Does race have anything to do with IQ?

Remember the colonial days when vast territories of Asia, Africa and Latin America were under white men’s rule? The failure of the non-Whites to resist European colonization and plunder of their territories automatically relegated them to a lower human status. In the 19th century, thus, in addition to the rise of social Darwinism, anthropologists contributed to racism. The search for the “missing link” between apes and Homo sapiens became a passionate pastime among the anthropologists and social Darwinists. They studied aborigines to see if they would fill the gap. Since anthropologists were Europeans and white, their race was put at the apex of hierarchy and the blacks at the bottom. The fact that both black and white human beings shared some common features with apes did not matter; apparently their thick lips, origin in Africa and black color reinforced the stereotype of association between apes and black people. Conveniently ignored were other signs, e.g., the apes have thin lips (it is the jaw that protrudes for apes), straight hair and ash-white skin (once the black hair is removed) showing closer resemblance of apes to the white people.

Count Arthur de Gobineau (1816-82) was one such theorist who turned racism into a cultural and political issue, by saying that the deterioration of the modern age resulted from the mixing of superior and inferior races. He divided humanity into the black, yellow, and white races, and claimed that only the pure white, or Aryan, race was and could be truly noble. According to him, some societies remain in embryonic state, e.g., the pure blooded yellow and black races, which are unable to achieve the level of a civilized nation. He held to the belief that racial groups were physically, mentally and morally different and any attempt to civilize these embryonic groups would meet with failure. [1]

In his chapter on “Characteristics of Human Races,” Gobineau provided the traits of the black and yellow races as follows. Black: “The animal character … is stamped on the negro from the birth… mental faculties are dull or even nonexistent… He kills willingly for the sake of killing…” Yellow: “little physically energy and inclined to apathy … desires are feeble, will-power obstinate… tends to mediocrity in everything… He is practical, in narrowest sense of the word… does not dream or theorize… invents little.” He described the white race as a superior type in beauty, intelligence and strength. Finally, he determined that all civilizations, e.g., Indian, Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek and Roman, were all created from one primary source –” the white race. [2]

Probably we should pardon Gobineau on the ground that like most Christians and Jews of his time, in his denunciation of the black people, he was motivated by inherent racism that he discovered within the Bible. In his book, Racial Myths, professor Juan Comas, says, “In the Old Testament we already find the belief that the physical and mental differences between individuals and groups alike are congenital, hereditary, and unchangeable. The Book of Genesis contains passages apparently assuming the inferiority of certain groups to others: “Cursed be Canaan; the servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren,” while some sort of superiority is implied … with Abraham and his seed.” [3] Following such Biblical teachings, the Blacks were considered not to possess souls!

Following Gobineau’s theory, it was all too natural for Europeans to believe that they were on a God-given mission to civilize others. Much later, during Hitler era we would see the worst form of application of Gobineau’s theory in Nazism where only Germans were considered superior to all other races. Truly, Nazi ideology cannot be separated from racism. [4] Through this ideology, Nazis were able to "justify" their horrible actions by making the Jews seem less human.

Racism went hand in hand with degradation of the “other” people who were perceived inferior to those practicing it. In the 1870s, the Chinese immigrants to the USA were perceived as being “inferior to any race God ever made” and as people without any “souls to save, and if they have, they are not worth saving.” [5] The Japanese Americans did not fare any better in the early 20th century. A 1913 article in the Sacramento Bee captures the mood of the time, “The Jap will always be an undesirable. They are lower in the scale of civilization than the whites, and will never become our equals.” [6]

In a recent article, “Rising Above I.Q.” (NY Time, June 7, 2009), Nicholas Kristof mentioned something that many of us knew for quite some time: there is no genetic or racial contribution to the black-white difference on I.Q. [7] Drawing upon research findings from psychologist Professor Richard Nisbett’s book – “Intelligence and How to Get It”, he says that there also seems to be no genetic difference in intelligence between whites and Asians. It is education and the drive to succeed which are most important factors that translate into success. These findings must come as a shock to all those racists that believed too long in lies and myths spread by Gobineau and other Social Darwinists.

In his study on intelligence, Dr. Nisbett studied three groups of people in America –” Jews, Chinese-Americans and West Indian (Caribbean) Blacks and found these groups to outperform others. For example, Jews have received about one-third of all Nobel Prizes in science received by Americans. One survey found that a quarter of Jewish adults in the United States have earned a graduate degree, compared with six percent of the population as a whole. Asian-Americans (especially the Chinese-Americans), in general, have earned better grades than other students (much in contrast to Gobineau’s characterization that yellow race tends to mediocrity). West Indian blacks with roots in the Caribbean are one-third more likely to graduate from college than African-Americans as a whole, and their median household income is almost one-third higher. Nisbett says that the evidence is overwhelming that what is distinctive about these three groups is not innate advantage but rather a tendency to get the most out of the firepower they have. A common thread among these three groups may be an emphasis on diligence or education, perhaps linked in part to an immigrant drive.

