century, this theme was applied (by white analysts from northern Europe) to white immigrants from southern and eastern Europe, who were considered to be very inferior in intelligence to native-born Americans of northern European descent. However, in the past few decades the focus has been on black Americans and other Americans of color. For example, Arthur Jensen and Richard Herrnstein, along with a handful of other white social scientists, have alleged that differences in “intelligence test” (IQ) scores are not determined primarily by environmental factors such as education, socialization, racial discrimination, and socioeconomic circumstances, but reflect genetic differences between black and white groups. These arguments will not die, because of the great white interest in perpetuating them. Such “scientists” argue that differences in “intelligence” can be reliably and accurately measured by relatively brief paper-and-pencil and object (or symbol) manipulation tests that are inaccurately labeled “IQ tests.” Groups with low social status or income are argued to be, on the average, intellectually and genetically inferior to groups with greater status and income levels simply because the former average lower scores on these relatively brief tests. These academics and associated conservative writers argue that poor and rich Americans, or black and white Americans, have such different types of intelligence that they require different educational techniques. They also express concern about high black birthrates, which they believe lower the national intelligence. Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray’s best-selling book The Bell Curve, published in 1994, argued for the discredited theory that there are significant genetically determined differences in intelligence between black Americans and white Americans. (They also explicitly discard the idea of democracy in the process of their argument, revealing their true biases. They fear ordinary people, especially those of color.)
Although the reactionary views of Jensen, Herrnstein, and Murray have been successfully refuted by many social scientists—especially their denial of environmental effects on test results—their notions about intelligence have spread to analysts and politicians around the globe. In 1971, Patrick Buchanan, then an adviser to president Richard Nixon who later became a Republican presidential candidate and television talk show pundit, picked up on Herrnstein’s arguments. In a memo to Nixon, Buchanan alleged that “every study” showed black groups had lower IQs than white groups and that Herrnstein’s views about race and IQ provided “an intellectual basis” for considering cuts in certain government programs.
In the 1930s a number of social psychologists began seriously questioning whether IQ test results could be used as evidence of genetically determined differentials. They showed how white–black differences in IQ test scores reflected major differences in education, income, and other living conditions. Numerous studies showed that test scores of black children improved with better economic and educational environments. Results from large-scale IQ testing revealed that black children and adults in some northern states scored higher than whites in some southern states. Using the logic of Jensen, Herrnstein, and Murray, one would be forced to conclude that white southerners were mentally and “racially” inferior to black Northerners. (See data gathered by Otto Klinberg as cited in I. A. Newby, Challenge to the Court (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967), p. 74. See also Thomas F. Pettigrew, A Profile of the Negro American(Princeton, NJ: D. Van Nostrand, 1964), pp. 123-126.). Most such white analysts would doubtless avoid this interpretation; obviously they, as defenders of a theory of black IQ inferiority, do not wish to argue that data on IQ might actually show black intellectual superiority. Rather, they would accept an environmental explanation for uncomplimentary regional IQ-score differentials for whites. Not surprisingly, thus, testing differentials favoring whites are also most reasonably interpreted as reflecting environmental conditions such as family income and quality of schooling, not genetic factors.
Some analysts have focused on the cultural bias—specifically, the white middle-class bias—inherent in traditional achievement and other psychometric tests (including IQ, SAT, and GRE tests), which measure only certain types of learned skills and certain acquired knowledge—skills and knowledge that are not equally available to all racial and ethnic groups because of centuries of discrimination and, thus, of low family incomes and lesser quality educational facilities. Social scientists have also found that advanced skills in achievement-test taking itself are skills that white middle-class children are more likely to possess because they and their parents have access to more substantial learning resources and are typically more familiar and experienced with such paper-and-pencil testing.
