I've recently encountered racism from someone actually capable of thinking. In the event there are more like him out there, and even in the event that some harboring racist tendencies are capable of thinking but don't tend to apply that process to their racial reactions, I'd like to point out fallacies that racism entails. This is primarily centered on racism geared toward Blacks in the United States but has applications elsewhere.

I'm going to start in a strange place: what racist assumptions would mean if they were accurate. They aren't, but I'll get to that later. Racist assumptions are, at heart, generalizations. They can go in all sorts of directions. Here's an example:

"Blacks are more athletic than Whites."

If this were true, there would be no White guys in the NFL. So, what's really going on here?

When dealing with human beings, the differences between populations are in averages, in the central tendencies of aggregates, not in individuals. If you were to say "porpoises are more intelligent than sharks," you would mean that all porpoises are more intelligent than all sharks; in other words, that the stupidest porpoise was smarter than the smartest shark. This is clearly not true of people - see the NFL example above for an illustration of how this logic doesn't work - but this thinking is at the heart of most racism.

If you were to graph this, the racist assumption is that you'd have two completely separate (or nearly so) blobs on a graph. What you'd actually get, again, even if racist data about phenomena such as differences in IQ were accurate (which they aren't), is a pair of bell curves with slightly displaced centers such that the curves overlapped almost completely. What are the ramifications of this?

Let's say two randomly selected individuals were applying for the same job, one Black, one White. Let's say that the aggregate data showed a 20% difference in median IQ's of these two populations (which would be a huge difference), a 60/40 split in percentiles of medians. Such a split would mean that, in 40% of cases like this one, the Black applicant would have a higher IQ than the White applicant. This isn't the result racists had in mind. It also isn't enough of a result to affect employment or promotion because employers have no reason to gamble against such bad odds; there are too many variables that are way more reliable (like employment history, grades, etc.). The same is true of, say, college admissions officers faced with an analogous situation - there are too many far more reliable variables available to bother with this one.

In other words, if such data were accurate (keeping in mind that my numbers are fictitious though the existence of data along these lines isn't), they'd be functionally useless because they'd be insufficiently predictive of individual results. It wouldn't help to even know about them unless we were going to use them for, say, a study on nutritional differences to see if that accounted for a piece of the result with remediation in mind. (Given differences in average poverty levels, this could in theory be an issue.)

However, the data aren't accurate. They can't be, because they can't be measured, at least not on the genetic basis that those who introduce such data have in mind. Why not? Because our sample is, from a genetic standpoint, too mixed. How exactly do we define Black when measuring anything comparative?

Generally speaking, we're looking at a population that self-defines. Based on what? Mainly, given the lack of a genetic definition, appearance. What appearance tells us more than anything else is how members of the sample population are likely to be treated, taking the probable cause of observed statistical differences out of the realm of the genetic and into the realm of the environmental. Racism is, first and foremost, a genetically defined phenomenon: "They are born inferior." Because of the issue of defining the population, the existing data suggest just the opposite: that statistical differences between racially defined populations are not based on differences in capabilities determined by genetics but on environmental conditions. (In the case of Blacks, by forced environmental conditions.)

Even if we didn't have this genetic definition issue, the evidence still wouldn't point toward racism making sense on this basis. Why not?

Given that we know that there are a lot of statistical differences between Blacks and Whites (collectively, not individually, which is a critical distinction), the first question to address from the standpoint of addressing racism is whether these differences are genetically based. If we were to theorize that these differences are environmental, which is to say the cumulative result of abominable treatment, how would we test that? By finding a Control Group. A control group is a group from the same population that hasn't gone throught the same treatment. 

If the genetics are the same
and treatment is different
but the results are:

...the same, a genetic cause is likely. (If we could define one in the first place.)

...different, treatment is the likely cause.

As it stands, we do have a control group: Blacks who immigrated more recently from the West Indies (Carribean) and their descendants. In other words, Blacks in America who are not descended from slaves and didn't go through generations of Jim Crow. What do we know about that population? They have:

A higher median income than American median (not American Black median, American median, Period),
A higher median education level than American median,  and
A lower median crime rate tha American median.

To use a well-known example: Colin Powell belongs to this group.

We can be pretty sure that African ancestry per se isn't genetically responsible for statistical differences in aggregate results.

Biologists could tell you this without bothering with a control group. From a biological standpoint, race is a thoroughly insignificant variable when it comes to comparative capabilities. However, as of yet, racists don't seem to be taking biologists' word for this. 

Why is this an important distinction? Because abominable treatment, unlike genetics (at the moment, and this isn't a can of worms I want to get into), is fixable.