As we know quite well, a country that has allowed immigration has always prospered better than those countries that did not. American success story owes it to its immigrant community who had energized the country through their hard work and drive to succeed. Even if the first generation immigrants were not all highly educated, they made sure that their children studied hard and worked harder than others to succeed. Immigrants are also a small minority and as such their smallness in number in the society has put an extra burden to succeed in their adopted homes.

Jews always have been minorities in the countries they lived (outside the Zionist state). They have also known from their bitter experience that they could lose or be robbed of everything they possessed except their intellect, and as such, they have inculcated the importance of education within their own family. It is no-brainer that they are more educated and have been controlling top positions in both academic and corporate world.

When comparing the social status of most Black Americans with others, including those from the Caribbean islands, one usually forgets that most Black Americans come from broken families who don’t have father figures in their families; most children are raised by single mothers. Then for centuries they saw how they were discriminated and badly treated. None of these factors helped to encourage a young Afro-American to understand the wisdom behind education and hard work. If you factored in such information, it is not difficult to understand why they are behind West Indians whose success has been identified to be rooted in: the classic diligence and hard work associated with immigrants, and intact families. [Digression: In the article, I was somewhat intrigued to see General Colin Powell’s name mentioned as if his IQ had something to do with his success. He is from Caribbean parents who settled in the USA. However, he was a C-average undergraduate student in NY. The reason behind his success is hard work plus Republican leaning, a rarity amongst Blacks in America. Thus, the Republican governments, keen on getting support from the Blacks, who are traditionally Democrats, found a natural ally in Powell, who during Reagan and Bush Sr. Administrations was promoted to become a 4-star general, superseding many qualified White Americans. The rest is history.]

Unfortunately, what the Nisbett study does not say is that success, like failure, has ripple effects in the society it originates. Thus, one’s success story in the community can encourage others to follow his/her footsteps to better their lives. And as long as there is no discrimination, such successes can boost the morale of others to succeed. But when a person is denied success in spite of all the right characteristics, such can adversely demoralize others that are close to that person. And the sad fact of our life is discrimination happens too often. I know many such examples where persons with less education, less skill, less experience, and less qualification have been chosen over more talented, educated, qualified, better candidates. Jews in the pre-Hitler era in Germany have been accused of such discriminatory practices against Germans, monopolizing the entire system wherever they had been able to grab some important positions. They denied entry of Germans into many coveted positions.

Today, top positions in many important institutions, financial and otherwise, in the western world, especially, the USA, government/public and private sectors, are held by Jews. Such role models of success can have a tremendous positive impact to boost the latter generation of Jewish people to succeed. Thus, as a race, they are more prone to succeed, something that others can’t claim as much. Based on years of analysis, some analysts have even accused that once the Jewish people had held those top level positions, they ensured that the next in line would also come from their group (e.g., by forcing early retirement or firing of a talented non-Jewish aspirant for the position). If such accusations are true, one can only ponder as to how long can such discriminatory practices be sustained! Have not these guys learned anything from their German experience?

Success can also have a caustic effect. Success of a community can translate into a belief that it is more deserving of those high positions than someone coming from outside its racial, ethnic group. It can instill a racist mentality. Thus, discrimination of others becomes part of success story of a particular group. I remember while working as a Director of a multi-billion dollar global company how often I was tutored by my boss and peers about the importance of perception in the business world, and how I should do succession planning in leadership so that someone perceived better suited for a job was preferred over a more qualified and talented person. I was literally told that so and so did not really fit the position compared to someone else who appeared more like them. Interestingly, my experience was at odds with their perceptions.

In spite of the reality that prejudice and discrimination are quite common in our world, and that education and hard work may not always translate into success, there is no denying that Professor Nisbett is right in that “Intelligence and academic achievement are very much under people’s control.” Let’s motivate our children and loved ones to excel in these two sectors without worrying too much about the outcome –” the material success. Let future take its own course while we take control of the present. That would hopefully be the beginning of our drive to regain our lost heritage. That will be enough for now.


[1]. Milton Kleg, Hate, prejudice and racism. State University of New York Press, pp. 95-6.

[2]. Ibid., p. 98.

[3]. As to Islam, Professor Comas says, “Mohammedans have never displayed racial intransigence or intolerance to other peoples so long as those peoples adopted the faith.”

[4]. Nor should we be oblivious of the fact that Nazis were greatly influenced by Protestant leader Martin Luther’s writings against the Jews. He described the Jews as seeds of the devil.

[5]. This statement was made by Frank M. Pixley, representing the city government in San Francisco, in his 1876 testimony before the Congressional Joint Special Committee on the question of Chinese immigration. As quoted in Kleg, op. cit., p. 108.

[6]. Kleg, op. cit., p. 109.