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Delroy Constantine-Simms
University of Essex (UK)
Marciea Monique McMillian
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA)


The publication of Hernstein & Murray’s (1994) “The Bell Curve” appears to be the
latest expression of pseudo scientific theories with respect to race and intelligence. This
paper gives an historical and ideological insight behind the development and application
of intelligence tests by citing examples of their impact on legislation, social policy and
intervention programmes in relation to Blacks. More importantly, a discussion of cultural
bias in test design focuses on the response of Black psychologists who developed Black
intelligence tests that portray whites as intellectually inferior in the same manner that
Blacks are portrayed as intellectually inferior on tests devised by white psychologist.
Furthermore, The hereditary perspective of intelligence is challenged by empirical
evidence that centres on children with white ancestry to assess whether white genes
influence intelligence while citing several sources that support the environmental
explanation of the race gap in test scores. Consequently, this discussion questions the
reliability and validity of intelligence tests that are used to reinforce the Black
intellectual inferiority myth. The conclusive argument suggests in no uncertain terms
that the Bell Curve is nothing more than the repackaging of racist pseudo-scientific
conclusions by right wing academics, intent on rekindling a political debate premised
on a racist manifesto to justify the withdrawal of intervention programmes that
challenge existing social and racial hierarchies, that are perceived to transfer white
power and privileges to undeserving Blacks.

Special Thanks to:

Dr. Madge Willis Morehouse College Atlanta Georgia (USA)
Dr. Gerald Horne University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (USA)
Dr. Colin Samson University of Essex (UK)
Shonga M’gadzah University of East London (UK)
Gail Pringle University of Leicester (UK)

The publication of the Bell Curve is the latest pseudo- intellectual accelerant being used to
fuel the debate on social Darwinism, intelligence race and the need to abolish the welfare
state. The last academic to court such controversy on these issues was Jensen (1969). He
reviewed all the literature which compared Black and white IQ tests and concluded that on
average Blacks were 15 IQ points below the average white population, therefore
educational programmes such as head start were a waste of time. In order to understand
the historical and ideological premise of the Bell Curve and the impact of such ideas on
social policy and intervention programmes, for Black people, one has to look at the work
of David Hulme as cited in Howitt & Owusu-Bempah (1994), who devised methods of
academic racism combined with Christianity to characterise Black people as satanic in
order to justify racism, while using science to ease the Christian conscience that would
have otherwise protested at the disgusting atrocities of slavery.
However, Chase (1977) suggests that Thomas Malthus not David Hulme should be
accorded the title “ founding father of scientific racism” as he provided the blue print for
the extermination of the poor, the sick and Black people as outlined in his essay “The
Principles of Population” (1798) It is quite clear that Malthuses views were based on
Darwin’s ideas, which provided the scientific justification for his fundamental opposition
to social reform including universal education, minimum standards of health, occupational
safety and sanitation Chase (1977). On the basis of hereditary theory, Malthus argued for
a pragmatic eugenics in his principles of psychology by suggesting that selective breeding
was necessary in order to eliminate unfit races. In his view of the unfit Black people were
inferior to the least worthy white person and deserved what they got. As extreme as these
ideas were Howitt & Owusu-Bempah (1994) note that the racist policies of Spencer
(1870) are rarely acknowledged let alone discussed by historians. Nevertheless, his version
of eugenics has been highly influential in modern psychology.
For example, Chase (1977) suggests Spencer influenced Thorndike’s textbooks on
mental development, the psychology of education and child psychology and the teaching
profession were a reflection of his commitment to the eugenic solution of compulsory
sterilisation to any psychological intervention.
In retrospect, the charges of scientific impropriety should be directed at Charles
Darwin, The biologist responsible for laying the ideological foundations of pseudo science,
social and biological determinism from which others have used academic respectability to
attack Black people at every opportunity available in order to justify the biological
justification of a hierarchical social order.
However, Bannister (1979) an ardent supporter of Darwinism and social selection
argues that: “The Descent of Man” reinforced a hierarchical view of human development
and the assumption that history was a progression from barbarism to civilisation…….In
this context, Darwin’s predictions concerning the extermination of lower races were not
prescriptions for racial imperialism but a summary of recent anthropological and
apparently undeniable results of European expansion since the renaissance. But Darwin
also insisted that this process was not to be confused the biological evolution or the
process whereby differences originally appeared” Bannister’s interpretation clearly
supports the argument that white society civilised Black countries. Bannister also suggests
that Herbert Spencer (1870) and his alumni contributed an intellectual rationale for
paternalistic but humane philanthropic and educational initiatives.
According to Bannister, Darwin can only be held to be racist on the basis of
association and scattered assumptions. This defence of Darwin’s theory of natural
selection by Bannister (1979) borders beyond the depths of rationality, especially when it
is clear that Darwin is the chief ideological architect and mentor to his half cousin Francis
Galton (1869) who examined the family tree of 415 highly distinguished judges, scientists,
literary figures, only to conclude that eminence ran in the family in the same way as
unusual physical attributes such as height, weight, skin colour, therefore genius is also
largely hereditary. To put it bluntly, he regarded the British upper class as a highly
productive intellectual stud farm. Galton’s concern was that good hereditary stock was
being swamped by bad stock. The solution to this problem was the science of Eugenics as
suggested by Galton, (1869) who invented and defined eugenics as part of the scientific
commitment to bio-social programmes to give the more suitable races or strains of blood
a better chance of prevailing speedily over the less suitable ones.
Unfortunately, Galton’s ideas did not die with him. Howitt and Owusu-Bempah
(1994) argue that the link between Galton’s hereditarian ideas and modern psychology
have been re-established through Cyril Burt (1966), who fraudulently massaged his data
on mental inheritance in twins. The other link with modern psychology is the fact that Burt
whose general practitioner father knew Galton, regarded Burt as his prodigy. Furthermore,
Burt was a student of Mc Dougall (1921), who supported race segregation in the United
States and regarded the untrained and excessive indulgence with sex as the main source of
problems in the Black community, not injustice. An argument that has the support of

