that we know two facts beyond much doubt. First, the conventional environmental explanation of the black-white difference [in IQ] is inadequate. Poverty, bad schools, and racism, which seem such obvious culprits, do not explain it. Insofar as the environment is the cause, it is not the sort of environment we know how to change, and we have tried every practical remedy that anyone has been able to think of. Second, regardless of one’s reading of the competing arguments, we are left with an IQ difference that has, at best, narrowed by only a few points over the last century. I can find nothing in the history of this difference, or in what we have learned about its causes over the last ten years, to suggest that any faster change is in our future.I want to emphasize this point:
Insofar as the environment is the cause, it is not the sort of environment we know how to change, and we have tried every practical remedy that anyone has been able to think of.That's entirely consistent with what has been said by Thomas Sowell (a noted black scholar of conservative-libertarian persuasion), both in his commentary on The Bell Curve and in his recent writings about race and culture. Here's what Sowell said about The Bell Curve soon after its publication:
Whatever innate potential various groups may have, what they actually do will be done within some particular culture. That intractable reality cannot be circumvented by devising "culture-free" tests, for such tests would also be purpose-free in a world where there is no culture-free society.
Perhaps the strongest evidence against a genetic basis for intergroup differences in IQ is that the average level of mental test performance has changed very significantly for whole populations over time and, moreover, particular ethnic groups within the population have changed their relative positions during a period when there was very little intermarriage to change the genetic makeup of these groups.
While The Bell Curve cites the work of James R. Flynn, who found substantial increases in mental test performances from one generation to the next in a number of countries around the world, the authors seem not to acknowledge the devastating implications of that finding for the genetic theory of intergroup differences. . . .
Even before Professor Flynn's studies, mental test results from American soldiers tested in World War II showed that their performances on these tests were higher than the performances of American soldiers in World War I by the equivalent of about 12 IQ points. Perhaps the most dramatic changes were those in the mental test performances of Jews in the United States. The results of World War I mental tests conducted among American soldiers born in Russia--the great majority of whom were Jews--showed such low scores as to cause Carl Brigham, creator of the Scholastic Aptitude Test, to declare that these results "disprove the popular belief that the Jew is highly intelligent." Within a decade, however, Jews in the United States were scoring above the national average on mental tests, and the data in The Bell Curve indicate that they are now far above the national average in IQ.
. . . For Jews, it is clear that later tests showed radically different results--during an era when there was very little intermarriage to change the genetic makeup of American Jews.
My own research of twenty years ago showed that the IQs of both Italian-Americans and Polish-Americans also rose substantially over a period of decades. Unfortunately, there are many statistical problems with these particular data, growing out of the conditions under which they were collected. However, while my data could never be used to compare the IQs of Polish and Italian children, whose IQ scores came from different schools, nevertheless the close similarity of their general patterns of IQ scores rising over time seems indicative--especially since it follows the rising patterns found among Jews and among American soldiers in general between the two world wars, as well as rising IQ scores in other countries around the world. . . .
Herrnstein and Murray openly acknowledge such rises in IQ and christen them "the Flynn effect," in honor of Professor Flynn who discovered it. But they seem not to see how crucially it undermines the case for a genetic explanation of interracial IQ differences. They say:
The national averages have in fact changed by amounts that are comparable to the fifteen or so IQ points separating blacks and whites in America. To put it another way, on the average, whites today differ from whites, say, two generations ago as much as whites today differ from blacks today. Given their size and speed, the shifts in time necessarily have been due more to changes in the environment than to changes in the genes.
While this open presentation of evidence against the genetic basis of interracial IQ differences is admirable, the failure to draw the logical inference seems puzzling. Blacks today are just as racially different from whites of two generations ago as they are from whites today. Yet the data suggest that the number of questions that blacks answer correctly on IQ tests today is very similar to the number answered correctly by past generations of whites. If race A differs from race B in IQ, and two generations of race A differ from each other by the same amount, where is the logic in suggesting that the IQ differences are even partly racial? . . .. . . When any factor differs as much from Al to A2 as it does from A2 to B2, why should one conclude that this factor is due to the difference between A in general and B in general? That possibility is not precluded by the evidence, but neither does the evidence point in that direction.(2.)
In footnote 2 Sowell concedes that "rising IQs over time do not refute the belief that races differ in IQ for genetic reasons, though it ought to at least raise a question about that belief."
But let us continue with Sowell's main theme, which is that persistent inter-racial differences in IQ can be attributed to persistent cultural differences. Writing recently in OpinionJournal, Sowell paraphrases his essay "Black Rednecks and White Liberals," from the eponymous book. Here's some of what he has to say:
If East Asians and Azhkenazic Jews could rise to the top of the IQ charts, as they have, why can't blacks rise too? Sowell would answer that they could rise, if only they would break the bonds of the "black redneck" culture, which hinders so many of them. The law cannot break those bonds, for, as Sowell argues, the law only reinforces those bonds by making blacks dependent on the affirmative action, welfare programs, and other "white liberal" contrivances.
