Perhaps what aggravates me the most about the position of Andrew Sullivan is how he, and others who endorse the Bell Curve argument, express that endorsement by essentially lying about what the argument says. To read Sullivan, or the myriad people who have popped up in my comments, one might think that these arguments offer minor distinctions between the intelligence of the black population and the intelligence of the white population, that we're talking nickels and dimes here. This is flatly untrue. Both the Bell Curve and the larger suite of arguments about race and IQ that Sullivan and others are endorsing say that the black population is significantly less intelligent than the white population. The Bell Curve argues that the average white person has an IQ that is more than a standard deviation higher than the average black person. Since the publication of that book, Charles Murray and those like him have endorsed the view that sub-Saharan Africans have an average IQ better than two standard deviations lower than the average white American. (See, for example, the notorious Rushton-Jensen article, co-authored by the president of the explicitly racist and eugenicist Pioneer Society.) In other words, they believe that the difference in intelligence between the average white American and the average sub-Saharan African is the same as or larger than the difference in intelligence between the average sub-Saharan African and someone who suffers from Down Syndrome. These are not fine distinctions.
Sullivan wrote "No one is arguing that 'that black people are dumber than white,' just that the distribution of IQ is slightly different among different racial populations." If you take nothing else away from me, ever, take this: this is wrong. To say that a standard deviation of difference represents a "slight" difference is simply untrue. To say that the two full standard deviations separating sub-Saharan Africans from white Americans, asserted by the race science crowd, is merely a slightly different distribution is to engage in some truly mendacious wordplay, or to betray a lack of even elementary statistical education.
Does accepting these premises equate with arguing that black people are dumber than white people? I would suggest that it does. As I said in a previous post, I don't doubt that people are accurately reporting IQ data for different populations. What I doubt is that intelligence is a quantifiable phenomenon; that IQ is a meaningful proxy for it; that IQ tests are free of systematic bias and data corruption; and that these differences can be responsibly asserted to be the product of heredity and not environmental and other factors. But if you do accept these premises, I can't see how there is any meaningful way you can deny that statement. After all, the Bell Curve's central argument is precisely that intelligence is real, measurable, accurately quantified with IQ and IQ testing, largely heritable, and that black people have low IQs.
(How long ago did Sullivan read the Bell Curve? I have it sitting in front of me. The data is right there. I can't understand how Sullivan can believe that he's arguing the same thing as the book and yet still call these slight differences in distribution.)
This divide, between the pride with which people assert their independence and honesty on this issue, and the way in which they relate the arguments of race science in the most anodyne and minimized way-- that's what bothers me the most. It's the hypocrisy in patting yourself on the back for facing "harsh truths" and then failing to accurately reflect what those "truths" you're endorsing actually say.
In the post I linked to above, Coates talks about his community.
I have lived in the black community virtually my entire life. I went to black public schools. I went to a black university. I have spent a third of my life with a black woman. When I wake up in the morning, black people are the first thing I see. My black mother and father hurled books at me. My black Howard professors shot down my dumb theories. My black book editor parses through my long unwieldy thoughts. My black wife reads my first drafts. In very literal terms, what you read here everyday is representation of the collective brain-power of a black community.If I know the rhythms of blogging, this episode will soon draw to a close and everyone will part as friends. I must insist on pointing this out: if the argument of the Bell Curve and attendant views is correct, the majority of the people Coates has described here are likely of significantly below average intelligence. That's what the argument says, that a significant majority of black people have below average IQs and that these IQs accurately reflect their intelligence. Sure, some race science types might say that Coates is likely to run with an above-average crowd. But if you expand the ranks of people far enough, and statistics are true, and the Bell Curve is true, we're talking about a group of people-- the people this man loves and admires-- who are largely made up of the unintelligent. That's what the book says. And you, reading at home, the black people you know and work with and socialize with? The Bell Curve says that you can expect a significant majority of them to be significantly below average intelligence. That's the text of the book. It's right there, in black and white.