Murray & Hernstein (1994) who make similar references in respect of minorities, women
and the poor.


Binet & Simon (1909) may have constructed, the first intelligence test, Terman of
Stanford University may have revised the Binet-Simon test and called it the Revised
Stanford Binet Scales. However, (Tanser, 1939; Mc Gurk, 1951; Burt, 1966; Shuey,
1966; Cattell, 1971; Jencks, 1980 ) and many others have used such tests to label Black
people as genetically and intellectually inferior. Moreover, they all believed that inferior
people paupers, disabled, and criminals & Black people posed a threat to society.
A view that was responsible for the enactment of sterilisation laws in more than
thirty American states to prevent people of low intelligence mainly Black people from
reproducing. In Virginia it led to more than 7,500 compulsory sterilisation's between 1924
and 1972. Sadly, the premise of these notions are based on previous tests that have
consistently failed to include minorities in the standardisation process, yet (Shuey, 1958;
Jensen, 1969; Murray & Hernstein 1994; Brand, 1996; ) support their work even though
question marks surround the validity of their research findings.
Therefore it comes as no surprise when Hilliard (1995) argues that the current
assault on African and African people by the misuse of psychometric theories regarding
intellectual inferiority is nothing new let alone improved.
In order to understand the point being made by Hilliard (1995) just take a closer
look at the Wechsler Scale for children (WISC) that was based on a sample of 2,200
children, all white. Even in the revised (WISC-R), only 165 Black males and 165 Black
females were used. Interestingly, enough the Stanford Binet was based on 3,000 American
born white children before it was revised in 1960. Also the Peabody Picture Vocabulary
test based on 4,000 white students from Nashville, Tennessee until it was revised in
1937. The very nature of IQ tests, represents a major stumbling block to Murray &
Hernstein's argument. Hence, my reasons for supporting Mercer (1973 when she argues
that, IQ tests are Anglo-centric, because they measure the extent to which an individual's
background matches the average cultural pattern of American society, i.e. white middle
class society. Her conclusions led to legislation making it illegal since 1978 to determine
that a child is retarded on the sole basis of it's score on IQ tests. However, standardised
testing remains problematic, as they still tend to reward a narrow social, gender, racial,
and ethnic status, rather than real notions of merit Sadker and Sadker (1994).