The most fundamental problem for those who insist on racial differences is the equation of these relatively brief tests’ results with general intelligence. From the beginning, the so-called intelligence (IQ) tests have been intentionally misnamed. These tests measure only selected verbal, mathematical, or manipulative skills. Clearly, they do not measure well many aspects of human abilities, such as much human creativity and imagination. They do not measure musical, artistic, farming, fishing, and many other skills that reflect human intelligence. They penalize those who do not spend their lives enmeshed in the culture of the test makers. Intelligence is much broader than what relatively short paper-and-pencil or symbol-manipulation tests can measure. Intelligence is more accurately defined as a complex ability to deal creatively with one’s environment, whatever that environment may be. At best, only a very small portion of human intellectual ability can be revealed on any short test. Given this problem of what social scientists call the “validity” of a measure, the modest and brief “intelligence” tests by no means reveal what the defenders of racial inequality claim that they do.
Someone really should sit Andrew Sullivan down and school him on racism and the roots of the IQ debate. He once again reveals his complete lack of depth on the subject in his re-hash of Watson’s comments about “race” and “IQ.” Henry Farrell over at Crooked Timber does an excellent (what’s the superlative above excellent?) job of explaining why Sullivan (and Watson’s, and Hernstein and Murray’s, and Rushton’s) take on “race and IQ” is flawed in a series of lengthy posts that you can find here. These are long posts, but well worth the time if you have an interest in this topic.
Part of what is so annoying about Sullivan’s insistence that the “data demand addressing” around IQ is that he, like so many others wedded to the notion of biological race, commits what Troy Duster refers to as the “fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” Here, Sullivan commits this fallacy in thinking that “IQ” is really an accurate measure of some sort of inherent, immutable intelligence. In fact, there’s lots of research that demonstrates what so-called IQ tests are best at measuring is class position, such as a French study by Capron and Duyme which found that children adopted by high-SES parents score higher than children adopted by low-SES parents. It seems appropriate that this is a French study, since the practice of testing for “intelligence” began in France, with Alfred Binet in 1905, specifically to find in which areas the French school children needed remedial education. Following that, it was imported to the U.S. and promoted as tool in the eugenics movement by people like Henry Herbert Goddard, America’s first intelligence tester and author of the famous American eugenics tract, The Kallikak Family. Goddard and others in the eugenics movement at the beginning of the 20th century, envisioned IQ-testing as an effective tool for addressing the social issues of their day, such as poverty, crime, prostitution, alcoholism, and immigration restriction (See, for example, Zenderland, Measuring Minds, Cambridge University Press, 1998). Indeed, if you take a look at the testimony by “social science experts” of the day who testified before Congress in the hearings prior to the widespread, and racist, 1924 immigration restrictions, many of these leading social scientists used the “evidence” from IQ tests. These tests were administered to new immigrants in English and then in a fallacy of misplaced concreteness (treating results of the IQ test “as if” it were a real, concrete thing), used the lower scores on IQ tests as evidence of their putatively lower intelligence which justified their exclusion as “worthy” immigrants and future citizens. Dr. Jonathan Plucker, Indiana University, offers this detail on Goddard’s work at Ellis Island:
In 1913 Goddard was invited to Ellis Island to help detect morons in the immigrant population. In his Intelligence Classification of Immigrants of Different Nationalities (1917) he asserted that most of the Ellis Island immigrants were mentally deficient. For example, he indicated that 83% of all Jews tested were feeble-minded, as were 80% of the Hungarians, 79% of the Italians, and 87% of the Russians. The result was that many immigrants were turned away and sent back to Europe.
I dare say that none of the contemporary anti-immigrant, anti-black (or more precisely anti-African) proponents of Watsonian-style IQ-mongering would dare to launch a convincing argument that 83% of the Jewish population is “feeble-minded.” And I hope they would take issue with the notion of a Jewish “race.”
Yesterday, The New York Times ran a piece by Amy Harmon called “In DNA Era, New Worries about Prejudice,” that requires more discussion and analysis. To start, there is a factual error in the New York Times piece that I think it’s import to draw attention to, and that is, Harmon writes:
“The DNA of any two people, they emphasized, is at least 99 percent identical.”
