Danny Yee >> People >> Mike Salovesh
Date:         Fri, 11 Feb 2000 03:21:03 -0600
From:         Mike Salovesh <t20mxs1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU>
Subject:      Re: Something good for a change

I promised myself to stay out of this discussion, because we've been through it so many times in the past. But there is something new (for this list) in part of what John Goodrum said Thursday: > > And in the U.S., most people familiar with testing, or I should say a plurality, don't believe the black-white IQ gap to be wholly environmental (this is according to the large 1988 survey by Seligman & Rothman). Trans-racial adoption studies lend support to this, where black, white and mixed-race children adopted into advantaged white homes tend to score near the mean for their population, rather than taking on the IQ characteristic of their adoptive home. I think the children of two black parents scored 89 on average; the average adoptive parent scored 117. I can find the reference for this if you like. There have been criticisms of this study - not sure of their > validity. >

To start with, Seligman is hardly a neutral source on this question. For the sake of argument, however, I'll ignore that to look at what the evidence is said to show about "trans-racial adoption".

It doesn't matter whether hereditability in intelligence is very high or very low or somewhere in between. What IQ tests measure, at best, is the expression of genetic endowment in a given environment. So long as some portion of eventual IQ test results is attributable to environment, there is no way to know what an IQ test tells us about the genetic component, or indeed if there is any. Consider someone who has never been allowed to go to school and has reached an adult age without learning to read. That person is not likely to score as well on an IQ test as a college graduate, even if the individuals involved are identical twins. What that says to me is that environment is a factor in IQ achievement. (Note that I'm not alleging that anybody can measure how much of a difference in IQ is attributable to the environment. My argument's validity depends on there being some effect of environment on IQ, and I don't think anybody denies that.)

The facts of social life in the U.S. are that people who fit stereotypical views of what "blacks" look like are treated as if they were the same as anyone else who is considered "black". Discrimination and racism are always present and always expressed in the society as a whole. Mere adoption into a "white" home does not negate this fact. Studies of so-called "trans-racial adoptions" can't control for the discrimination that works against anybody in the U.S. who looks "black". There aren't any control groups: people who look "black" are usually assumed to be "black". Period.

The consistent 15-point difference in *average* IQ test scores when people called "white" are compared with people called "black" might be nothing more than a strong reflection of the social reality. The measure is real; its meaning is not at all clear. I think it's an excellent indicator of the cost of being perceived as "black" in the U.S., and has nothing to do with genetics per se.

By the way, although people who "look black" usually are thought of belonging to the black race", there is no guarantee that people who "look white" will be regarded as "white". I have known many people who lived in "black" neighborhoods, were (mis)educated in "black" schools, held jobs usually not taken by "whites", and were regarded as "black" by everyone around them -- even though they just did not "look black". The way we usually define "race" in the U.S., there's nobody so blond and blue-eyed that they could not possibly be regarded as "black".

I think of our last landlady in Chicago. When we went to look at the apartment, which was a perfect fit for us, we had a long and interesting talk with Mrs. C, the building's owner. She was fair-skinned, blue-eyed, and had grey hair that still showed signs of having been blonde in the past. She was a longtime Chicago schoolteacher, and I was about to start working for the same Board of Education that employed her; that got us off to a good start. As it turned out, we had lots of interests in common. Peggy and I liked her so much that the fact that Mrs. C lived in the same building was very much part of what made us like the apartment.

Before giving us a lease to sign, our future landlady stopped the conversation to tell us specifically that she was "black". I said "my dear Mrs. C, if that's something we can't tell without being told, what possible difference could it make to us?" Her reply was telling: "I'm just trying to avoid future trouble. My mother and sister sometimes visit us here in the building, and they are quite a bit darker than I am. We once had some tenants who saw them, realized that they were "black", so I must be. They moved out quickly, but not before trashing the place."

Instant attribution of social attributes to so-called "race" came up in another way when we moved out of Chicago. I left to teach in the same department as a man who earned his Ph.D. at Harvard, as his father had done. My colleague clearly looked to be within the stereotypic range of people called "black"; so did his parents and his wife. His family had lived in "white" surroundings all the time he was growing up. My colleague's writing style could serve as a model for standard English, and his vocabulary may well have been more extensive than mine. He had never lived in a segregated "black" community; he was not familiar with the spoken varieties of U.S. English that are sometimes called "black vernacular". He knew much more about Africa, where he did much of his research, than he did about how African-Americans lived in the same city as the university where we taught.