In recognition of the fact that it is certainly easier to devise tests which are blatantly
biased than to construct a culture fair or culture free test. Black Psychologists, educators
and sociologists have responded to the application of traditional tests by developing
culturally loaded tests using references to materials familiar to African-Americans via
culturally sensitive instruments such as the Dove Counter Culture Balance General
Intelligence Test, The Test of Cultural Empathy (TOCE), Black Intelligence of Cultural
Homogeneity (BITCH-100), developed by (Dove, & Sullivan 1973; Goodyear, 1973;
Williams, 1975; Tanser; 1939 ) which all draw on Black language culture and experience
More importantly, these tests have been validated at some stage. An example, is the
cross validation study of the BITCH-100 conducted by McNeil (1975) who compared the
performance of 74 Black students (37 male and 37 female) to 155 white students (76 male
and 79 female) on the BITCH and the Lorge-Thorndike Intelligence. On the Lorge-
Thorndike Test, the average score for white students was 13.08 or 3.95 points higher than
the average score of 9.13 for Black students. On the BITCH-100, however, Black
students scored an average of 18.05 points higher than the white students.
The disparity between the averages was favourable for Black students since, as Mc
Neil (1975) argues, Black students must learn how to deal with their immediate
environment from which the BITCH-100 is drawn and with the dominant values of white
middle class culture from which the Lorge-Thorndike is based. Unfortunately, there is no
compulsion for whites to understand Black culture which is considerably different to white
culture in many ways. The culture specific BITCH represents an alternative approach to
intelligence testing in that it attempts to assess what Black students have learned.
Williams (1970) conducted a comparative study and found that Black students had
a 36 mean point superiority over white students. Furthermore, the shapes of the Black and
white groups response distributions were asymmetrical. Neither curve was proportionally
balanced, both curves deviated significantly from the bell shaped distribution usually
sought on standardised tests.
The following study by Mercer (1973) is also compelling. She developed a test
routine of life skills, like keeping score at baseball or reading a news paper. Mercer gave
this test to Blacks and Whites with IQ’s under 70. The test was scored pass/fail. None of
the Whites passed the test, but 95% of the Blacks did. This suggests that IQ tests are
measuring something fundamentally different for Blacks and Whites, at least for low
scores. Similar findings were reported by Matarazzo and Weins (1975) who compared
the BITCH-100 and the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) scores but a bimodal
one for the BITCH-100. In addition, Correlational analysis revealed no relationship
between the BITCH-100 and WAIS scores. Again, the BITCH-100 may be picking up
information not usually measured in traditional IQ tests.
In respect of cultural bias, these results demonstrate that differences in test scores
are closely related to cultural bias in traditional tests as cited by (Williams, 1970; Mc Neil,
1974; Dove, 1968;. Despite all the evidence to substantiate the influence of test bias
Jensen (1974) continued to argue that test bias is not a problem because the race gap is
larger on non verbal tests than on verbal tests, which are more likely to be culturally
loaded. But Scarr (1981) found that Blacks did relatively better on less culturally loaded
tests when the instructions were made comprehensible. Whitely and Davis (1974) found
that a single 50-minute test preparation session raised Black scores significantly on an
analogies test.
William’s (1970), found that Blacks did score higher on culturally specific tests
than on standard IQ tests. Therefore, it seems likely that the use of non standard English
dialects by many Blacks would affect their performance on tests written in standard
English. Admittedly, Quay (1971) noted that Black English translations of the IQ test
made no difference to the results, whereas as William’s (1970) found that Blacks out
performed whites on a translated test.
The causes of this discrepancy are unclear, but one possibility is the quality of the
translation and the fact that these test have been standardised on white populations.
Consequently, there are several other factors which affect the scores of Blacks. For
example, environmental factors have never, in reality, been similar, and class bias has not
been controlled adequately. The inability to control for these two variables alone could
lead to significant differences in test scores between Blacks and whites Crane (1994).
However, the lack of data concerning these variables serves to bolster the hereditarian
school of thought as a feasible explanation in respect of the intellectual inferiority of
Blacks in America and the Diaspora.