When, in fact, Francis Collins, the director of the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) at the National Institutes of Health, has stated that the Human Genome Project:
“helped to inform us about how remarkably similar all human beings are—99.9% at the DNA level.Those who wish to draw precise racial boundaries around certain groups will not be able to use science as a legitimate justification” (Collins and Mansoura, 2001:221).
So, that the quest to “map the difference,” the mission of the misguided HapMap Project is actually the pursuit of variation of 0.1% not 1% as stated in the article.
In the “multimedia graphic” that accompanies that Times article, the headline reads “Minute Genetic Differences Can Mean A Lot,” and then the three examples Harmon charts are 1) pale skin among “Europeans” 2) tendency to sweat “less” (which begs the question, sweat less than whom?) among “Asians” and 3) “Africans” resistance to certain diseases. This kind of pseudo-science from the Times raises more questions than it answers. What do these differences “mean”? And, what is “a lot” in this context? While the focus of the article is on the “concern” (again, one wonders among whom?) about prejudice such research will inevitably promote (such as the post by the blogger Half Sigma mentioned in the article) what both the New York Times and the blogger Half Sigma miss here is a very common fallacy. As geneticists Collins and Mansoura point out in their article, quoted above, that those who wish to draw “precise boundaries” around certain racial groups will not be able to use science as a legitimate justification. Take for example, the category “Asian” which supposedl “sweats less” in the Times piece. Who exactly does this include? Chinese? Korean (North and South?) Japanese? Indian? Pakistani? These groups have long traditions and cultures that are quite distinct from one another. It is only from the armchair vantage point of the U.S. or Europe that “Asian” has any sort of coherent meaning, and even then it is contested. In the UK for example, “Asian” is category that includes those from India and Pakistan, though that is not the typical usage here in the U.S. And, if you read the genetic literature, those conducting researchers continues to use self-identification – how people identify themselves in terms of racial/ethnic identity – as the means to identify populations for genetic study, arguing that it is more economical to categorize people based on phenotypically based notions of “race” rather than to look exclusively at individual genetic composition for prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of disease (e.g., Risch and others, 2002). Geneticists such as Risch and colleagues argue that:
“population genetic studies have recapitulated the classical definition of races based on continental ancestry—namely African, Caucasian (Europe and Middle East), Asian, Pacific Islander (for example, Australian, New Guinean, and Melanesian), and Native American” (Risch, N., Burchard, E., Ziv, E., and Tang, H. (2002). “Categorization of Humans in Biomedical Research: Genes, Race, and Disease.” Genome Biology, 2002, 3(7):3).
And, Risch and colleagues also include a figure, a line drawing, to illustrate their conceptualization of racial difference (Figure 1 from Risch et al.). This illustration, a long line with discrete, pronged lines off to one side indicating unified, distinct, and mutually exclusive racial categories, is not only incorrect in terms of the available genetic research that we are 99.9% alike, but it also flies in the face of decades of anthropological and sociological and biological research attesting to the fact that there is more variation within one of these categories than between the categories. Basically, these geneticists are using race as a heuristic device, as a “convenient short hand” for lots of other social, cultural and ancestral factors.
