Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Caps, Gowns and White Sheets

Earlier this year, former left-wing radical turned current right-wing extremist author David Horowitz achieved minor fame with the publication of his book The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. Horowitz, who receives generous corporate funding, charges that American universities are centers of left-wing, anti-American propaganda and has campaigned for what he calls an “Academic Bill of Rights” he hopes will be adopted by state legislatures across the country. This so-called bill of rights would allow students to file complaints with universities about professors they consider politically biased and allow schools to discipline scholars who bring supposedly irrelevant political discussion into the classroom.

Horowitz makes wild claims in his book. He writes that left-wing radicals among faculty members used to outnumber right-wingers by a 9-1 ratio, but now these campus commies prevail by a 30-1 ratio. Actually, the most comprehensive study of political viewpoints held by scholars, one conducted by UCLA, revealed that professors holding views from mainstream liberalism to socialism outnumber conservatives by only a 3-1 ratio. This trend says nothing about the quality of these scholars or their fairness towards students with whom they disagree.

It remains unclear, beyond giving students the power to silence political opinions they don’t like in the classroom, what solution Horowitz advocates short of some sort of ideological affirmative action. Of course, what Horowitz fails to acknowledge, bias varies by department. Bolsheviks, for instance, don’t tend to dominate business schools, where many faculty members draw handsome endowments from Fortune 500 companies. The same is the case with petroleum engineering departments and in the sciences where many professors’ financial comfort is tied to defense spending or big oil.
Horowitz’s book was sloppy, with the author labeling as “dangerous” professors he disagreed with on the Iraq war, race relations, or affirmative action. To Horowitz, his opponents don’t simply hold bad ideas, they are bad people. One target, Caroline Higgins, made the list for teaching classes on peace and social justice at Earlham College, a Quaker college. Quakers are, by theology, pacifists and teaching a class on peace at such a school is the equivalent of teaching about Jesus at Baylor.

University of Texas at Arlington political science professor Jose Angel Gutierrez got (black)listed because of his student activism in La Raza Unida back in the 1960s and 1970s and a book he wrote as a young man 32 years ago called “A Chicano Manual on How to Handle a Gringo,” a work Horowitz decried as racist.

Far more interesting and revealing than who Horowitz listed as dangerous was who he left out. What Horowitz deliberately ignores is a disturbing trend in academic disciplines such as psychology and sociobiology across the United States and Canada. In these fields, many academics have embraced not merely right-wing politics, but overt racism. A shockingly large number of professors in these disciplines argue that real biological and intellectual differences exist between races and because of these differences, African Americans and Mexican Americans are less intelligent than whites and more prone to crime, welfare and childbirth out of wedlock.

Recent genetic research confirms that race is an illusion. It seems certain that the first human inhabitants of Europe shared dark skin with their African ancestors. Recent DNA mapping demonstrates that all present-day homo sapiens are more than 99.9 percent genetically identical. Yet, upon this infinitesimal degree of genetic difference, some white supremacists within the academy have built claims of immense differences between whites and their black and brown neighbors in terms of intelligence and character.

This belief is not limited to a marginal group of cranks. In one 1980s survey, 50 percent of physical anthropologists and 73 percent of animal behaviorists accepted the notion that biologically distinct races exist within the human species. Meanwhile, “[p]sychologists tend to base their racial classifications on categories defined socially, rather than by physical or biological anthropology,” author Marek Kohn has noted. “Yet their findings have evidently persuaded many of them that races are both real and intellectually unequal.”

The resurgence of racism, particularly in the field of psychology, came to the public attention with publication of the surprise bestseller of 1994, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray. The late Herrnstein served as a tenured Harvard psychology professor while Murray worked as a richly compensated researcher and polemicist for right-wing think tanks. The Bell Curve argued, among other highly debatable positions, that a 15-point gap existed between the mean IQs of whites and blacks, that lower IQ scores meant that blacks had a higher tendency towards crime, illegitimate births and welfare dependency, that lower black IQs stemmed from genetics and not social conditions, and that social programs aimed at improving black life in America such as affirmative action were pointless and doomed by biological destiny to failure.

Murray and Herrnstein’s thesis rested on the dubious notion that races are real and definable with something approaching scientific precision. It furthermore depended on the problematic notion that a phenomena as complex as intelligence can be reduced to a single assigned number on a test that measures almost exclusively verbal and mathematic skills while leaving other forms of intelligence such as artistic creativity, muscle memory and reflex, strategic skills and other factors unmeasured.