Academics have suggested that the relationship between race and intelligence is a
consequence of genes causing people to seek out particular environments (Murray &
Hernstein, 1994; Jencks, 1980; Plomi et al. 1977). They imply that it is not implausible
that people who are innately intelligent tend to be more interested in intellectual pursuits
and thus put more time and effort into developing their cognitive skills. If this is true, the
inheritability estimates fail to distinguish between the direct effect of genes and the indirect
effect that works through choices of individuals to expose themselves to intellectual
enrichment. It is also quite possible that other types of genes could influence the effort a
person puts into learning.
Lewontin (1976) showed that even if the heritability of a trait is 100% within two
groups, differences in the trait between the groups could be completely environmental.
The hypothetical response by Crane (1994) is to assume for arguments the sake that
height is completely determined by genes and nutrition. He argues that it there were two
islands, one extremely lush and the other extremely sparse. The two islands and the other
extremely sparse. The two sets of islands have identical distribution of genes determining
height. Every one has the same diet, but the diet on the lush island is nutritiously more
richer than the one on the sparse island.. Thus the people on the island are taller than
average. In that case, differences in height within each set would be completely genetic,
whereas the differences between them would be environmental.
The hereditarian response to Lewonitin (1976) is that within group heritability
estimates are applicable to between group differences except to the extent that there are
environmental effects that are unique to one of the groups (Jensen, 1975a; Urbach, 1974).
With respect to the issue at hand, this would correspond to the phenomenon of race
specific environmental effects, like racism or unique aspects of Black culture.
This is because any environmental effects common to both races, like (SES), would
be taken into account by within race heritability estimates. Hereditarians argue that it is
implausible that such race specific effects could be large enough to account for a
substantial portion of the race gap in IQ. But there is some ancillary evidence that
supports environmental explanations of the race gap (Eyeferth, 1961; Scarr & Weinberg;
1976) Cross national comparisons offer less direct evidence, but they are suggestive.
In Puerto Rico, where SES differences between races are smaller than they are in
continental United States, IQ differences between Blacks and Whites are less than a third
of those on the mainland Flynn, (1980).

There are numerous countries and sub-populations of Whites that have or at some
point had mean IQ’s that are approximately the same as African American Blacks. Some
of these have varied by more than 15 point race gap over just a few decades (too short a
time to be explained by changes in the gene pool) or across environments. Ceci (1990)
noted the case of the Burakumi, a Japanese ethnic group with SES characteristics and IQ
scores similar to African-American.
But in America, Burakumi children do as well on tests and in schools as other
Japanese. This goes to show that there are other influences that mental measurement tools
are insensitive too. Even, if IQ were 100% heritable, the race gap could still be a by
product of environmental disadvantages that Blacks experience.
Because of the causal relationships between genes and the environment, two general
types of causal relationships make genetic and environmental effects on cognitive skills
non additive. Within each type, there are several defined hypothesis about how genes and
various aspects of the environment might relate in ways that would affect cognitive skills.
One general type of casual relationship is the tendency of an environment to react
differently to people with different genes (Jencks, 1980; Plommin; Defries & Loehlin;

