Recently, I stumbled upon a thread on Facebook where several people were supporting one white man’s comment that, “The white race is superior, blacks have lower IQ’s and are intellectually beneath whites.” As I perused through the comments, I felt as if I were reading narratives from an encyclopedia of white power. The racist dialect could have come directly from the Jim Crow era, and it was almost as if the commenters were vehemently aiming to convince themselves into believing the venom that they were spewing. However, instead of allowing their bigoted and misguided ideology to perturb me, I decided to explore and recapture historical elements that I believe play a significant role in shaping the supremacist perception that whites are superior because blacks are intellectually inferior.
Biological racism–the belief that one race is genetically superior to another–originated when the earliest intelligence (IQ) tests were developed by French psychologist Alfred Binet in the nineteenth century to “classify mentally retarded children.” However, instead of recognizing intelligence as being learnable and a culturally specific feature of an individual, Binet and other IQ test creators, such as G.S. Brett, designed the tests to reflect a middle-class white cultural bias. For example, questions on IQ tests would challenge “test takers to draw analogies from white culturally specific proverbs.” Individuals unfamiliar with those proverbs would fail, giving whites that are culturally aware of or affiliated to those proverbs an advantage. IQ tests cultural biases also infiltrated the vocabulary, reading comprehension, mathematical reasoning, and spatial reasoning portions.
Nevertheless, biological racism gained popularity in the first decade of the twentieth century when Jews, Catholics, and Asians began mass migration to the United States. European Protestants and native-born whites held that intelligence was a racially specific characteristic that they were predisposed to. Consequently, Jewish, Catholics, Asians, and Mexicans became victims of prejudice, racial violence, discrimination, and the idea that they were physically different and intellectually inferior. “These ideas also contributed to the passage of discriminatory immigration laws in early 1920s, which severely reduced immigration from eastern and southern European countries and entirely banned Asian immigration.” What this means is that whites used a culturally bias means to measure intelligence, and then utilized the results to denote their position as the dominant race.
“Well-known pyschologists Lewis Terman and C.W. Gould argued that based on scores of IQ tests, eastern and southern European immigrants and African Americans had lower levels of intellectual ability but tended to “outbreed” people of “Nordic” races.” Furthermore, during the Jim Crow era, elite universities and well-respected “scientists” advanced claims of biological evidence connecting black physical features to inferior intelligence and predisposition to criminal behavior. In 1969, an educational psychologist named Arthur Jensen argued that “Asians have the highest cognitive abilities, blacks have the lowest, and whites are in the middle, and that these differences were largely determined by biology.” Then about twenty-five years later, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray made a similar argument for “biologically determined differences in cognitive abilities among Asians, whites and blacks. They further claimed that the differences in the cognitive abilities account for some of the social stratification among the three groups.”
Although it has been acknowledged that cultural biases in IQ tests result in differential achievement, and therefore, aren’t effective as tools to understand how intelligence works, they’re still used as standardized tests to measure intelligence today. For example the SAT, ACT, and other standardized tests, especially those administered in public schools, are derivations of the original culturally biased IQ tests. The culturally coded language and situations in test questions have both impacted the current statistics and understanding of a racial group’s intelligence. Moreover, black, Latino, and immigrant children who attend underfunded schools and are from poor families don’t necessarily possess the same resources to allow them to efficiently compete against students from white, prosperous communities. For this reason, statistics show that white students tend to test higher than these minority groups.
It is also believed that whites are intellectually superior because they possess the most innovative inventions. However, what isn’t recognized is that “The Patent Act of 1793 and 1836 barred enslaved Africans from obtaining patents because they were not considered citizens.” Therefore, much of the earliest forms of innovation were manifested by slaves, were stolen, and claimed by whites. It wasn’t until “1861 that Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America, enacted a patent law that allowed enslaved Africans to receive patent protection for their inventions, according to Bloomberg.com.” And “in 1870, the U.S. government passed a patent law giving all American men, including Blacks, the rights to their inventions.”
With the manifestation of contemporary internet social phenomenons, such as, Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and Skype–all owned by whites–black technological based innovators have come to question. There is a preconceived notion that blacks aren’t erudite to manifest technological entrepreneurial positions, creativity, or innovation. However, blacks have more of an issue acquiring funding to support their technological projects as oppose to having the education and expertise. Huffington Post reported that 87% of VC-backed Founders are White, 12% are Asian, and 1% are Black. Despite this, there’s a wealth of blacks who are at the cutting edge of technology.
Considering what is known of human development, few people could persuasively argue “for the genetic basis of the intellectual superiority of particular racial groups.” Despite the popular belief, there is no legitimate scientific proof that whites are intellectually superior to blacks. When analyzing the most high positions in society, where intelligence plays a leading role in those situations, it may appear that whites are indeed intellectually superior to blacks and other minority groups. However, one cannot conclude this without considering the significance that racism–systemic and institutional, cultural biases, colonialism, and politics has played into garnering whites their positions of superiority.
SOURCE: Encyclopedia of Racism In The United States, Edition One: A-H
If you appreciate this empowered narrative, don’t hesitate to subscribe to the internet’s only online forum that REFUSES to be intimidated and silenced by America’s wealth of hate, oppression, and injustice.