In a world where Kevin Garnett, Harold Ford, and Halle Berry all check "black" on the census, even the argument that racial labels refer to natural differences in physical traits doesn't hold up.
TA-NEHISI COATES MAY 15 2013, 12:55 PM ET
Most of the honest writing I've seen on "race and intelligence" focuses on critiquing the idea of "intelligence." So there's lot of good literature on whether it can be measured, its relevance in modern society, whether intelligence changes across generations, whether it changes with environment, and what we mean when we say IQ. As Freddie mentions here, I had a mathematician stop past to tell me I needed to stop studying French, and immediately start studying statistics -- otherwise I can't possibly understand this debate.
Walter White. Chairman of the NAACP. Black dude.
It's a fair critique. My response is that he should stop studying math and start studying history.
I am not being flip or coy. If you tell me that you plan to study "race and intelligence" then it is only fair that I ask you, "What do you mean by race?" It's true I don't always do math so well, but I understand the need to define the terms of your study. If you're a math guy, perhaps your instinct is to point out the problems in the interpretation of the data. My instinct is to point out that your entire experiment proceeds from a basic flaw -- no coherent, fixed definition of race actually exists.
A. Or consider your photographic example, Walter White (presumably the ironic namesake of the anti-hero of "Breaking Bad," but that's a whole different story). Walter White was 27/32nd white, the direct descendant of two Presidents. Or consider former NAACP head Julian Bond in the SNL video from the 1970s above. Or consider the current NAACP president Benjamin Jealous, who looks like Mark Ruffalo. (There'a reason the dark-skinned masses called mixed-race elites of the NAACP the "National Association for the Advancement of Certain People.")
Presumably, these are guys with IQs > 100. How in the world would moving them from the black to the white category narrow the IQ gap?
Take your time and think about it. Get back to me when you've done the arithmetic.
To drop out of the FAQ format, I'm fascinated by the terrible statistical sense displayed by pundits in the race-IQ debate. Evolutionary psychology suggests that human beings ought to be pretty decent at statistics. And, indeed, we see that intelligent people are pretty good at figuring out which are low crime neighborhoods to buy a home in and which are low violence schools to send their kids to, even if they aren't particularly good at math.
Yet, when they try to talk about the statistics of race and IQ, they seem completely inept. Why?
It's a little like conspiracy theorizing, where the most popular conspiracy theories are almost always wrong, even though conspiracies really do play a massive role in history.
For example, there's a new major history of World War One out that traces the origin of the Great War to one man's conspiracy: Dragutin Dimitrijevic, called Apis, the head of Serbian military intelligence, who arranged the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. But I was unaware of that name until Greg Cochran told me it when I was about 45. Nobody is interested in Dragutin Dimitrijevic even though he organized the most catastrophic conspiracy since the assassination of Julius Caesar. Conspiracy theorists would rather pull out their toenails than discuss how Dimitrijevic's conspiracy blew up the world.
Same with race and IQ: pundits seem to have an instinct, a magnetic attraction, for being wrong.