The 0.1% Solution
Ibram X. Kendi asserts in his book, How to be an Antiracist, that all human beings share 99.9 percent of our DNA. He further asserts that since there is very little difference between humans and, since the concept of race is a social construct invented by white people to justify the enslavement of black people, different economic and social outcomes between people of different races must be due to racism. To Kendi’s way of thinking, the only way to end racism is to reallocate social and economic outcomes so that this racial disparity is eliminated.
Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein asserted in their book, The Bell Curve (published in 1994) that “it seems highly likely to us that both genes and environment have something to do with racial differences” in intelligence test scores. Doctor Murray double-downed on this premise in his recent book, Facing Reality. He cites numerous studies that show that the performance on various IQ and aptitude tests indicate a clear difference between races and ethnicities. He goes on to say that, based on this evidence, not only are efforts to close the aptitude gap futile, efforts to close the outcomes gap between races are counterproductive.
Professor Kendi is correct that the 99.9% DNA that we have in common makes us all human, but the 0.1% of DNA that is not in common allows for a wide range of differences among individuals. There are individuals that are shorter than four feet tall and others that are over seven feet tall. We have people that weigh less than 100 pounds and people that weigh more than 300 pounds. People with blonde hair and black hair and every color in between. And they are all human beings, and they all enjoy the same unalienable rights. But some are more intelligent or have other talents that make them more successful than others so that outcomes between individuals will also be different.
These differences among individuals are usually distributed in a pattern called a normal distribution around a mean or average parameter. This normal distribution usually looks like a bell and is called the Bell Curve. Most people cluster around the mean, but the are also people further out from the mean, often called outliers. For example, the distribution of the height of males in the US is a fairly typical normal distribution as shown in the example below.
Dr. Murray, however, asserts that there is not only a wide range of differences between individuals, but that there is also a wide range of differences between groups of people (or populations). For example, the distribution of the heights for men in the US is different than the distribution for women. These differences are not random. There are reasons why different populations have different distributions of traits and characteristics.
Dr. Murray’s book, the Bell Curve, is controversial because one of the differences between groups that he describes is the differences in IQ scores broken down by race. In his later book, Facing Reality, he again asserts these differences and states that because of these differences in cognitive ability, disparate social and economic outcomes are inevitable.
There are reasons why some people have black skins and other have white (actually pink) skin. People living near the equator (especially primitive people living outdoors with minimal clothing) are exposed to much more sunlight than people living in northern climes where the sunlight is weaker, and people must wear clothes for warmth. The people exposed to more sun develop darker skin as a protection against the sun’s harmful rays while people in the north lose that protection in order to absorb as much sunlight as possible as a source of vitamin D, which is essential for life.
These changes in skin color are thought to be fairly recent from an evolutionary perspective. The first inhabitants of Britain arriving as the ice age glaciers retreated about 10,000 years ago were dark skinned with dark hair. So white or paler skin is a recent evolutionary adaptation. Other differences between populations, such as lactose tolerance, are also very recent from an evolutionary perspective.
But does evolution and genetics explain the cognitive difference between races. Stanford neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky states in his book, Behave, that “scads of behavioral and personality traits have heritability scores of 40 to 60 percent, meaning that genetics explains about half the variability of the trait.” Genes are more potentiality than fate. The environment can, not only affect how a gene is realized in an individual, it can trigger sets of genes to create a wide variety of traits and characteristics. This means that socio-economic status and cultural factors can determine how a gene affects a human being’s development
This would mean that both Kendi and Murray are wrong. Kendi is wrong because disparate outcomes are more likely related to differences in cognitive ability than racism, and Murray is wrong in implying that there is not much you can do about the differences in cognitive ability and the resulting outcomes.
Dr. Murray writes that “Race differences in cognitive ability increase significantly from infancy to childhood to adulthood….the onset of puberty marks the point at which the size of the difference has stabilized.” Regarding early education such as pre-K, he states that “exposure to education does indeed have an effect on the cognitive ability of all children, but no one has yet found a way to increase cognitive ability permanently. The success stories consist of modest effects on exit tests that fade out.”
Dr. Sapolsky states that “heritability of various aspects of cognitive development is very high (e.g., around 70 percent for IQ) in kids from high socio-economic status (SES) families but is only around 10 percent in low SES-kids.” This would indicate that racial differences in cognitive ability (and the resulting social and economic outcomes) are more likely related to environment than genetics. As Dr. Murray noted, pre-K helps kids temporarily. But after that early education intervention, they must return to their single parent household in a gang-ridden neighborhood. The difficulties of that style of life overwhelm the best efforts of early education.
Low socio-economic status is a factor as Dr. Sapolsky states. But waves of immigrants to the United States also suffered from low socio-economic status but were able to overcome that impediment over time. China Town, Little Italy and the Jewish ghetto were not posh upscale neighborhoods. And recent immigrants not only had to work long hours at tedious low paying jobs, they were also subject to bigotry and discrimination from the local inhabitants. But it was not the immigrants themselves that reaped the rewards of their efforts, it was their first and second generation descendants that achieved the American Dream (and in their later years the immigrant grandparents could savor the good feeling of a job well done).
The problem in closing the cognitive gap and the resultant disparate outcomes is our approach to findinga solution. Politicians want immediate answers because they believe that is what the voters want. Immediate action to solve a problem. But to solve this particular problem will require a generation. According to Dr. Murray, it is a disservice to current minority adults to place them in positions where they will not thrive because of the cognitive gap between them and the other people in those positions. It will also be a disservice to the company or the country that employs people that have less ability to fulfill their assigned function.
But it is also a disservice to the nation to allow a large sector of the population to languish because they lack the economic and cultural inputs needed to fully develop their potential. In order to reduce the cognitive ability gap, we need to eliminate the causes of the gap. Slow evolutionary forces may be needed to close the genetic causes of the gap, to the extent that they do indeed exist. But we can close many of the environmental factors that impair cognitive development.
Welfare, the War on Poverty and transfer payments have done little to affect the socio-economic status of the poor (whites as well as minorities) as attested to by residual resentment and anger of the poorer classes as well as the stubborn inability to reduce the cognitive gap over the last thirty years. But low SES could not stop immigrants (who were equally poor and subject to discrimination and other indignities) from working toward achieving the American Dream.
Those earlier immigrants sacrificed their current well-being for the future benefit of their children and grandchildren. They could endure the hardship because they had a hope for a better future. Today’s dissatisfied and unhappy poor do not have that hope of a better future. Transfer payments from wealth producers and government benefits do not create a vision of a better future, only a future dependent on more handouts.
Governments cannot create hope. The best a government can do is to create an environment where people can flourish. But it is up to the people to develop the human capital essential to the creation of a better future. The progressive left, the leaders of the black community and other leftist movements have a very low opinion of the people they presume to lead. They fear (and rightly so) that if the people learned how to develop their human capital and how to take control of their lives and the destinies of their children, they would no longer need so-called leaders whose primary objective is to increase the peoples’ dependency on government.
Of course, it will not be easy to overcome six decades of the indoctrination of dependency. First of all, it cannot be done to the poor (of any ethnicity). It must be done by the poor. Government can help by eliminating policies that encourage dependency and replacing them with policies that incentivize people to do the right thing. But the poor need to follow what Dr. Wendy Wang, research director of the Institute for Family Research calls the Sequence; get an education, get a job, don’t have children before you are married. Its pretty basic but it works. People that follow the Sequence are much less likely to be poor. It takes time – a long time – a generation. Maybe two. But the people that follow the Sequence will have hope.