If Herrnstein and Murray could devote one chapter of the The Bell Curve to Black IQ, the least I could do is devote one chapter of my less scholarly scamper through HBD to the same issue.
The original title I planned was “The Black Hole,” which besides offering a cheap play on words was a reference to how discussions or racial IQ differences are like a black hole: if sucked in, you may never leave. On reflection, it did not seem that clever and I feared that someone, somewhere (in the vastness of our galaxy?) would find the title inflammatory (black hole = waste, destructive, etc.)
Putting strong gravitational fears aside, this White (but not necessarily smart) blogger investigates. If I don’t return, send out a search party.
Of all topics in HBD, the Black/White difference is most often mentioned and raises the most heat. At its simplest, The Bell Curve, and at least some science, state that the average IQ of Black Americans is significantly lower than that of Whites (85 versus 100) and such a significant difference is reflected in social outcomes. This does not exclude discrimination but suggests that intelligence differences probably have stronger explanative power than discrimination (or at least, discrimination alone).
A significant gap (15 points is one standard deviation for the whole population average) leads to noticeable, and unfortunate, differences in outcomes. Not everyone is average; some end up higher, some lower. However, a population average sets the center point around which everyone clusters; as you move away from the average, you find increasingly fewer individuals. If the IQ is average is 100 you will find moderately sized clumps of people at 115 and beyond (about the level needed for college/professional activities). A much smaller fraction will reach out as far as 130 (advanced college, scientists, law, finance). With an average IQ of 100, the top 15 percent (115+) or so will be fully intellectually capable of college level courses and professional careers, the top 5 percent (130+) will be capable of more advanced studies or occupations.
An average of just 85 means that considerably fewer Blacks will have the intelligence required for many management and professional positions, and fewer will have the capabilities to complete a reasonably rigorous college education. Assuming an average of 85 and standard deviation of 15, you would be reaching into the top 5 percent of Blacks before you arrived at college/professional level abilities and beyond the top one percent before you got to advance studies level.
On the other side of the achievement measure, we would find that less than one percent of Whites would have an IQ of less than 70, whereas around 15 percent of Blacks would.
An IQ of 70 or below makes successful independent living more difficult. I suspect that many “Black problems” arise from this segment of the population.
It is true that we could arrive at such outcomes from discrimination only, but intelligence differences would explain them just as well, if not better: the slight Asian, and larger Jewish IQ advantage have mirror image outcomes (larger professional class, smaller “problem” class).
While I consider racial differences in average intelligence strongly plausible, I am less certain of their “fixed” nature. Even small changes in average levels could have major changes at the ends (moving more into professional/academic levels and – more importantly – moving many out of problem levels).
Perhaps this belief derives more from optimism than any scientific knowledge because I realize we cannot have a society that leaves behind (even with no ill intent) a significant segment of the population. I suspect that public discussion of the issue raises the same problem I had writing this: no matter how you phrase it, you cannot discuss racial differences in intelligence without implying a hierarchy; you cannot avoid sounding as if you are expressing (perhaps actually falling into the trap of) supremacist thinking.
On the other hand, some understanding of these differences might ease tension. It is painful to realize you might never achieve professional status; it might cause less bitterness to understand that it is not because someone hates you and blocked your way (similar to the small guy realizing he will never make the football team, it sucks but that’s life). Admitting that there is an ability gap might help close the achievement gap, as we structure education to maximize potential rather then send everyone to a college they may never reasonably complete. Realizing that intelligence is a gift that is not evenly distributed, might lower the stigma attached to lack of academic or career achievement.
Many dismiss discussions of racial differences with a “so what?” as they rush to move onto more comfortable topics. Those who do pursue the topic are left with an even more uncomfortable question: “Now what?” Perhaps it is the difficulty in answering the “now what?” question that is the real problem.
It used be said that cleanliness is next to Godliness; I suspect that much of the discomfort over discussing racial IQ differences stems from the fact that in modern societies we consider intelligence as next to Godliness. A discussion on how Dutch men tend to be taller than Mexican men would not cause such outrage, but comparisons of intelligence appear to apply some form of hierarchy (indeed, in a world heavily influenced by cognitive abilities it certainly points to an outcomes hierarchy).
While I hope I presented the numbers and statistical inferences correctly, do not become caught up on numbers. Whether the average is 85 or 90, the standard deviation 15 or 16, or some number represents the top 5 or 3 percent is less important than the fact that large difference in abilities will lead to large difference in outcomes. More importantly, very low levels of abilities will tend to lead to problems with productive and independent living.
Regarding the above: For a blogger to screw up on quantitative analysis while discussing intelligence (especially “how dumb Black people are”) would be a sweet irony to some. I will smile along with them, as I do not put intelligence next to Godliness, even as I recognize its importance. I will, however, gladly update the piece with any corrections from my more numerically minded right-enders.
The Bell Curve was written by a smart Jew and a smart White guy, if only they could have added Amy “Tiger Mom” Chua they would have the perfect a trifecta.