John Derbyshire’s own personal Turner Diaries for Kids that ABL commented on the other day has, thankfully, brought out a lot of heat. But unfortunately, a lot of these pieces operate under the assumption that there is something more pernicious or racist about Derbyshire’s version of “race realism” than any other kind you might find. That’s not true. It’s never been true. And the consistent attempts to act as if there is a more responsible version of race science are, to me, just as scandalous.
I wrote about this subject at length the last time that Andrew Sullivan started up the Bell Curve controversy. (Sully getting that argument going is like Opening Day or the sighting of the first robin of spring; it’s that cyclical and predictable.) Sullivan, having naturally upset Ta-Nehisi Coates by again showing sympathy for a patently racist text, complained that “No one is arguing that ‘that black people are dumber than white,’ just that the distribution of IQ is slightly different among different racial populations.” No one is arguing that? That’s exactly what the Bell Curve is arguing! The Bell Curve says that IQ is an effective metric for designating intelligence, that our tests for them are accurate, and that the average black American is more than a standard deviation below the average white American in IQ. That is not in any way, shape, or form a slight difference. Sullivan says this stuff about the Bell Curve constantly, and it’s always wrong. I genuinely wonder if he has read it in the last decade.
Some people are expressing incredulity that Derbyshire has not yet been fired. But why? William Saletan still has a career. And his series of essays endorsing race science used the exact same research that the grimier, Stormfront-reading wing of the racist Internet references time and again. Elspeth Reeve’s piece in the Atlantic attacking Derbyshire plays this same game. Reeve claims “Derbyshire doesn’t say that black people, especially women, are pathetically stupid people….” Yes! Yes he does! Here’s Derbyshire:
The mean intelligence of blacks is much lower than for whites. The least intelligent ten percent of whites have IQs below 81; forty percent of blacks have IQs that low. Only one black in six is more intelligent than the average white; five whites out of six are more intelligent than the average black. These differences show in every test of general cognitive ability that anyone, of any race or nationality, has yet been able to devise. They are reflected in countless everyday situations. “Life is an IQ test.”
That is precisely saying that black people are pathetically stupid people. It is so aggravating that journalists, under the guise of attacking race science, repeat this canard that there is somehow a more responsible, less racist version of race science. I can only conclude that 1) most journalists are so put out by elementary social scientific terminology that they assume any argument expressed in that terminology is somehow responsible and 2) most journalists arguing against race science don’t bother to read the research they claim to be debunking. Dave Weigel says “He might have done permanent damage to the whole “human biodiversity” project.” But what he is saying is perfectly typical of that movement! Why should it be more damaging for him to express it here? Race science types claim, for example, that sub-Saharan Africans have a mean IQ two standard deviations below the average– in other words, closer to those with Down Syndrome than to white Americans. Who cares how that opinion is expressed? What is racist is the content of the argument, not the idiom in which it is expressed. Weigel’s piece and so many like it demonstrate a fundamental problem with how we talk about race today: acting as if it the problem is expressing yourself in an inflammatory way, rather than expressing racist ideas.
If we’re going to make progress and move beyond the John Derbyshires of the world, we have to stop pretending that there is some difference between what Derbyshire wrote and books like the Bell Curve. And we have to insist on honesty from those who talk about these issues. Weigel makes hay out of the fact that Taki Mag is a fringe publication. But Slate is not a fringe publication. The New Republic is not a fringe publication. Mainstream publications dip their toes in these waters all the time. Well, that’s freedom of speech for you. They’re entitled to. But we have to call them out on it. John Derbyshire’s post was absolutely banal, boilerplate race science, of the Charles Murray variety. Call this bullshit out when you see it: if somebody acts like there’s a nicer version of race science, tell them to get real and decide if they think that black people are stupid or not. Otherwise, we’ll never achieve change. Getting John Derbyshire fired is not enough.