In a recent co-authored chapter I wrote with my colleague Amy Jo Schulz (Daniels, J., & Schulz, A.J. (2006). Constructing whiteness in health disparities research. In A. J. Schulz & L. Mullings (Eds.), Gender, Race, Class, and Health (pp. 89-127). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishing), we examined the way that whiteness and white racial privilege are being re-written into the DNA era. Here’s what we had to say about this in our chapter:
The continued use of “race” as a heuristic device for investigation at the genomic level is paradoxical, when on its face individualized genetic therapy would mean testing and categorization on the individual level. This return to the use of classical racial categories in population genetics studies despite empirical evidence documenting the clear limits of these categories as indicative of ancestry or heritage (such as the U.S. census and birth record examples described earlier in this chapter) highlights the power of these socially constructed categories within science, as well as the role of scientific research in continuing to reproduce these categories. …attributing racial variations in patterns of disease to the genetic composition of racial or ethnic groups is based on a series of imperfect assumptions. Specifically, “self-identified race is a surrogate for ancestral geographic origin, which is a surrogate for variation across the genome, which is a surrogate for variation in disease-relevant alleles, which is a surrogate for individual disease risk” (Bonham, Warshauer-Baker, and Collins, 2005:13, citing Collins, 2004). With each imperfect assumption, the link between socially constructed racial categories and genetic sources of disease gets less clear, like a copy of a copy of a copy that continues to blur with each reproduction; yet the genetic frame, and the supposedly biological basis for Whiteness, remains unchallenged. This reliance on race as a sorting mechanism of convenience in the face of genomic research that demonstrates this is a less than completely reliable proxy simultaneously naturalizes racial disparities while it holds out the promise of eliminating racial disparities in health. And it leaves the Whiteness within those disparities unexamined. (Daniels and Schulz, 2006).
The key is here is that “race” is used as a sorting mechanism of convenience. I know this from the literature, and I know this from first-hand experience. I sat on a grant review committee recently for a national-level competition for multi-million dollar grants of an agency I won’t name. The review committee was quite large, probably 25 or more scholars from around the U.S. One of the grant applications that the other reviewers (mostly from the biological sciences) rated the highest was one that proposed to look at the “genetic racial differences among Blacks and whites” to different kinds of treatment for HIV/AIDS. I rated this grant proposal among the lowest I had reviewed because of the methodology: all of the participants in the study would be sorted into the supposedly self-evident categories “Black” and “white” based on self-identification. When I raised this objection among my colleagues in the biological and health sciences, they all blinked hard, and looked at me as if I’d committed some sort of unpleasant faux pas. The chair of the committee finally acquiesced that this was a methodological flaw in the proposal, but the grant was nevertheless awarded millions of dollars. This research, like so much else being done in this field, takes an unclear category and reifies it as “scientifically real,” and then the general public (like the blogger mentioned above) picks it up and uses it to justify the already-in-place white racial frame.
Despite the fact that whiteness is often implicated in this type of genetic research, “whiteness” as a racial category remains largely unexamined and white privilege is propped up once again. Here’s more from our chapter:
Furthermore, scholars have also pointed out the impulse to attach genetic conditions to labeled racial or ethnic groups, while those attached to “Whites” remain invisible. For example, genetically linked conditions such as Tay-Sachs or sickle cell anemia have become labeled as “Jewish” and “Black” diseases respectively because they are associated with people who are descendants of Ashkenazi Jews and African Americans. However, a disease such as cystic fibrosis, which is genetically linked to subgroups of the White population, does not get labeled as difference (Katz Rothman, 1998). The link, then, between genetic condition and Whiteness is ephemeral, while the connection between genetic condition and members of (already) labeled racial and ethnic groups is intractable (Daniels and Schulz, 2006).
The last three paragraphs of the NYTimes piece come the closest to getting at this intractable quality that we point out in our chapter, and here the Times turns to Samuel Richards, at Penn State:
Race, many sociologists and anthropologists have argued for decades, is a social invention historically used to justify prejudice and persecution. But when Samuel M. Richards gave his students at Pennsylvania State University genetic ancestry tests to establish the imprecision of socially constructed racial categories, he found the exercise reinforced them instead.
One white-skinned student, told she was 9 percent West African, went to a Kwanzaa celebration, for instance, but would not dream of going to an Asian cultural event because her DNA did not match, Dr. Richards said. Preconceived notions of race seemed all the more authentic when quantified by DNA.
