Why Race Matters

A philosopher's elegant and compelling dissection of the race problem.

Michael Levin, Why Race Matters: Race Differences and What They Mean, Praeger Publishers, 1997, 415 pp., $65.00.

Reviewed by Jared Taylor

Michael Levin's long-awaited book on race has finally arrived, every bit as powerful and insightful as his admirers had hoped it would be. Why Race Matters does exactly what the title promises -- it removes all illusions about the insignificance of race, and explains what racial differences mean for a multi-racial society. It is a thorough, overwhelmingly convincing treatment of America's most serious and least understood problem. Like the work of Arthur Jensen and Philippe Rushton, it destroys the egalitarian myth, but Prof. Levin parts company with other academics in his willingness to tell us what biology means for policy. Facts imply conclusions, and this book draws them.

Basic Data

As Prof. Levin points out, a book like Why Race Matters should not have to be written. The only sensible conclusion to be drawn from simple observation is that races differ: "To put the matter bluntly, the question is not why anyone would believe the races are unequal in intelligence, but why anyone would believe them equal." For centuries, people as different as Arabs and Englishmen have judged Africans to be unintelligent, lascivious, jolly, and keen on rhythm. Today, in whatever corner of the globe one looks, blacks behave in certain consistent ways.

Nevertheless, every important racial policy in this country is based on the assumption that race differences in ability are known not to exist. Current beliefs are a remarkable victory of dogma over not only the evidence of our senses but the findings of science.

Prof. Levin begins by presenting the data. This has been done many times by others, and the basics need not be repeated here. Prof. Levin capably and thoroughly presents twin studies, adoption studies, test data, and heritability estimates, all while dismantling the desperate attempts of egalitarians to dismiss them.

There is now not much informed opposition (though a great deal of un-informed opposition) to the conclusion that IQ tests test intelligence, that intelligence is at least partly hereditary, and that the races differ in average IQ. The last-ditch battle of the egalitarians is to try to save the idea that race differences are caused by environment -- primarily by malevolent white people, past and present.

To counter this view, Prof. Levin gives a thorough account of recent work on the strictly biological correlates of intelligence. When smart people think, their brains emit different electrophysiological signals from those of the less smart. Prof. Levin notes that advances in the study of brain waves could probably establish quite precise racial differences, but fear appears to have halted the research. Brain size also has a robust correlation with intelligence, and intelligent people's brains metabolize glucose relatively slowly.

A Puzzled LiberalEgalitarians claim that childhood nutrition accounts for this sort of thing, but the differences remain when nutrition is held constant (when only those blacks and whites who get the same diet are compared). Moreover, black children mature more rapidly than white children, are more athletic, and go on to dominate professional sports -- not what one would expect from the malnourished. Likewise, diet does not explain metabolic or brain size differences in fraternal twins reared in the same family on the same food. If the anti-biology camp is not to be silenced completely it must argue that people unconsciously single out children with large heads for favorable treatment or give white children subtle training in how to retard glucose oxidation. [Image: A puzzled liberal ponders the mysteries of race.]

It is nevertheless theoretically possible that the most hotly-defended egalitarian position is correct: that the black-white IQ gap persists only because the two populations are reared in different environments. According to this view, blacks and whites should be thought of as identical twins reared apart, but with the black twin's environment so dismal it robbed him of 15 IQ points.

Such a view might be plausible if intelligence is easily molded, but it is not. Prof. Levin points out that since it is generally accepted that 70 percent of the variation in IQ is controlled by genes and only 30 percent by environment, "it is almost but not quite irrational to believe that the interracial IQ difference of +1 SD [standard deviation, or 15 points] can be completely explained by differences in black and white environments." Blacks and whites would have to live in fantastically different worlds (Prof. Levin calculates them as 1.85 SD apart) to account for this IQ difference, yet the difference has been unchanged by integration, huge transfers of wealth, and the very considerable reduction in the gap between black and white environments.

There have, of course, been many attempts to raise black IQ by "enriching" the environment. As Prof. Levin explains, the most ambitious such efforts, including Head Start, the Perry Preschool Program, and the Milwaukee Project all failed to produce lasting gains in IQ. Recent ingenious testing methods for young children have shown that the one SD difference between blacks and whites is present by age three. It is hard to imagine white society managing to damage black children permanently during the very years when most blacks have virtually no contact with whites.

The tenacity with which egalitarians hold to social rather than biological explanations for group differences probably bespeaks a fear that biology is immutable in its power to determine our lives. And yet, if blacks are so vulnerable to environment that they have been collectively beaten out of 15 points of IQ, environment must be just as ruthless and deterministic as biology. The difference is that so long as there is a chance that white people are to blame for black failure, there is joy in denouncing and persecuting "racists." All the fun goes out of the game if nature, not bigots, is to blame. Thus, as Prof. Levin explains, so long as there is even the flimsiest, post facto environmental explanation for differences, there will be zealots to defend it.

