ICYMI: Decoding the new language of racial hierarchy: Doug Saunders

Doug Saunders calls out those who deny the impact of environment on opportunity:

People don’t talk about “inferior races” any more. The new language of racial hierarchy appears, at first, to be discreet and indirect: It looks at black people in the United States and indigenous people in Canada as those who have made “bad life choices,” and who face “broken families” and “community breakdown.”

This sounds reasonable: After all, people with histories of deprivation and marginality tend to live in broken-down communities; their families are often fractured; they can be prone to educational failure, criminality and life paths that lead to despair. These are infamous symptoms.

But these commentators and politicians aren’t calling these symptoms of a larger wrong, but rather root causes: Bad choices have led to marginality, not vice versa.

You learn what this view really means when you ask the obvious next question: If you think personal and family failure are not symptoms but root causes, then why do they occur so much more often among native Canadians, black Americans and other downtrodden groups? What is causing these bad life choices?

This is when the theories of racial inferiority appear. The notion that significant aspects of behaviour, intelligence and aptitude are genetically determined – a notion that still lacks any credible scientific basis – has quietly become gospel in some conservative circles.

A handful of books and articles by notorious racial thinkers, ignored or dismissed elsewhere, have taken on an outsized life: Consider the 1994 book The Bell Curve by right-wing activist Charles Murray and Richard J. Herrnstein (its claims of racial intelligence differences were based on the discredited 1980s racial theories of Canadian psychologist Philippe Rushton); the racial rantings of pioneering geneticist James Watson (which led to him being drummed out of the scientific community); and most recently journalist Nicholas Wade’s book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History. This latter book claims that the successes and failures of the world’s “racial” groups were genetically determined. Its key racial claims have been denounced as false not only by major scientific journals but also by a group of 139 top human-population geneticists, including the ones whose research Mr. Wade drew upon to reach his conclusions.

The notion that success is a product of good genes, rather than surroundings and circumstances, has an obvious ideological appeal to people who would rather not spend public money mending wrongs. So they seize upon crumbs: Yes, some aspects of intelligence have been shown to be passed on to children – but only when parents and children are all more or less middle-class.

Poverty and deprivation have a much larger effect in lowering IQ and other key measures; only when they’re eliminated does any heritability of intelligence appear.

With no support from scientists or their research for theories of racial success and failure, what we are left with are slogans and clichés that justify inaction – exactly how they were used the last time around.

Source: Decoding the new language of racial hierarchy – The Globe and Mail

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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