Even if one accepts the questionable methodology employed in IQ tests, recent research on intelligence demonstrates that the alleged IQ gap between blacks and whites, a gap that incidentally does not exist between whites and black in countries like England, has rapidly closed. This clearly suggests that Murray and Herrnstein, who blamed supposedly lower black and brown IQ scores on genetics, were flat wrong and that poverty, hunger, discrimination and a poor school environment, can influence how an individual does on a standardized test.

Nevertheless, The Bell Curve overwhelmed readers with more than 100 pages of appendices, a dense array of graphs and obtuse discussion of high-level statistical methods such as regression analysis. Thus, it received a shockingly positive response from publications like the supposedly liberal New Republic and the New York Times, whose reviewers felt incompetent to judge the book’s deficient science and who felt no moral impulse to condemn its politics.

The Bell Curve did bring a storm of protests, almost exclusively from those outside the media on the political left, prompting a December 13, 1994, The Wall Street Journal letter defending major contentions made by the book. Written by 52 academics, including seven professors from Texas universities, the letter asserted that blacks on average scored 15 points lower than whites, with “the bell curve for American blacks roughly around 85,” only 15 points above the threshold of retardation. The letter declared heredity to be the primary cause of IQ differences between blacks and browns on the low end of the intelligence spectrum and Anglos and Asians on the high end, and that “black 17-year-olds perform, on the average, more like white 13-year-olds in reading, math, and science, with Hispanics in between . . .”

Among the signatories were five psychology professors at the University of Texas at Austin: David B. Cohen, Joseph M. Horn, John C. Loehlin, Del Theissen and Lee Willerman. Willerman joined the American Eugenics Society in 1974. Eugenics is the pseudo-science of race betterment through selective breeding. He helped direct the Texas Adoption Project, which purported to demonstrate the genetic basis of intelligence and was funded in part by the eugenicist Pioneer Fund, founded by a wealthy Nazi sympathizer in the 1930s, which on its webpage describes most of its funded researchers as “race-realists [who] view race as a natural phenomenon to observe, study, and explain. They believe that human race is a valid biological concept, similar to sub-species or breeds or strains.”

Whether or not all the signers of the Wall Street Journal letter can be accurately described as racist, it would be hard to find any other label for one of the signatories, J. Phillipe Rushton, a tenured psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario. Murray and Herrnstein used Rushton as a major resource for the Bell Curve. Rushton claims that human races developed as a result of different evolutionary strategies. Rushton claims, for instance, that whites have bigger brains than blacks (which he says correlates to higher intellect) and that blacks have larger genitals (information he derives in part from responses to “surveys” he conducts of unsuspecting blacks in shopping malls.) Higher IQs allowed whites to survive in cold climates, Rushton has written, while larger genitals allowed less intelligent blacks to survive because of higher rates of reproduction. “It's a trade-off: more brain or more penis,” Rushton once told Rolling Stone Magazine. “You can't have everything.”

Rushton, used as a recurring guest writer on racial issues for the “mainstream” conservative magazine National Review, also claims that the average nation has a collective IQ of 90, (with only five holding a supposed national IQ equal near Great Britain’s score of 100.) Some of Rushton’s dubious information on African intelligence comes from IQ tests administered to black South African children in the era of apartheid. From such data, Rushton claims that African nations possess an average IQ of 70. “An IQ of 70 suggests mental retardation [and] . . . is equivalent to a mental age of about 11 years,” Rushton wrote. “. . . [T]he low African IQ of 70 remains hard for many to accept. One reason for the disbelief: Africans —— and African Americans —— display high levels of social competence. They are outgoing, talkative, sociable, warm, and friendly . . . It is this ‘winning personality’ among Blacks, I believe, that makes it hard for so many to accept the validity of their failing tests of abstract reasoning ability.”

In attacking affirmative action, University of Texas law professor Lino Graglia drew on the work of academic racists like Richard Herrnstein. On September 10, 1997, at a press conference noting the one-year anniversary of the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in Hopwood v. Texas case that temporarily voided UT’s affirmative action program (a decision later overturned in the 2003 Supreme Court case Grutter v. Bollinger), Graglia, a former United States Justice Department attorney under Dwight Eisenhower who began teaching at UT in 1966, declared that ``Blacks and Mexican-Americans are not academically competitive with whites in selective institutions. It is the result primarily of cultural effects. They have a culture that seems not to encourage achievement. Failure is not looked upon with disgrace.”

Of course, the veteran right-wing legal scholar needed now prompting from Herrnstein and Murray to express contempt for African Americans and Mexican Americans. The long-active Republican had been considered in 1986 a finalist by the Reagan administration for a seat on the Fifth Circuit Court (the same body that later made the Hopwood ruling) but his appointed fizzled as news that he had urged Austin residents in his writings to defy a court-ordered busing plan and that he had referred to blacks students in his class "pickaninnies" became widely known.

