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Kenan Malik on the IQ of Black Americans

Thursday, November 17, 2016 0:46
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(Before It's News)

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It's interesting that Kenan Malik offers a short account of various academics who've published well-publicised and controversial papers and books which argue that the IQ of black Americans is lower than that of white Americans. He mentions Arthur Jenson (an academic at Harvard University), Richard Herrnstein (another Harvard academic and joint author of The Bell Curve) and the British psychologist, Hans Eysenck. At the end of the paragraph, Malik states the following:
Meanwhile, the rise of inner-city violence, particularly in America, has led a number of scientists to consider the biological reasons for aggressive behaviour.”(185)
and that's it! No further commentary except to say that “opponents of such claims [are] more determined to challenge them” (185). But Malik doesn't challenge them. Perhaps this isn't place to do so. In addition, it can of course be the case that aggressive behaviourcan be studied without any focus on race. Nonetheless, Malik does make a statement about “biological reasons for aggressive behaviour” just before the comments about black IQs.
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Malik hints at why he doesn't tackle claims about the IQ of blacks by discussing the statements of Margaret Mead on the subject. Firstly, Malik says that Mead “took a conscious decision not to explore the biological bases of human behaviour” (181). He then quotes Mead herself giving the reason for this. She said that it would be “dangerous” (Malik's word) because “'of the very human tendency to associate particular traits with sex or age or race, physique or skin colour'” (181). What's more, Mead concludes by saying the following:
'It seemed clear to us that further study of inborn differences would have to wait upon less troubled times.'”(181)
This isn't to argue that there aren't arguments elsewhere (there are). However, it seems that both Mead and Malik today (to quote Mead again) simply assumed that racial scientists “'make invidious comparisons based on such arbitrary associations'” (181). (Why “invidious”? Were all the “associations” truly “arbitrary”?) As I said, arguments against racial science and IQ testing exist elsewhere. Nonetheless, platitudinous remarks and smug assumptions seem to rule the roost on most occasions when race is discussed.
Malik also makes an astonishing claim when he confesses (if that's the correct word) that “[s]tatistically, the average IQ of African Americans is lower than that of white Americans” (224). Nonetheless, he immediately states that
unless we believe that African Americans are less intelligent than whites, we must recognise than an important part of the explanation lies in the social position of African Americans as a whole in American society”(224).
It appears that because Malik stresses the important impact of culture – and therefore politics – on science, then this must be an ideal case to give a political (rather than a scientific) explanation of the facts. Indeed since conscience and morality/ethics are part of culture, perhaps it's only right andproperto simply assumethat the differences of IQ between blacks and whites simply must be to do with the “social position of African Americans in America today”. However, at least prima facie, the first way to interpret the fact that black IQs are lower than white IQs is because of genes or brains. Sure, such a quick conclusion can never contain the entire truth; yet at least it must be so much as stated.
The other possible conclusion is that American blacks have a poor “social position” partly because of their low IQs. After all, many other American racial groups – which started off with disadvantaged social positions – eventually became more and more successful and better off (such as Jews, the Chinese, the Irish and so on).
Throughout his book Malik (either directly or indirectly) stresses the point that it's scientifically – and perhaps philosophically – illiterate to stress biology at the expense of what he calls “culture”. True, yet – in this passage at least – Malik stresses culture (or “social position”) at the expense of biology. Indeed even though Malik repeatedly refers to that binary opposition between biology or genes and culture, he does seem to come down on the culture side on every occasion – not only this one.
Malik also repeatedly stresses that individual scientific theories partly – sometimes wholly – express the culture and therefore the politics of their day. Does that mean that Malik's science expresses the the anti-racismof our day? After all, Malik says that all science (even anti-racist science) must express the politics or culture of its day.
None of this is to deny that American blacks have experienced what Malik calls “social discrimination” and that they've done so “as a group” (which, to Malik, means this isn't about “individual blacks”). Nonetheless, Malik focuses entirely on such social discrimination and seems to assume – or conclude – that this is the entire explanation of the fact that American blacks have lower IQs than American whites.
Perhaps this is an argument against what's called “methodological individualism” (which Malik critically mentions elsewhere). That is, cultural/political interpretations trump biological/genetic interpretations when it comes to statistics… and much else. The IQ of individualblack Americans, then, isn't to the point. (Not even the IQs of large groups of black individuals is to the point.) What matters is “African Americans as a group” (Malik's italics). And such a group suffers from “social discrimination”. That must mean that culture and/or politics not only trumps biology, it also trumps statistics and IQ scores.
Malik puts the case against methodological individualism(without using those two words) more explicitly – and on the same page – when he writes that
[u]nlike animals, for whom social behaviour can be understood as the sum of individual actions, for humans there are aspects of the social which are irreducible to the individual level, and which can only be understood in social terms”(224).
Malik backs up his argument with a quote from the philosopher Bernard Williams. Thus:
'What is true is that each action is explained, in the first place, by an individual's psychology; what is not true is that the individual's psychology is entirely explained by psychology.'”(225)

At least in this instance, Bernard Williams stresses both sides of the binary opposition that is (individualistic)psychology versus culture. Nonetheless, this may well be a rather innocuous (i.e., non-political) point about philosophical externalism (a position in the philosophy of mind). In other words, Williams (in the quote above) mightn't have been singing from the same (political) hymn-sheet as Malik himself.

*) All quotations are from Kenan Malik's Man, Beast and Zombie


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  • The only think the IQ test measure is “conformability ” . Another words one’s innate ability to conform to what society requires

  • Even if there is some truth to this, it could largely be due to the fact that many blacks live in inner cities in food deserts without access to adequate nutrition, which would have a humongous impact on neural development. Then there’s also the fact that many inner city schools—especially those in impoverished black neighborhoods—are particularly subpar.

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