Behavior: Intelligence: Is There a Racial Difference?

  • Share
  • Read Later

The human is born with a hereditary capacity to be bright, stupid or anything in between. His starting position on the intelligence scale is predetermined—a biological sentence, like the one that orders tigers to give birth to tiger cubs and the human female to produce human babies. But nothing prevents a normal man from enriching his intellectual birthright, if it is allowed to mature in a hospitable environment. The obverse is equally true. Potential geniuses, deprived of suitable stimulation, will never fulfill their endowment.

These hypotheses, which are widely accepted by behavioral scientists, are restated in a lengthy article by Arthur R. Jensen in the current issue of the Harvard Educational Review. But Jensen, 45, an educational psychologist at the University of California in Berkeley, chose to build on such postulates some less plausible ones of his own. He argues that in some ways the American black is intellectually inferior to the American white. And he suggests that the explanation lies not so much in the Negro's deprived environment as in his genes.

Incendiary Value. Whether or not the author intended it, this is an inflammatory statement, and it has reverberated far beyond the modest circle of the Review's 12,000 subscribers. Columnist Joseph Alsop and Geneticist Joshua Lederberg, who writes a weekly column for the Washington Post, have entered demurrers. In a Virginia court, Jensen has been quoted by attorneys resisting the integration of schools in Greensville and Caroline counties. Well aware of the article's incendiary value, the editors of the Review will publish five closely reasoned rebuttals to Jensen's thesis in their next issue.

The charge that Negroes are inherently inferior to whites is not new. Neither is it demonstrable. Among other things, it is a canon of racist faith, invoked first to justify slavery and then the Negro's status as a separate-but-unequal U.S. citizen. But Psychologist Jensen is no racist, as his article repeatedly makes clear. "Since, as far as we know, the full range of human talents is represented in all the major races of man," he writes at one point, "it is unjust to allow the mere fact of an individual's racial or social background to affect the treatment accorded him."

In fact, the reference to Negro inferiority is largely irrelevant to the article's main purpose, which is a declaration of war on those social scientists who discount man's genetic intellectual heritage. "The possible importance of genetic factors in racial behavioral differences," writes Jensen, "has been greatly ignored, almost to the point of being a tabooed subject . . . The slighting of the role of genetics in the study of intelligence can only hinder investigation and understanding of the conditions, processes and limits through which the social environment influences human behavior."

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3