During his September 10, 1997 press conference, Graglia poured contempt on top of ridicule, claiming that minority students who couldn’t compete in real academic classes “insist that the game be changed. Let’s study something else. Let’s have black studies instead of chemistry.” The following day, in an interview with the Austin American Statesman, Graglia said he had urged parents in Austin to resist a busing order because “I don't know that it's good for whites to be with the lower classes ... (because) ... they perform less well in school. They tend towards greater violent behavior.”

David Horowitz, so deeply wounded by the alleged racism of UTA Professor Gutierrez’s earlier Chicano racism, hailed Graglia for his brave honesty. In Texas, Graglia’s words sparked a firestorm of controversy, with student groups and members of the Texas Legislature calling for his dismissal or resignation and with Jesse Jackson leading a protest at the campus leading to a sit-in at the university’s law school. While some professors condemned his words, others worried about the chilling effect on academic freedom that would result from any censure. As such, many of Graglia’s peers at UT refused to take the professor at his word, insisted that all evidence to the contrary, that he was not a racist, and rallied behind him, albeit in a lukewarm fashion. Horowitz tried to elevate Graglia to martyrdom, calling him a victim of an academic lynching, but Graglia kept his job and the vigorous defense mounted by his liberal colleagues of the privileges of tenure makes ridiculous Horowitz’s portrayal of American universities as drowning in political correctness. Graglia certainly didn’t feel stifled. In a 1999 debate on affirmative action held at UT, Graglia proved unrepentant. ``If (African Americans and Hispanics) were competitive, there wouldn't be preferences,'' Graglia said to a crowd of 300.


Not all academic racists are crude Negrophobes like Graglia. Some are raving anti-Semites. Another psychology professor, Kevin McDonald, who teaches at California State University-Long Beach, earned a master’s degree in evolutionary biology and holds a doctorate in bio-behavioral sciences. In three books, McDonald has argued that Jews have dominated societies in which they represent a tiny minority because they use a “group evolutionary strategy” that involves “backing democracy, equality, socialism and the like in order to weaken the dominant ethnic group . . .” as noted by the anti-racist group the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Sadly, if Rushton and McDonald represent extreme examples, their differences with many of their colleges are of degree, not of kind. David Horowitz is right about one issue: ideas matter and what is said at universities often shapes American society, for better or worse. An earlier generation of academic racists, for instance, successfully lobbied the United States Congress to pass the harsh Immigration Restriction Act of 1924, which essentially closed immigration here to the Italians, Poles, Greeks, Russians and Jews deemed by the science of that era to be intellectually and culturally inferior to Northern European “Nordics.” The law tragically shut off one avenue of escape for Jews fleeing the Holocaust in the 1930s and 1940s.

Similarly, the words of modern-day academic racists echoed in the 1990s effort to “end welfare as we know it,” with works such as The Bell Curve brandished by conservatives as hard evidence supporting their Social Darwinist agenda. Such crude biological determinism can also be heard in hysterical, bigoted denunciations by present-day nativists such as Pat Buchanan, the immigrant-phobic CNN news anchor Lou Dobbs, and members of the Minuteman movement, who attack Mexican immigrants as tending towards crime and having intellects and cultures that will dangerously “dumb down” the country.

Such talk of innate difference, legitimized by academics, no doubt lies behind the move to build an ugly Berlin Wall across the Mexican border, a plan that reveals a nation that has returned to a 1924 view of the world as peopled by inherently distinct tribes unable to communicate with and adapt to each other, but programmed by genes to perpetual cultural warfare.

A danger lurks at American universities, but it does not stem from the academic left. It comes from right-wingers who believe that ideas matter less than DNA and the chromosomes make the citizen. The Jerry Springer show has deceived us into thinking that racists all wear white sheets and live in trailer parks. Some don caps and gowns and teach at the highest reaches of academia.


Michael Phillips has authored the following:

White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity and Religion in Dallas, Texas, 1841-2001 (Austin:  University of Texas Press, 2006)

(with Patrick L. Cox) The House Will Come to Order: How the Texas Speaker Became a Power in State and National Politics. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010)

“Why Is Big Tex Still a White Cowboy? Race, Gender, and the ‘Other Texans’” in Walter Buenger and Arnoldo de León, eds., Beyond Texas Through Time: Breaking Away From Past Interpretations (College Station: Texas A&M Press, 2011)

“The Current is Stronger’: Images of Racial Oppression and Resistance in North Texas Black Art During the 1920s and 1930s ”  in Bruce A. Glasrud and Cary D. Wintz, eds., The Harlem Renaissance in the West: The New Negroes’ Western Experience (New York: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group, 2011)

“Dallas, 1989-2011,” in Richardson Dilworth, ed. Cities in American Political History (Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2011)

(With John Anthony Moretta, Keith J. Volonto, Austin Allen, Doug Cantrell and Norwood Andrews), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips. eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume I.   (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Keith J. Volanto), Keith J. Volonto and Michael Phillips, eds., The American Challenge: A New History of the United States, Volume II. (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2012).

