“Racist” Harvard 3L e-mail goes viral. The 3L in question sent out an e-mail after a dinner with some fellow conservatives. The e-mail clarified his point of view regarding genetics and intelligence. Here’s the e-mail, courtesy of AbovetheLaw.com:
… I just hate leaving things where I feel I misstated my position.
I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair. (Now on to the more controversial:) Women tend to perform less well in math due at least in part to prenatal levels of testosterone, which also account for variations in mathematics performance within genders. This suggests to me that some part of intelligence is genetic, just like identical twins raised apart tend to have very similar IQs and just like I think my babies will be geniuses and beautiful individuals whether I raise them or give them to an orphanage in Nigeria. I don’t think it is that controversial of an opinion to say I think it is at least possible that African Americans are less intelligent on a genetic level, and I didn’t mean to shy away from that opinion at dinner.
I also don’t think that there are no cultural differences or that cultural differences are not likely the most important sources of disparate test scores (statistically, the measurable ones like income do account for some raw differences). I would just like some scientific data to disprove the genetic position, and it is often hard given difficult to quantify cultural aspects. One example (courtesy of Randall Kennedy) is that some people, based on crime statistics, might think African Americans are genetically more likely to be violent, since income and other statistics cannot close the racial gap. In the slavery era, however, the stereotype was of a docile, childlike, African American, and they were, in fact, responsible for very little violence (which was why the handful of rebellions seriously shook white people up). Obviously group wide rates of violence could not fluctuate so dramatically in ten generations if the cause was genetic, and so although there are no quantifiable data currently available to “explain” away the racial discrepancy in violent crimes, it must be some nongenetic cultural shift. Of course, there are pro-genetic counterarguments, but if we assume we can control for all variables in the given time periods, the form of the argument is compelling.
In conclusion, I think it is bad science to disagree with a conclusion in your heart, and then try (unsuccessfully, so far at least) to find data that will confirm what you want to be true. Everyone wants someone to take 100 white infants and 100 African American ones and raise them in Disney utopia and prove once and for all that we are all equal on every dimension, or at least the really important ones like intelligence. I am merely not 100% convinced that this is the case.
While this was obviously a dumb thing to memorialize in an e-mail, especially in the internet gossip age, I don’t think there’s anything inherently racist or sexist here.
Everyone agrees that some qualities are determined, or at least heavily influenced by genetics. As the Harvard 3L points out, hair and skin color are basically genetic features, and many genetic features strongly correspond to race (black people tend to have dark skin, duh). We also know that genetic differences are not skin deep. Black people are far more likely than whites to have sickle cell, which can cause anemia, but also protect against malaria. Women have monthly periods and their hormone cycle can affect moods. (That’s not controversial, that’s just what hormones do, to fracking anyone, just think back to puberty.) Girls develop language skills faster than boys, and boys are faster thinkers when it comes to spatial awareness.
But, despite all the known ways that genetics affect us, it’s racist to even suggest that there might be a genetic correlation to intelligence. Bullshit. If it’s there, it’s there. It’s a question of fact, not of social policy. And that’s what this all comes down to, policy. The 3L did not advocate denying rights to people who are genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. There is a huge difference between what the facts are and the way we, as a society, choose to respond to them.
Human beings cannot fly. Fact. We still do anyways, because we’re human beings and built planes.
We can’t breathe under water, so we invented SCUBA gear. We have vaccines to reprogram our immune systems and can surgically install a pig’s heart valve or a metal joint into a person’s body.
What makes being human such a special thing is that we can look at nature, decide we don’t like it, and tell it to fuck off. If there is an ethnic group out there that is genetically less intelligent, we’re still allowed to treat them equitably. And might not it be a good thing to find out, so that we can adjust our educational policies to put everyone on equal footing?
If dyslexia is genetic (and it very likely is), wouldn’t you want to know that it was genetic so that we can better screen for it and get help to kids as early as possible? Although, with how widespread stupidity is, we may just want to try to treat the whole population, regardless of genetic markers.