In the end, however, unless the data are somehow suppressed, Prof. Levin expects the Human Genome Project to identify intelligence-related genes and to show that they are not distributed with the same frequency in all races. He expects the distributions to match the social science data, which is indirect but relentlessly consistent. He tips his hat to W.E.B. Du Bois who, he says, will stand vindicated by science. When Du Bois spoke of "the talented tenth" -- the minority of blacks on whom racial progress depends -- he was very close to the truth. Approximately 12 percent of blacks are born at or above the white average in intelligence.

Mental Acrobatics

The modern debate about IQ has been quietly raging ever since Arthur Jensen relaunched it in 1969. Since many of the data are now unassailable, debate centers on how they should be interpreted. Much of Prof. Levin's book is therefore devoted to taking the stuffing out of the sometimes comical arguments of people like Steven Jay Gould and Andrew Hacker. As the book shows, egalitarians are always shifting their ground, ignoring data, and creating mysteries where none exists.

Examples of the latter are the currently fashionable views that race is a purely social artifact that should be junked, and that intelligence is undefined and unknowable. Prof. Levin notes that acrobatics of this kind are pure tendentiousness. Those who would discard the idea of race in any discussion of IQ find it essential for affirmative action. As for the pose that intelligence is unknowable: 

People who make a point in argument of not understanding "intelligence" invariably do understand it in all other contexts. They know an "intelligent" child is one who learns quickly, and that, of the two, Nobel laureates tend to be more "intelligent" than manual laborers.... People pretend not to understand "intelligence," I suspect, to avoid embarrassment over race.
There is also much ignorant shrieking about the "bias" of IQ tests designed by white men, but it is an odd bias that permits Asians to outscore whites. As Prof. Levin explains, a real example of bias would be a test of hand-eye coordination that involved only the right hand. Lefties could prove the bias of such a test by demonstrating their ability with their left hands. "If the races are equally intelligent," he writes, "it should be possible to find a task intuitively requiring intelligence that blacks perform as well as whites." No such task has ever been found.

This is what leads otherwise reasonable people to insist that musical and athletic abilities are forms of intelligence in which blacks may surpass whites. As Prof. Levin points out, it tortures the language to claim that Babe Ruth was a genius, but egalitarians must either take fantastic positions or cease to be egalitarian.

Even scientists lose their bearings when it comes to race. It is now fashionable to point out -- correctly -- that there is more genetic variation among African populations than in all other groups combined and then to suggest -- stupidly or deceitfully -- that this means genetic racial differences do not matter. Prof. Levin patiently explains that there is vastly more genetic variation in dogs than in giraffes, but that does not prevent people from noticing that giraffes are taller than dogs. The egalitarian literature is full of "science" of this kind, and one of this book's great strengths is its relentless pursuit and exposure of claims that may well be deliberately deceptive.

Egalitarians may be best at deceiving themselves, as Prof. Levin shows in his neat analysis of the trendy view that blacks cannot be racists. When people say this, they are probably thinking of "racism" as the claim that one's race is superior to others. In some dark recess of their minds, liberals cannot imagine anyone really believing that blacks are superior to whites, so blacks cannot be "racist." Since this reasoning is taboo, they instead claim that only members of "the dominant culture" or the group with "power" can be racist.


Prof. Levin is at his most original and provocative when he sets aside well-established data on intelligence and takes up the even more controversial question of morality. Other researchers have suggested that blacks differ from whites in ways other than IQ, but have not followed this argument very far.

For example, the widely used Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI), which subdivides personality into a number of categories, shows consistent differences in how blacks and whites evaluate themselves. Blacks, for example, hold themselves in higher regard than whites (or, in today's jargon, have "higher self-esteem"). They are consistently more likely to agree with statements like:

I am an important person.

I am entirely self-confident.

If given the chance I could make a good leader of people.

I have often had to take orders from someone who did not know as much as I did.

The common assumption that blacks are "taught to hate themselves" is wrong; blacks are quite pleased with themselves. At the same time, they consistently score higher than whites on the MMPI scales for such things as Hypomania, Psychopathy, Schizophrenia, and Masculinity, which are precisely the traits that distinguish incarcerated criminals from the rest of us. They tend to agree, for example, with statements like:
Most people are honest chiefly through fear of being caught.

Most people make friends because friends are likely to be useful to them.

Most people will use somewhat unfair means to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.

It is not hard for me to ask help from my friends even though I cannot return the favor.

