There Should Be A Difference Between A University And A Madrassa
From The First Post: Inject some intelligence into the race debate.
Racists and their critics alike are guilty of generalising about race.
I am taking part this week in a debate on race and intelligence at the Science Museum, nine months after the Nobel Laureate James Watson was banned from speaking there, thanks to some incendiary comments he made about race and intelligence. "I am inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa," he told the Sunday Times. "All our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours whereas all the testing says not really."
Censure was swift and universal. Watson was stripped of his chancellorship of the prestigious Cold Spring Harbor laboratory in New York. The Science Museum cancelled his lecture because Watson's comments had "gone beyond the point of acceptable debate".
The row over Watson's comments illustrates how much is wrong with the current debate about race. Watson got his
facts in a double helix. There are certainly real genetic differences between human populations. And the scientific study of these differences can help unravel the roots of disease, develop new medicines, unpick the details of deep human history and perhaps even tell us something about the nature of intelligence.
But such genetic differences are not the same as racial differences. The kinds of populations that are useful for scientific research are very different from the kinds of populations we call "races".
We know, for instance, that sickle cell anaemia is a black disease. Except that it isn't. Sickle cell is a disease of populations originating from areas with high incidence of malaria. Some of these populations are black, some are not. The sickle cell gene is found in equatorial Africa; in parts of southern Europe; in southern Turkey; in parts of the Middle East; and in much of central India.
Most people, however, know that African Americans suffer disproportionately from the trait. And, given popular ideas about race, most people automatically assume that
what applies to black Americans also applies to all blacks and only to blacks. It is the social imagination, not the biological reality, of race that turns sickle cell into a black disease.
Racial thinking divides human beings into a small set of discrete groups, often defined by skin colour or appearance, views each group as possessing a fixed set of traits and abilities and regards the differences between these groups as the defining feature of humanity. All these beliefs run counter to scientific views of population differences.
But if Watson's ideas of race were warped, so were the arguments of many of his critics. For the Science Museum, Watson went "beyond the point of acceptable debate". Really? Two years ago, the then Harvard chancellor Larry Summers caused outrage by suggesting in a speech that evolved brain differences, rather than gender discrimination, may explain why men dominate science.
The evolutionary psychologist Steven Pinker was asked whether Summers's comments had put him beyond the pale of legitimate academic discourse. "Good grief," Pinker exclaimed. "Shouldn't everything be within the pale of legitimate academic discourse, as long as it is presented with some degree of rigour? That's the difference between a university and a madrassa."
The irony is that racial talk today is as likely to come out of the mouths of liberal anti-racists as of reactionary racial scientists. The affirmation of difference, which once was at the heart of racial science, has become a key plank of the anti-racist outlook. The celebration of difference, respect for pluralism, avowal of identity politics - these have come to be regarded as the hallmarks of a progressive, anti-racist outlook.
The paradoxical result is that old arguments about race have become recycled through new ideas about culture and identity.
It is often difficult these days to distinguish between racists and anti-racists. One of James Watson's fiercest critics was the Ghanaian writer and broadcaster Cameron Duodu. After condemning the media for giving space to Watson's "malignant racism", Duodu dismissed the claim that Africans are less intelligent on the grounds that for life
in Africa "you do not need a high IQ - such as found in tests devised by Westerners".
"Africa may look dismal today to the likes of Professor James Watson," Duodu suggested, but only because "the Western way of life has been imposed on Africans". According to Duodu, "It is quite stupid to expect total efficiency from a people who are being torn in two directions at the same time - between an inherited, ancient culture, and a modern, imported one."
Africans are different... Modernity is alien to them... They don't need a high IQ for the kind of lives they lead... Even Watson might have blanched at describing Africans in this fashion and had he done so, he would have faced an even greater firestorm of protest.Race is not a rational, scientific category. But anti-racism has become an irrational, anti-scientific philosophy that paradoxically keeps the racial pot bubbling. We need to confront both.