September 5, 2009 Leave a comment
Consider the statements x and y;
x) black people today are not equal to white people;
y) intelligence is up to 70% hereditary so inequality is natural.
Which one is the racist view? With statement y, were intelligence to be 70% hereditary, and inequality between races prevalent, would it be at all reasonable to suggest that blacks were not equal to whites? Equality in legal representation aside, does statement y logically imply statement x?
Well for a start not at all, because this posits that blacks are less equal to whites on the basis of intelligence, therefore we would ask on what basis intelligence is judged, and whether it is conclusive. But this isn’t the most important question here. How was intelligence proven hereditary is the first question to ask, of more in a moment.
Is statement x racist? It seems to be a statement aiming at fact, in that it offers no more solution such as black people today don’t appear equal to white people. But then it could be a statement of fact that does not seek legitimacy with appeals to genetics, but rather statement x is true because societal ills render it so. On first glance x seems antagonistic, but if it were prefixed with in a society bent on racism black people today are not equal to white people, its meaning is altered.
And in fact this is exactly what statement x meant when it was said, reportedly, by Simone de Beauvoir on coming back to France after travelling during in the 1960’s. The statement, by virtue of its bluntness, was obviously going to be controversial, but then black people were not equal to white people, they were suppressed as such. With years of racist suppression, it is not surprising to find that in France in the 1960’s, as de Beauvoir announced, blacks were not equal to whites.
Statement y however, this was the opinion of the authors Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray, whose book The Bell Curve caused a storm at the time of its release in 1994 due to its findings on intelligence along racial lines. Herrnstein and Murray defend the theories of Charles Spearman, whose notion of g (general intelligence) posits that one tends to be, if one is good on a verbal test, good at maths tests, too. Critics of this theory point out that intelligence has many differing factors, such as memory, but Murray and Herrnstein choose to differentiate these factors as talents rather than intelligence proper.
The conclusion that Murray and Herrnstein reached when they gave their figures as blacks having lower intelligence quotients was not that schools were failing, racist society persists, or IQ is a redundant basis of intelligence testing. Rather, they argued that intelligence is largely hereditary, by their estimate up to 70 percent. Their findings have widely and rightly been dismissed on the grounds that quantitative results do not in turn prove heredibility, and also that the book aimed at dignifying racists and eugenicists. Indeed, the book does reference advocates of eugenics, many of whom were contributors to the publication Mankind Quarterly which is, as Charles Lane of the New York Review of Books described it, “founded, and funded, by men who believe in the genetic superiority of the white race”.
My point here is to distinguish statement x from y as the difference between a socially mediated, constructed and malleable point of note about the state of equality in society, and statements that are inferred from seeing inequality and assuming its determined, not by social inequality, but low intelligence, the equivalent to saying 2 and 2 is 5.
It was this war of words that entered my mind a few days ago when watching a programme on Roma Gypsies on the BBC called This World: Gypsy Child Thieves. We are entered into the murky world of street crime, stealing and begging from cash machine robberies, child exploitation and to illegal child marriages. We were also given an important glimpse of the attitudes of people living near Roma gypsies, which ranged from moderately evil to wishing death upon them (one man was quoted as saying “these people should die, but you cannot kill them”).
You can see here the link, children are born into the Roma community and are told to steal, as the programme noted, through tradition or through being marginalised. This will be passed on over and over through the generations that it will just seem normal to them. Being exposed to this at such a young age, one can not but think that this is just how things works.
But though it doesn’t take a genius to see that the lifestyle to beg, steal and commit crimes is not hereditary, the statement Roma gypsy children are thieves is true inasmuch as the statement black people today are not equal to white people was true in France, for de Beauvoir, in the 1960’s. It is true inasmuch as it is necessary to prefix the statement with in a community where the means of survival have included stealing, and children are sold off to organised criminal gangs, Roma gypsy children are thieves. It is mediated, and not a genetic blueprint. Point accepted that the statement is as bombastic as it is generalised, but to understand it, one must not deny it, but should attempt to legitimate the point that it is a construct, an ill.
Solutions? A harder topic. It would be easy for me to suggest trapping those gangs, but understandably, this would require much work, and would temporarily move the problem from one place to another (with the money not coming in from gangs paying for the children to work for them, families will have to find other ways. This in no way condones it, but it should be mentioned). One man who lived on the Roma site in Romania said;
Our children need to study, because if they carry on like this, if the new generations which grow up now continue in the same way, no-one will have us.
Near the end of the programme (before a section on the rich criminal ring leaders and their many huge houses, sickening) we are introduced to an Italian charity worker who deals with integrating Roma children and giving them educations. She had by her side a young adult of Roma descent who studied and has significant qualifications as a result. She is proof that the life of a child is not set in stone, but her being one of very few Roma children who have had education, however, proves that the task is difficult.