C4 Doc: Race & Intelligence

Earlier this week, Rageh Omar presented a documentary investigating the much debated and almost provocative topic of the link between intelligence/IQ and race on C4.

A few years ago the debate was re-ignited when an American professor in genetics resurrected the not quite so buried topic of intelligence across different races; with the view that the black race was intellectually inferior as IQ was biologically determined – they would never be as intelligent or as successful as their Eastern Asian counterparts nor be on par with the Whites.

What was intriguing to see was the isolation of race as a determining factor of intelligence, there was little focus on the contents of these tests although what was apparent was the type of intelligence being measured. IQ tests were introduced in the US to create an apartheid system of keeping the feeble minded out of various schools and educational establishments and eventually the eugenics reared its ugly head and along came forced sterlisation of peoples who were considered below average in IQ – the “morons”, “idiots” and “imbeciles”.

Fast forward to recent times and the system of IQ testing is still popular in extracting the brightest individuals in schools, certainworking  sectors (such as finance) and as a general marker of intelligence for those who want to know. Much was made of brain sizes (where blacks have smaller brains and so are inferior to whites in general intelligence, but women who also have smaller brains than men were as intelligent as men….scientifically this a legless piece of “evidence” to stand on) colour of your skin (without taking into account of the various subgroups within the White populaton, or Blacks or East Asians – as if all from Africa were collectively categorised as Blacks and all those from Europe as Whites, recognising the variety of subgroups within particular ethnic groups didn’t seem to matter much – so these terms were used extremely loosely as inaccurate as they are) or even factors such as educational attainment, cultural differences, exposure to puzzles, riddles, the different types of intelligence (including wisdom, spoken language, non-verbal) and other talents including music and sports.

There was an intriguing point made by a social anthropologist (who himself was black) that black children see being intelligent as a “white” thing – to be intelligent you have to talk a certain way, be a certain way and have a certain lifestyle: reading books is definitely a “white” thing. I found this point to be quite poignant and reflected on the number of Asian children who are considered smart and intelligent, they often have different styles of speaking (mostly refined with less of the slang laced in it) and may just present as being “posh” or at best “nerdy”.

Later on finally social and economic factors were discussed, which I had long suspected played a factor in so called success in life and perhaps even the intelligence which these dear old white men were arguing about. Coming from impoverished backgrounds would have an effect on the level of exposure to cultural quirks such as arts, theatre and literature alongside the availability of opportunities to hone and nurture talent by way of investing time, money and the flexibility in which teaching should occur. One example was of a school in the Bronx which had a good level of its students going into prestigious universities. They had small classroom sizes, maximum of 10-15 students per class, interactive learning instead of staring at the board with a glazed look and a sense of belonging to a school by leaving their mark on it via an art murial.

One issue which wasn’t completely addressed was the type of education, particularly educational methods and models employed by various countries across the world – and whether these methods or styles had a greater effect on intelligence than race, background or the size of your brain. Eastern Asians were exemplified as the great leaders when it came to intelligence tests, with many scoring high above the average amongst the “Whites” and significantly higher than the “Blacks” – but little was discussed or investigated about the model upon which their education system focuses on. They simply attributed the hard work down to their moral teachings by Confucius & Confucianism, which may have provided an explanation for those East Asian children born and bred outside of the countries of their (and their parent’s) origin. I was glad to see they recognised the effort parents of these children put into emphasisng the value and worth of education in future success (not very different to how for parents whom education was a luxury rather than, a right ensure their children utilise all educational opportunities and emphasise its importance).

I felt the system of intelligence and IQ testing should have been investigated further, but perhaps this may have moved away from the focus of race despite being an important issue to address. Much is made about these tests and often took to be “the” way things are – just once we should think outside of the box and ask ourselves “just what do we achieve by measuring intelligence? Who gains from them, and most importantly why is there potential to abuse using it?”

Above all the nail in the race and intelligence coffin was hammered when Rageh enquiried why race was taken to be the contributory factor in differences of intelligence when there were other plausible reasons. The professor answered “because we live in a racist society” – and how spot on he was.


Posted on October 31, 2009, in Documentary, media, Race and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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