For example Crane (1994), explains this phenomenon by focusing on height and it’s
impact on basketball skills. Crane argues that all other things being equal, taller people are
better at basketball. Also, tall people tend to catch the eye of Basketball coaches, who are
likely to try and encourage them to try out for the team and work a lot with them if they
do Crane (1994) asserts that tall people will tend to receive more environmental
nurturance of their skills. Similarly, he argues that it is quite possible that children who
develop more cognitive skills than average, because their genes also tend to receive
greater than average encouragement to pursue intellectual activities and more help from
parents and teachers. Racial discrimination in general is another example of causal
relationships of this type. People with genes for Black skin systematically encounter
different environments than do others in society. This illustrates the fact that the
“environmental explanation” of the gap of cognitive skills actually assumes that the cause
of the gap is both 100% genetic and 100% environmental in the sense that genes for Black
skin causes the environment to react to the individual in such a way as to discourage the
development of such skills. But of course these are not the same genes that hereditarians
assume are causing the gap.

If the recent hereditarian assertions implied by Murray & Hernstein (1994) and Brand
(1996) are correct, then Black people with varying amounts of white ancestry, and many
white genes, should on average have higher IQ's than those with little or no white
ancestry. Such notions are discredited by Witty & Jenkins (1936) who conducted a study
of Black School Children in Chicago, which focused on 91 children with the highest IQ
among 8,000 students enrolled in the Chicago school system. They reasoned that if Black
children are genetically inferior to white children then these Black children should come
from an ancestry that is predominantly white.
An updated experiment conducted by Scarr (1977) used 43 blood group markers to
estimate the proportion of white ancestry of Philadelphia school children who were
subjects in the study. Their results showed no association between racial ancestry and four
separate tests of intellectual performance: the correlation's were all very close to zero,
hence their conclusion that their are no associations between race & intelligence. Thus
reinforcing the scientific fact that most anatomical and physiological and biochemical
systems in humans display no racial differences. Tobias (1970) reviewed all published
comparisons of the brains of Black & White Americans and concluded that their is no
acceptable evidence for differences in IQ or other performance tests that can support the
hereditarian theory.
Whether Murray & Hernstein (1994) like it or not their are two studies which prove
that their argument surrounding intelligence and genetics in relation to mixed race children
are also flawed. Firstly, Eyferth's (1961) study focused on Besatzungskinder - the
illegitimate offspring of American occupation troops and German women, following the
second world war. A comparison was made between the white & the mixed race off
spring. The studies showed conclusively that there was no difference between the average
IQ of the mixed children & white children.
The second study carried out by Scarr & Weinberg (1977) focused on groups of
Black, mixed race and white children raised in white adoptive homes, were found to have
nearly the same IQ's which is very hard to reconcile with the hereditarian thesis.
In the light of all the racial crossing studies and admixture studies and bearing in
mind that these tests are only direct tests of the Eysenck hereditarian thesis, it is hard to
see how Murray & Hernstein (1994), can continue to claim that the existing evidence
support the thesis that race differences in IQ are largely determined by genetic factors.