“Before, it was, ‘I’m white because I have white skin and grew up in white culture,’ ” Dr. Richards said. “Now it’s, ‘I really know I’m white, so white is this big neon sign hanging over my head.’ It’s like, oh, no, come on. That wasn’t the point.”
I think what Prof. Sam Richards has been doing around the issue of DNA and race is admirable, but it seems clear from his own evaluation above that students (and the broader public) miss the point about no one being of any “one race” genetically – and indeed, that this is impossible. Instead, they use that information to shore up the white racial frame already in place. We need to do more to get people thinking more critically about the race and racism “in the DNA era” and offer frameworks that counter notions of biologically-grounded racial superiority and inferiority.
Been away for a weekend and caught up on some reading that I’ll be blogging about here shortly. As an indication of blog posts to come, the books I finished reading most recently both deal with racism in visual media, from the perspective of different eras.
The first is Black, White and in Color (Princeton University Press, 2003) by Sasha Torres. Torres takes on the way the civil rights movement both used and was used by television to counter forces of racism during the civil rights era; then, takes another look at the more recent version of racism displayed on tv in the form of the Rodney King video. Interesting, compelling stuff that has me thinking and about which I’ll have more to say.
And, the second book is Photography on the Color Line: W. E. B. Du Bois, Race, and Visual Culture, (Duke University Press, 2004) by Shawn Michelle Smith (seriously cool site, btw). Smith explores up the photographic exhibit that W.E.B. Du Bois put together for the Paris Exhibit in 1900 as a response to the scientific racism and propaganda of that era, much of it which relied upon photographic “evidence.” Smith also includes a chapter on lynching photographs (which she expands in later work) that focuses the representation of white people in the photographs.
Like most of my favorite books, these raise questions as well as offer answers and analysis. More to follow on each of these, and I hope to raise some questions of my own about how these inform the current, digital era.
The folks at Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), where I did my dissertation research, do good work in my opinion. And, their website is a rich resource for those of us interested in issues of race and racism. Recent discussion here about the think tanks and scientific racism got me wondering about how scientific racism is presented on the web. What would the search terms be for someone looking for this information? I thought “race and IQ” might be likely terms, and I typed those in. This SPLC page on “IQ and Race: The Websites” came up. These are an interesting case of cyber racism and they seem to fall somewhere between the overt extremists, such as Tom Metzger’s on the one hand, and the cloaked sites that I’ve written about elsewhere. Given that research with adolescents who were mostly unable to distinguish the cloaked sites from legitimate civil rights sites, the SPLC page made me wonder how adolescents, or anyone really, might make sense of those “race” and IQ sites. All Friday morning randomness.
Following on the heels of the Watson debacle last week, British geneticist Prof. Steve Jones writes in the Telegraph that there <blockquote>”science has nothing to say about race and intelligence.” </blockquote> Would that this were true. Unfortunately, science is far too often implicated in the creation, perpetuation and justification of racism, as Dennis Rutledge explains in this peer-reviewed article from 1995. Tracing the philosophical underpinnings of scientific racism from the early work of Darwin, Spencer, and Sumner, to the intelligence testing movement led by Galton and Binet, and lastly to the contemporary race and IQ studies of Jensen, Herrnstein, and Murray, Rutledge demonstrates the ways that science is often used as a justification to propose, project, and enact racist social policies.
In the contemporary U.S., scientific racism is often incubated in ostensibly “objective” think tanks, such as the Manhattan Institute, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Pioneer Fund. William Tucker, in his book The Funding of Scientific Racism: Wickliffe Draper and the Pioneer Fund, (University of Illinois Press, 2002), explores the insidious way the Pioneer Fund has promulgated scientific racism. For example, Tucker links the Pioneer Fund’s Draper to a Klansman’s crusade to repatriate blacks in the 1930s; and, he connects later directors of the fund to campaigns organized in the 1960s to reverse the Brown decision, prevent passage of the Civil Rights Act, and implement a system of racially segregated private schools. More recently, the Pioneer Fund helped promote the scientific racism of Hernstein and Murrary’s The Bell Curve, which argues that Blacks are less intelligent than whites, and has been discredited by a number of scholarly publications, including Joe Kincheloe and colleagues’ book, Measured Lies.