(With John Anthony Moretta and Carl J. Luna), Imperial Presidents: The Rise of Executive Power from Roosevelt to Obama  (Wheaton, Il.: Abigail Press, 2013). 

“Texan by Color: The Racialization of the Lone Star State,” in David Cullen and Kyle Wilkison, eds., The Radical Origins of the Texas Right (College Station: University of Texas Press, 2013).

He is currently collaborating, with longtime journalist Betsy Friauf, on a history of African American culture, politics and black intellectuals in the Lone Star State called God Carved in Night: Black Intellectuals in Texas and the World They Made.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Typical, left-wing fantasist. If anyone holds a point of view that challenges the idea of racial sameness you pull out the references to white-sheets etc.

Firstly, your theory that "all present-day homo sapiens are more than 99.9 percent genetically identical." has just been shattered.(1)

Even if there was only 0.01% difference, calling that margin an "infinitesimal degree of genetic difference" is a blatant lie. Clearly, there's enough in that 0.01 to allow 6 billion genetically different humans on this planet. And, please explain how forensic investigators can tell ethnic groups from DNA if such groups don't exist? Or why doctors prefer to match organ donors with like ethnic groups?

How about this:
"The study also highlighted genetic differences among the population groups tested, with 11 percent of copy number variations not being shared between people of European, African, and East Asian ancestry."(2)

>>..alleged IQ gap between blacks and whites, a gap that incidentally does not exist between whites and black in countries like England, has rapidly closed.<<
Pure fiction. Show me one IQ test, anywhere, that shows blacks and whites have the same IQ. You're making this up as you go. Your left wing fantasy is slowly disintegrating.

1. http://tinyurl.com/yaoprh

2. http://tinyurl.com/y9alzd

Michael said...

First of all, a single study by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute will not stand unchallenged. This paper and its claims do not undo decades of research pointing in the opposite direction.

The Human Genome Project remains the most comprehensive study of genetic variation within homo sapiens and scientists on that project, such as Vivian Ota Wang of the National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda confirm the contention that humans are 99.9 percent genetically identical.

In 2005, bologists at Penn State conducted the study that found that so-called white skin was attributable to a mutation of a single letter, the slc24a5 gene, out of the 3.1 billion DNA code.

People like you try to make that single mutation the foundation upon which you base claims not only of a 15-point average IQ spread, but related character differences, such as purported variation among races regarding the work ethic, honesty, fidelity, sexual appetite, etc. That's a lot of work for a single gene.

Your arguments regarding organ donations confirm my position on the overwhelming similarity of human DNA as opposed to the strong racial differences claimed by you and your allies People can safely donate blood and organs across racial lines. The tiny degree of difference is not enough to cause organ rejection or failure. Perfect organ matches more often conform to geographic proximity than presumed racial groupings.

No one is claiming that any two individuals, outside of identical twins, are completely alike. These differences are enough for scientists to identify individuals but no convinving evidence yet exists to confirm group differences of any significance.

Regarding IQ scores, I quote Marek Kohn's book "The Race Gallery: The Return of Racial Science." Kohn notes that:

"The climate for the IQ of black people often seems more congenial outside the United States. In Bermuda, Scarr and Weinberg found that black children have scores equal to the white norm in the United States by the age of two, and just one point lower at four. By the time they reach grade 3, they are two years above US whites in vocabulary, reading and mathematics. In Britain, a study of cognitive and education attainment in 2,000 children [A.M West, A.J. Mackintosh, and C.G.N. Mascie-Taylor, 'Cognitive and Educational Attainment in Different Ethnic Groups,' Journal of Biosocial Science, 24, 1992, 539-554], aged between seven and fifteen, found that those of Afro-Carribbean descent often performed as well as those of indigenous or other European stock."

The infamous Yerkes Army IQ tests administered in the United States during World War I (that claimed the average American had a mental age of 13 and that Eastern and Southern Europeans had lower IQs than their Northern and Western European peers) confounded the racist expectations of the test administrators in one instance, though these findings were not emphasized by the researchers.

Blacks from the four highest-scoring states scored higher than the white mean in nine Southern states. Such findings, and others that find that blacks adopted by more affluent white parents do better on IQ tests than poor whites, suggest that IQ tests measure differences in prosperity rather than genetic endowment.

These tests, however, are ignored by race fabulists such as yourself who cling to the security blanket of white supremacy.