Another finding is that blacks are more impulsive or present-oriented than whites. Given a choice between a small candy bar today and a big one tomorrow, black children are more likely than white children to want the small one today.

Finally, even within races, moral reasoning is closely associated with intelligence. Intelligence does not guarantee good behavior, but a certain level is necessary for self-knowledge and the comprehension of moral distinctions.

Prof. Levin does not flinch from drawing what may appear to be an unkind conclusion: Given the crime rates, social irresponsibility, lack of foresight, impulsiveness, and general self-centeredness of black behavior, blacks probably have a different inherent capacity and appreciation for morality.

He proposes that this difference can be explained by the environments in which blacks and whites (and Asians) evolved. In a warm climate where food can be gathered year-round, people do not need to develop habits of cooperation and planning in order to get through the winter. In the north, it took mutual trust and cooperation for groups of men to bring down large game, so reciprocal morality evolved along with intelligence.

Climate and terrain could also have influenced sexual behavior. Since African women could gather food for themselves and their children even if a mate abandoned them, there was less pressure to insist that men support their children. For the same reason, there was less evolutionary pressure on fathers to stick around. In the north, a man who abandoned his children might well leave no descendants to behave in like manner. And in fact, the family habits of Africans and transplanted blacks are extremely loose by white standards.

What we think of as moral behavior, including sexual morality, is now known to be heavily influenced by genes. As Prof. Levin points out, there is no biological reason to expect different populations to have evolved exactly the same distribution of morality-influencing genes. Therefore it is likely that "the races have ... evolved divergent evaluations of cooperativeness, aggression, rule-following, and concern with the future."

That blacks care less about others and worry less about the future is suggested in virtually every area of behavior. Crime is only the most obvious example, nor is it the expression of wretchedness and self-loathing that excuse-making whites pretend it to be. Prof. Levin notes that "the criminal behavior of young black males just does not look like an expression of despair. In account after account, these individuals come across as full of themselves and unrepentant." He might have added that if blacks were really reduced to hopelessness by white oppression, they would presumably have high suicide rates, whereas in every age group blacks kill themselves at only one half to one quarter the white rate.

The other prominent black deviation from white morality is reckless procreation, but other traits are just as striking: unwillingness to do volunteer work, support charities, donate organs, volunteer as medical test subjects, keep quiet in theaters, recycle trash, save money, exercise, or keep houses in good repair. Black mothers are twice as likely as white mothers to smoke, drink, and take drugs during pregnancy, even when doctors tell them not to. Blacks between ages 15 and 24 are ten times as likely to have fatal gun accidents as whites of the same age even when gun availability is controlled for. By white standards, black behavior is impulsive, shiftless, and inconsiderate.

People respond better to norms their ancestors evolved than to norms imposed on them by strangers. This may explain why black children get into trouble when held to standards of classroom decorum not "natural" to African societies. It may also explain current calls for "respecting the black learning style" or for Afrocentric curricula, but it is hardly fair of blacks to insist that the rules be changed to suit them after pushing their way unbidden into white institutions.

The personality differences Prof. Levin emphasizes explain why standardized tests "overpredict" black performance. Black students do not get grades as good as their SAT scores suggest they should, and even when IQ is held constant blacks are more likely than whites to be criminals. Why? It is likely that impulsiveness, a lack of concern for the future, and a lower regard for moral norms keeps blacks from performing at the levels IQ alone would predict.

Prof. Levin nevertheless warns whites against the mistake of thinking any human standard is absolute. Blacks can find whites moralistic, repressed, and incomprehensible: "A degree of helpfulness considered obligatory by hunters is considered foolish by gatherers, whereas hunters might regard gatherers as selfish. Each may think 'something is wrong' with -- and dislike -- the other." He goes on to say that for people who have evolved under different circumstances "a propensity to violate white norms need not be disordered or dysfunctional." Such differences are inherently no more value-laden than the fact that owls live in trees and moles live in holes. Blacks are simply different from whites and it may be foolish to expect them to behave like whites.

Of course, in a society built to white standards, it is difficult to refrain from ranking groups invidiously according to intelligence and morality. Prof. Levin argues that whites may therefore have valid reasons for wanting to avoid blacks. In this sense whites may well think whites (and Asians) "better" than blacks. Is this shocking? "The ranking of individuals and groups goes uncontested in nonracial contexts," he notes, and adds that "few egalitarians would have the effrontery to deny that the average minister has more qualities he admires than the average murderer."