Nonetheless, my colleague was much in demand for service on such things as the "Mayor's Commission on Race Relations", and similar organizations set up by the state's Governor, the university, and one of the state's Senators. It was assumed, without discussion, that because he was "black" AND a tenured university professor he just naturally belonged on all those committees, commissions, etc.

My colleague, despite having tenure as an associate professor, a very good salary, and a wife who was professionally employed with another good salary, could not buy a suitable house in that city because he could not find a mortgage lender who would work with him. The only neighborhoods where he could find willing mortgage lenders were crime-ridden, near-slum parts of the city's small "black" ghetto. It was assumed, without discussion, that because he was "black" he just naturally belonged in such places.

On the other hand, I was an assistant professor without tenure, and there was little likelihood that my appointment could lead to tenure. My salary was little more than half what my "black" colleague received. I am usually regarded as "white" (although I don't claim the label for myself). When I arrived at that university, I got multiple offers of mortgages from a wide variety of lending institutions, and we were all but besieged by realtors eager to sell us houses that were way beyond our ability to support, in upscale neighborhoods we couldn't afford to live in even if somebody gave us a house there for free. Nobody tried to sell us houses that might have been available in the "black" ghetto.

Those facts about mortgages in a northern U.S. city are exactly the kind of thing I mean when I say that differences in average IQ between "whites" and "blacks" could be nothing more than a measure of the cost of being perceived as "black".

Some of us keep trying to say that the categories "black" and "white" are not biological, even though biological differences are often attributed to people assigned to the two groups. Ron Kephart keeps pointing to the peculiar fact that in the usual definition "white" parents can have both "black" and "white" children, but "black" parents can't have "white" children. Push that to its very real extreme, and 63 "white" ancestors are somehow overwhelmed by one "black" one in the sixth ascending generation. There are no genes that are that potent in any real biological sense!

To paraphrase but contradict John Goodrum, "I'm of the opinion that we don't know whether human social groups differ genetically in intelligence". We're not likely to find any incontestable evidence to the contrary, because nobody has come up with any biologically meaningful criteria that incontestably identify membership in what social criteria identify as "races".

We DO know that human groups differ widely in the opportunities they are given to express whatever it is that IQ tests measure. We also know that the attribution of "race" is a very large factor underlying those differences in opportunity, life chances, education, income, occupation, and all the other cultural features that are alleged to be caused by genetic differences.

What I conclude is that in our present state of knowledge, there is no way that biology can be properly used to justify the U.S. social customs that are so discriminatory that they cost a significant part of our population the loss of 15 points on the IQ scale.

-- mike salovesh <salovesh@niu.edu> PEACE !!!

P.S.: As usual, I have tried to be consistent about using quotation marks around words such as "black", "white", and "race" in the context of the present kind of discussion. At very least, I think we are all agreed that there can easily be a lot of confusion about just what these terms refer to.

I don't accept the label "white" for myself because I don't think the label means anything in human biology. In the past, when the Bureau of Census asked me to mark one category as my "race", I usually left that space blank: I didn't recognize myself in any of the available categories. When given the chance, I prefer to answer "other" to this kind of question. Like all other human beings, I am of "mixed" ancestry. I wish I could tell that truth to the Census people.

If it matters, all of my grandparents were born in Russia. I'm pretty light-skinned, at least in winter; I have blue eyes and wavy hair. In describing my cultural affinities, I don't give precedence to one over another. I feel at home in cultural settings that are defined as "Midwestern American" or "Russian" or "Italian" or "African American" or "Mexican" ("Mexican-American", "Latino", or "La Raza" don't shock me, either) or "Polish" or "Jewish" or "Slavic" or "hillbilly" (take your choice, eastern Kentucky or Missouri Ozarks). Religiously, I feel at home with Catholics, Methodists, African Methodist Episcopalians (and those whose allegiance goes to A.M.E. Zion), Presbyterians, Quakers, Jews, Unitarians, and some Lutherans. I am religiously uncomfortable around most Southern Baptists, people who call themselves "Born-again Christians", Mormons, and active door-to-door proselytizers. The only biologically significant group mentioned in this paragraph is (or, rather, was) formed by my grandparents. (Of course blue eyes are biological, but I don't think that blue eyes define a biologically significant population isolate.)