The Corner

Law & the Courts

Re: Stop Obsessing Over Race and IQ

In response to Michael Schiavo Is Offered $1 Million

I very much enjoyed John McWhorter’s thoughtful essay on discussing race and IQ, and Robert VerBruggen’s thoughtful response to it. As a mere lawyer, I have less expertise and narrower interests than either of them. Still, for what it’s worth, here’s what I wrote on the topic three years ago, in the context of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act:

[L]et me also say a word to those who ask: What if it turns out that there are genetic differences in cognitive abilities among different groups?

The issue whether there are racial differences in IQ is, it seems to me, of an intricacy disproportionate to its interest, at least for those of us who think that sound law and policy require judging people as individuals, without regard to race. In short, even if such genetic differences can be proven to exist, it would not provide a convincing rationale to refrain from re-instilling the sound law and policy of requiring citizens to be judged as individuals, without regard to race. Were science to somehow prove that the average white’s IQ is 12.03 higher than the average black’s, there will still be plenty of blacks smarter than plenty of whites, and plenty of mixed blacks/whites/others.

In the civil-rights context, the science here is important only to those on the far Right who would defend racial discrimination, and — especially — those on the far Left who insist that, since culture of course also cannot be blamed for racial disparities, they must all be a result of discrimination. The quota mongers have to deny unequal distributions of talent, interests, and ability, since their whole approach hinges on an assumption that proportionate representation is what a meritocratic system, sans discrimination, would produce. It is only to people who want to make racial generalizations and to people who believe that, absent discrimination, every university and workplace would “look like America” that race and IQ is of great importance.

I, on the other hand, am happy to be agnostic: Just choose the best qualified people, and don’t worry about getting your numbers right. For us colorblind conservatives, who think people should be treated as individuals regardless of race and who don’t think that racial disparity equals racial discrimination, the connection between race and IQ doesn’t matter. The 1964 Civil Rights Act, as originally written and understood, makes sense for a multiracial and multiethnic society, whether or not there are genetic differences among different groups.