Also in the line up of think tanks promoting scientific racism is the Manhattan Institute, which was created by British billionaire Avery Fisher, along with former CIA-chief William Casey. Originally the International Center for Economic Policy Studies (ICEPS), the goal of the Manhattan Institute was, according to Loic Wacquant, “to apply the principles of the market economy to social problems.” In terms of race, this meant dismantling the advances of the civil rights movement, and relocating African-Americans and poor people out of the big cities. Many of the racist policies of the Rudy Guiliani mayoral administration in New York City followed closely on the heels of Manhattan Institute reports.
It’s hard to compete with the Pioneer Fund when it comes to egregious scientific racism among think tanks, but the American Enterprise Institute certainly comes close. Lewis Brown founded AEI in 1943 to counter New Deal philosophy, and since 1986 it has been headed by Christopher DeMuth, and under his leadership AEI has taken a dramatic rightward turn. Jean Stefancic and Richard Delgado in their book, No Mercy: How Conservative Think Tanks and Foundations Changed America’s Social Agenda, report that in 1991 Bork received $150,880 from such sources; D’Souza got $98,400 plus an additional $20,000 to promote his controversial book, Illiberal Education. Deborah Toler writes about the right-wing think tank production of scientific racism for FAIR, and she pulls no punches in setting out the clear connection between AEI and overt racists:
“Still, even for the initiated, the ferocity of AEI’s work on race is quite breathtaking. Although the mainstream media are now deploring the overt racism of hate groups such as the Council of Conservative Citizens…, the fact is that there is an overlap between the analyses of “respectable” conservatives, like those at AEI, and the overt racial hatred of white supremacist organizations like CCC.”
So, while it may be easy to dismiss Watson’s remarks last week as the ravings of an elderly man with dementia, this is too easy. What’s needed is a more critical view of the way science, or perhaps more accurately, scientific propaganda is implicated in the promotion of racism.
Dr James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner for his part in discovering the structure of DNA, claims that “Black people are less intelligent” than white people, according to a story in the London Times. The article, by Helen Nugent, continues:
The 79-year-old geneticist said he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours – whereas all the testing says not really.” He said he hoped that everyone was equal, but countered that “people who have to deal with black employees find this not true.”
In the wake of this controversy, Watson’s sold-out talk at London’s Museum of Science has been cancelled. The London Times article goes on to quote Dr. Steven Rose, a professor of biological sciences at the Open University, who said:
“This is Watson at his most scandalous. He has said similar things about women before but I have never heard him get into this racist terrain. If he knew the literature in the subject he would know he was out of his depth scientifically, quite apart from socially and politically.”
There is excellent scholarship, including Rose’s book Not in Our Genes, with co-authors Lewontin and Kamin, that refutes the scientific racism of claims such as Watson’s. Of course, Troy Duster’s Backdoor to Eugenics is a more recent addition to this scholarship, and looks explicitly at the racial politics of the DNA-argument. And, in a very approachable text, Barbara Katz Rothman takes on the same issue in her The Book of Life: A Personal and Ethical Guide to Race, Normality and the Human Gene Study.
What all these scholars (Rose, Lewontin, Kamin, Duster and Katz Rothman) agree on, and what Watson fails to grasp, is that there is more variation within so-called “racial groups” than between them. Of course, Watson also misses the fact, as so many of those espousing scientific racism do, that “race” as a category fails to stand up to basic, scientific standards.
UPDATE: James D. Watson, …apologized “unreservedly” yesterday for comments reported this week suggesting that black people, over all, are not as intelligent as whites. more here from the NYTimes.