Liberian Cannibals Display TrophiesAt the same time, low intelligence and low self-control may mean blacks are simply less able to govern themselves. In Prof. Levin's view, "a person of limited mental ability, not given to worrying about the quality of his desires or the likely consequences of following them, is relatively less free. So are people who follow an impulse as soon as it enters their heads." This suggests that "the white advantage in intelligence and self-restraint implies that, on average, whites are more autonomous and responsible for their actions than are blacks ...." and that blacks may be "less capable of scrutinizing the self and its choices." [Image: Young Liberian cannibals display the remains of their victims.]

Curiously, many liberals unintentionally speak of blacks in much the same way. They describe deviance as the understandable and even inevitable consequence of "oppression," thus implicitly accepting black helplessness. The literature on race is filled with the hunt for "root causes," which is another name for excuses. And yet if the environment excuses blacks why does it not excuse the whites who are said to oppress them? That liberals never speak sympathetically of the "root causes" of racism suggests they think whites are more autonomous and responsible than blacks.

Affirmative Action

Affirmative action is a somewhat less controversial subject but Prof. Levin tackles it with characteristic thoroughness and none of the mumbled apologies common even among "conservatives." He notes that justifications for preference keep shifting: "As the compensation argument has tottered -- mainly with growing awareness that the beneficiaries of affirmative action have never been discriminated against, and that its white victims have never discriminated -- there has been a migration to new grounds, few of which were heard of in 1965." Nonsense about role models, self-esteem, fighting stereotypes, diversity, etc. is now spouted by "people who have forgotten, or never knew, why they supported racial preferences in the first place."

Prof. Levin explains that the only valid excuse for preferences is compensation for past wrongs, but far from deserving compensation, American blacks have benefited enormously from life in a white-dominated society. Since black limitations are overwhelmingly likely to be inherent, whites have no obligation to help them overcome them. If anything, whites deserve compensation for the continuing violence and larceny they suffer at the hands of blacks.

Prof. Levin also points out the contradictions in affirmative action thinking when preferences are justified on probabilistic grounds: Even if it cannot be proven than any given black has suffered from white wickedness or that any given white has benefited from it, the chances are high enough to justify rewarding the one and punishing the other. However, preference advocates refuse to consider any probabilistic procedures that might inconvenience blacks. Blacks are vastly more violent than whites but liberals would gasp at the idea of making it more difficult for blacks than whites to own guns. Preventing violence is a far more legitimate role of government than promoting "diversity," so why is probabilistic reasoning unwarranted in crime control?

Affirmative action also violates the liberals' cherished notion that "separate is inherently unequal." If separate employment or promotion standards are valid for blacks, why not separate schools -- which would presumably be designed to meet their special needs? Incoherence on questions of this kind is mere cover for the conviction that the state may never allow race to be used against blacks but can require that it be used against whites.

Affirmative action is, of course, a policy that Prof. Levin would abolish today. While he is at it, he would legalize all private forms of discrimination. On libertarian grounds, people should be free to choose their associates or neighbors even for irrational reasons, and on empirical grounds it is often rational for whites to avoid blacks.

Prof. Levin would also abolish welfare. He argues that a social safety net may be a permissible luxury in a society of whites who will not abuse it but is, for blacks, too great a temptation to indolence. Likewise, the minimum wage is an unnecessary obstacle to blacks (and others) whose labor is simply not worth what government insists it should be.

Although blacks may be less able than whites to control behavior it does not mean wrongdoing should go unpunished, but that different punishments may be appropriate for different races. For blacks it should perhaps be swifter and include corporal punishment, especially for men who treat a jail term as a badge of honor and a rite of passage. It might also be sensible to try some black juveniles as adults, since blacks mature more rapidly than whites. Finally, since blacks have frequently shown themselves unable to transcend racial loyalty, they might be excluded from juries in trials that could inflame racial passion.

Interestingly, Prof. Levin's exhaustive study of racial differences leads to policies strikingly similar to those of the pre-civil rights era American South. It may be no coincidence that the latest scientific findings support the traditions of whites who lived, for generations, in the most intimate contact with blacks.

The only real objection to this excellent book is what some readers will consider its excessive thoroughness. As the author himself concedes, he sometimes appears to be "defending the obvious with complicated rejoinders." He explains that "where race is concerned, however, people seem capable of doubting what they elsewhere find self-evident, so argumentative overkill is difficult to avoid."

The symbolic logic is confined to footnotes, but some readers will still find the overkill heavy going, especially when Prof. Levin veers into his own field of philosophy. Nevertheless, this is an invaluable volume, packed with insight and information, and deserves the close attention of anyone with a serious interest in the American racial dilemma.

American Renaissance (October, 1997). Neither the graphics nor the comments that accompany them appear in the original article. Also see (off-site) Egalitarian Fiction and Collective Fraud. The scientific study of racial differences is a regular subject on PINC.


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