Race and IQ: changing my mind

This is an official announcement: I have changed my mind about something. Or maybe it is more accurate to say that new evidence is opening my mind to other possibilities – as it should. For the longest time I was persuaded, on rational grounds, that the gap in the United States between whites and black IQ scores was a largely genetic issue (approximately 70-80 percent) . After all, better scientists than I argued this way in The Bell Curve. Richard Lynn also argued this way, on possibly weaker statistical grounds.

The success of a couple of generations of children of African immigrants in the United States has damaged the credibility of theories predicated on inherited IQ.

I cite Chanda Chisala in the Unz Review:


The fact that black immigrants to the United States have shown achievements that are superior to native black Americans has been a phenomenon studied since at least the 1970′s. At first it was just the Caribbean blacks who were a subject of this unexpected outcome. As black Africans kept immigrating into the US, they showed even higher levels of achievement than the native blacks. Many scholars theorized on the reasons for these differences, from Thomas Sowell’s proposal that this disproved the validity of discrimination against native blacks as an explanation for their underachievement (Sowell, 1978), to other scholars who suggested that these immigrants were just the most highly driven members of their home countries as evidenced by their willingness to migrate to a foreign country (Butcher, 1990).

What most of these theories failed to predict was that the children of these immigrants would also show exceptional achievements, especially academically. It is only in recent years, as the immigrants have stayed long enough to produce a sufficiently high number of offspring, that it has been observed that they are over-represented among high academic achievers, especially when compared to native blacks, particularly at very elite institutions. What has been missed in the IQ debate is the full logical implication of these achievements: they have effectively nullified any arguments for a racial evolutionary explanation of the well-known IQ test score gap between blacks and whites. Even more fatal for the racial hereditarian side of the debate has been the corroborating data of school children performance in the UK, particularly when the black Africans are divided into their respective nationalities and tribal ethnicities, as reported in the latter section of this article.

The article is long but worth reading for those who concern themselves with such issues.


Thomas Sowell, a thinker and researcher at the Hoover Institute at Harvard, has argued that American blacks adopted the culture of the Scotch-Irish crackers who surrounded them. The book is called Black Rednecks and White Liberals, published in 2005. Thus a good deal of what is blamed on black ghetto culture is ascribed to ne’er do well hillbillies from whom the African slaves picked up ideas of work, child rearing, and social display. Sowell’s argument says that African Americans should not be indulged by white liberals in what he thinks is a loser culture; whether that culture arose from contact with rednecks or whether it arose from other causes is not ultimately of vital interest to Sowell. He is concerned of the use made by white liberals of American blacks.

“A crucial fact about white liberals must be kept in mind: they are not simply in favor of blacks in general. Their solicitude is poured out  for blacks as victims, blacks as welfare mothers, criminals, political activists against the larger society, as well as those blacks who serve as general counter-cultural symbols against the larger society.” (p.57)

Sowell’s concern has been the development of a black identity fetish since the 1960s, where being authentically “black” has been associated with low achievement, where earning and culture have been depicted as “acting white”. Harry Belafonte, a Caribbean immigrant to the United States, turned  on Colin Powell, another successful Caribbean black immigrant, who had been Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff of the US military, by calling him a “house nigger”.

Sowell maintains a strongly “culturalist” explanation of apparent racial differences. The interesting thing about Chanda Chisala’s article and the evidence it cites is that we have a much stronger basis for considering cultural explanations to be better grounded now than the genetic one, for supposedly racial IQ differences. This is a cause for hope, perhaps, that some things can be changed for the better.

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