Not all discussions of racism center around the genetic, regardless of the assumptions behind them. Some are about "cultural" factors. Culturally manifested racism isn't legitimate either, but that's another discussion.

Views: 126

Comment by Jonathan Wolfman on March 19, 2013 at 8:41pm

this is superb, kosh

Comment by koshersalaami on March 19, 2013 at 9:04pm

Thanks. I've edited it a couple of times since I've posted it (as I have second thoughts about things) but there shouldn't be much different even if you read it a few minutes back.

This originated on my last post, the OS version, the one about Obama. I caught some racist theorizing (not just in slur form) from Yagoda Yeshkov, so I decided to answer him. The normal approach to answering such things is "It's an illegitimate question." Well, yeah, it is, but that answer doesn't address racist concerns; it just convinces racists that opposition to racism is nothing but PC nonsense. If we're ever going to persuade the opposition in any respect of anything, we've got to actually address them, to deal with their assumptions where they live. It's a scary thing to do in this case but it should still be done.  

Comment by Ron Powell on March 19, 2013 at 9:14pm

Well done!... And hold that thought....

Comment by Donegal Descendant on March 19, 2013 at 9:45pm

A thoughtful post, Kosh, but racism never has been rational. I think it id fueled by frustration and the need for a scapegoat. Back in the 1960s I remember talking to white people who voiced racist attitudes towards blacks. Each of them had black neighbors, coworkers, associates, acquaintences. I named them, one by one, and the white person readily agreed that each specific black individual they knew didn't conform to the negative stereotype. They voluteered respect and admiration for each of them. But this didn't shake their faith in the stereotype.! They continued to believe that "somewhere" there were (abstract, faceless) masses of black people who embodied the negative, racist stereotype. Very frustrating to me, but an importnat part of my education.

Comment by Donegal Descendant on March 19, 2013 at 9:57pm

An addendum: I remember discovering in those days that white people were comfortable with a few black people as coworkers, neighbors, acqauintences, etc. For example, if  they went to a party or social event and, say, 10%or 20% of the attendees were black, they were fine with that. They might even pat themselves  on the back for  being so liberal.  But if blacks became the majoritiy, they were very threatened ("they're taking over!!"). It was as if they were not threatened by individual black people, but had an atavistic fear of "faceless black masses" or "hordes" of black people flooding in and "taking  over."

The fact that I was born and raised in Oakland my parents couldn't afford to join the "white flight to the suburbs" probably  provided me with the opportunity to make these observations.


Comment by koshersalaami on March 20, 2013 at 6:59am
I'll be driving all day today, so I'll probably respond tomorrow.

This is about a single piece of the racism puzzle.
Comment by alsoknownas on March 20, 2013 at 7:10am

"From a biological standpoint, race is a thoroughly insignificant variable when it comes to comparative capabilities."

That is the crux of the issue. It involves science to understand not emotional responses such as fear, flight or clustering.

Waiting for racists to change seems futile. Laws must be constructed and followed to have any sensible order.

Nothing new in what I just said.

Comment by JMac1949 Memories on March 21, 2013 at 3:40pm

Colin Powell has and still does experience more than his share of racism... but because he lived most of his life in the semi-insulated meritocracy of the US Army, Powell was even more likely to succeed in his endeavors.  There are plenty of West Indian Afro-American males and females doing time in prisons all over this country because of choices and consequences influenced by the "culturally manifested racism" we've yet to discuss.  R&L

Comment by koshersalaami on March 21, 2013 at 3:50pm

Of course there are. This post is about the genetic aspect of racism. I've written many posts on OS about racism and I'll write more here, probably soon, but the scope of this particular post is very limited.

Comment by koshersalaami on April 11, 2013 at 7:34am

I disagree. I think it makes perfect sense to talk about the misapplication of an instrument, in this case IQ measurement, and about assumptions concerning causation of differences of aggregate results between groups.

In the case of IQ, I'm not questioning why we get different results, I am questioning:
1. the definition of the measured populations, which in this case invalidates the result applied genetically, and
2. common interpretation of the results and their implications, which would be wrong even if the results were valid.

It depends on your research question.

Mine are:

1. Can differences in aggregate results between these two races be attributed to differences in genetically generated capabilities?

My answer, from a scientific standpoint, is Absolutely Not, because there's no valid way to define the two populations genetically, so the question can't be scientifically answered in the first place and, further, we have specific evidence based on a control group that the differences are attributable to environmental factors.

2. If these differences were actually quantifiable scientifically, would those data be functionally useful?

My answer here is, given what I know, though I am not presenting actual data here, probably not, because there are too many other available variables that are way more predictive of success than this one is.


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