The work of (Shuey, 1958; Jensen, 1969; 1980;) has convinced many professional
and academics to accept that whites are more intelligent than Blacks, despite evidence to
the contrary, as shown by Snyderman and Rothman (1990), who administered a
questionnaire to assess the Black white difference is a product of genes or environment.
The majority agreed with the hereditarian view. Compliance with the hereditarian
perspective exposes the flaws of psychometric science, as there is no scientific definition
of race as cited by (Fairchild, 1991; Montague, 1974; Yee, 1983;). Furthermore, there is
no accounting for the intervening variable of school treatment, and there is no accounting
for linguistic and cultural diversity in the design of mental measurement instruments Helms
Yet Psychometricians are still confident of the predictive ability of their instruments.
This should be of great concern as there is ample evidence of test abuse in (Gould 1981;
Guthrie, 1976, Kamin, 1974;) Unfortunately, their perception of the facts are far from
parallel with public opinion which may explain the popularity of pseudo-scientist such as
Murray and Hernstein (1994) and more recently Brand (1996).
The facts regarding the utility and futility of cognitive test are self evident to those
who reject the hereditarian perspective, At the same time environmentalists must also
come up with a reliable form of cognitive test device. The ultimate question is what can be
done and who by ? Several solutions tests have been posed in the past. Among the early
approaches were the issues of culturally free and culturally fair testing. The difficulty with
culture free tests is that they fail to measure scholastic aptitude the very thing they were
designed to measure.
Culturally free tests are meant to eliminate cultural influences eliminating words or
the use of language from a test instrument. However, it is virtually impossible to eliminate
cultural influences from testing tools. The alternative is to acknowledge cultural
differences by constructing a culturally fair test containing items that are familiar to many
ethnic groups. Despite the problems with Black psychology tests they do offer some
convincing arguments against the hereditarian thesis in test scores between Black and
white subjects, while exposing the additional problem of cultural and linguistic bias in tests
that claim to be culture free. Consequently, test scores based on traditional tests continue

to be presented with unwarranted conclusions concerning the intellectual inferiority of
Black people in America and the Diaspora compared to whites.


One of the defining features of the mainstream rights racial project is it’s re-defining of
the term racial equality in terms of colour blindness. Ruth Frankenburg (1993) points out
that colour blindness on the part of whites represents a mode of thinking about race
organised around an effort not to see or acknowledge their racial privilege and power.
Colour blindness is a double move toward colour evasiveness and power evasiveness, it
represents a polite language of race that is deceitful when it come to acknowledging the
complicity of whites with the structural and institutional inequality.
Murray & Hernstein’ (1994) colour blind racial politics supports a re-
conceptualised understanding of racial equality based on civic individualism. According to
this re-formulation, equality is the result of individual striving, merit and deserved
achievement and discrimination. If intentional it is against individuals not groups. The Bell
Curve is therefore an extension of mainstream right wing colour blind racial politics; it is
the rationalisation of a colour blind, nevertheless racialized meritocracy.
To be fair to Hernstein & Murray (1994) cannot be directly accused of being little
Adolf Hitler's, Moreover their work is certainly no Mein Kampf, but it does come very
close. Their work may be considered an expression of pseudo scientific rhetoric, yet it
could take us down a dangerous road, similar to the one that led to the introduction of
IQ tests in Nazi Germany in the 1930's. More importantly, The reason why this book is
getting so much attention contrary to popular belief has nothing to do with their scientific
findings, It is inextricably linked to political arguments aimed at defeating liberal reforms
such as health; welfare; unemployment benefits; Workers compensation and affirmative
action. The nature of books such as The Bell Curve (1994) and The g Factor (1996)
serve to reinforce the belief that human populations differ in their inherited mental
qualities which is the basic premises of racist thought. The specific formulation of their
genetic doctrine is nothing new, it just varies in sophistication from period to period, but
the essence is always the same. Some races are said to inherit a capacity for abstract
thought, others learning only by rote; some are equipped with foresight, while others are
fated to be creatures of impulse. Such differences are unalterable, whether one views
them as in the blood or encoded in the genes. For the white racist, the genetic argument
offers an apparently scientific basis for viewing Blacks as inferior. Since Blacks and whites
inherit different physical features such as skin colour, hair texture, why not different
psychic structures ? The next step is to assert that the intellectual, economic, social and
political potential of Blacks is genetically limited, as compared with whites.
The message conveyed from this book and others like it, are clear. It’s the same old
shit in new clothes, just another strategy for a violent and racist society to say Black
people's problems are their own. Which means, it’s easier for the racist to blame (Black)
their genes than to improve the present social economic political structure of a society that
disadvantages so many Blacks and other visible ethnic minority groups.

Contact details:

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