There have always been large disparities, even within the native black population of the U.S. Those blacks whose ancestors were "free persons of color" in 1850 have fared far better in income, occupation, and family stability than those blacks whose ancestors were freed in the next decade by Abraham Lincoln.
What is not nearly as widely known is that there were also very large disparities within the white population of the pre-Civil War South and the white population of the Northern states. Although Southern whites were only about one-third of the white population of the U.S., an absolute majority of all the illiterate whites in the country were in the South.
The North had four times as many schools as the South, attended by more than four times as many students. Children in Massachusetts spent more than twice as many years in school as children in Virginia. Such disparities obviously produce other disparities. Northern newspapers had more than four times the circulation of Southern newspapers. Only 8% of the patents issued in 1851 went to Southerners. Even though agriculture was the principal economic activity of the antebellum South at the time, the vast majority of the patents for agricultural inventions went to Northerners. Even the cotton gin was invented by a Northerner.
Disparities between Southern whites and Northern whites extended across the board from rates of violence to rates of illegitimacy. American writers from both the antebellum South and the North commented on the great differences between the white people in the two regions. So did famed French visitor Alexis de Tocqueville.
None of these disparities can be attributed to either race or racism. Many contemporary observers attributed these differences to the existence of slavery in the South, as many in later times would likewise attribute both the difference between Northern and Southern whites, and between blacks and whites nationwide, to slavery. But slavery doesn't stand up under scrutiny of historical facts any better than race or racism as explanations of North-South differences or black-white differences. The people who settled in the South came from different regions of Britain than the people who settled in the North--and they differed as radically on the other side of the Atlantic as they did here--that is, before they had ever seen a black slave.
Slavery also cannot explain the difference between American blacks and West Indian blacks living in the United States because the ancestors of both were enslaved. When race, racism, and slavery all fail the empirical test, what is left?
Culture is left.
The culture of the people who were called "rednecks" and "crackers" before they ever got on the boats to cross the Atlantic was a culture that produced far lower levels of intellectual and economic achievement, as well as far higher levels of violence and sexual promiscuity. That culture had its own way of talking, not only in the pronunciation of particular words but also in a loud, dramatic style of oratory with vivid imagery, repetitive phrases and repetitive cadences.
Although that style originated on the other side of the Atlantic in centuries past, it became for generations the style of both religious oratory and political oratory among Southern whites and among Southern blacks--not only in the South but in the Northern ghettos in which Southern blacks settled. It was a style used by Southern white politicians in the era of Jim Crow and later by black civil rights leaders fighting Jim Crow. Martin Luther King's famous speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 was a classic example of that style.
While a third of the white population of the U.S. lived within the redneck culture, more than 90% of the black population did. Although that culture eroded away over the generations, it did so at different rates in different places and among different people. It eroded away much faster in Britain than in the U.S. and somewhat faster among Southern whites than among Southern blacks, who had fewer opportunities for education or for the rewards that came with escape from that counterproductive culture.
Nevertheless the process took a long time. As late as the First World War, white soldiers from Georgia, Arkansas, Kentucky and Mississippi scored lower on mental tests than black soldiers from Ohio, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. Again, neither race nor racism can explain that--and neither can slavery.
The redneck culture proved to be a major handicap for both whites and blacks who absorbed it. Today, the last remnants of that culture can still be found in the worst of the black ghettos, whether in the North or the South, for the ghettos of the North were settled by blacks from the South. The counterproductive and self-destructive culture of black rednecks in today's ghettos is regarded by many as the only "authentic" black culture--and, for that reason, something not to be tampered with. Their talk, their attitudes, and their behavior are regarded as sacrosanct.
The people who take this view may think of themselves as friends of blacks. But they are the kinds of friends who can do more harm than enemies.
If culture is the enemy of black advancement, the only way blacks can advance is to abandon the culture that many of them have transported from inner cities to suburbia, where they encounter white culture in many places, including public schools. There, the cultural divide becomes obvious in the phenomemon known as "acting white," the subject of an article by Harvard economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. and graduate student Paul Torelli, "An Empirical Analysis of 'Acting White'." The Washington Post's Richard Morin summarizes:
As commonly understood, acting white is a pejorative term used to describe black students who engage in behaviors viewed as characteristic of whites, such as making good grades, reading books or having an interest in the fine arts.
The phenomenon is one reason some social thinkers give to help explain at least a portion of the persistent black-white achievement gap in school and in later life. Popularity-conscious young blacks, afraid of being seen as acting white, steer clear of behaviors that could pay dividends in the future, including doing well in school. . . .
No one can change such attitudes but blacks themselves.
If "black redneck" culture is the cause of the inter-racial gap in IQ, and if blacks choose to perpetuate the "black redneck" culture, then the perpetuation of the IQ gap might as well be genetic. For, it will be the result of blacks' self-imposed servitude to the forces of ignorance.
Recommended reading: Race and Intelligence (a Wikipedia article with many links to sources and opposing views)
Related posts: Affirmative Action and Race (a collection of links)