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The Academy and Genetic Racial Differences

In a recent controversial speech, Barack Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, asserted that blacks and whites behave and learn differently due to genetics. Over at City Journal, Heather Mac Donald summarizes his ideas and says they’re an example of how “academia’s follies can enter the public world in harmful ways.”

Here’s her summary:

[Wright’s ideas] form part of the tragic academic project of justifying self-defeating underclass behavior as “authentically black.” . . . Blacks . . . cannot sit still in class or learn from quiet study, and they have difficulty learning from “objects”—books, for example—but instead learn from “subjects,” such as rap lyrics on the radio. These differences are neurological, according to [an academic Wright cites] and Wright: whites use what Wright referred to as the “left-wing, logical, and analytical” side of their brains, whereas blacks use their “right brain,” which is “creative and intuitive.”

Overall, Mac Donald is half-right. It’s true that academia promotes the idea that bad behavior is OK when blacks exhibit it. However, overwhelmingly, academics are scared to death of the notion that there are any genetic differences between blacks and whites, much less differences so severe that they could render blacks unable to sit still — academics usually make excuses based on black culture and history, not DNA. Wright can find a few professors to cite, but they are far from representative.
In fact, in a college sociology class, I was taught outright that “race isn’t genetic” and is instead a “social construct.” My school’s daily newspaper headlined an article “DNA tracing company finds genes not integral to race,” even though that company actually found that by looking at a person’s DNA, it could determine not only whether they’re black, but which African tribe they had descended from. This type of thinking is common in the academy.
I suppose that, covering such a controversial topic, I should give my own view. As I’ve stated, it’s clear enough that some genes are more common in some races than in others, and that by looking at someone’s DNA, a scientist can determine ancestry pretty accurately. However, it’s not at all clear what the genes that differ do, and to what degree they explain the various gaps that exist between the races. Genetic racial differences, even if they turn out to be significant, are definitely not so severe as Wright makes them out to be. Not even close.


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