So, I was looking at my Google Buzz and saw that Tony had posted an article about some Harvard student being racist. Normally I could care less because it seems to me that a lot of things that are labeled as "racist" or "sexist" should be labeled as "things that are funny and/or harmless, but offend the uptight and overly sensitive". For instance, people make jokes about how women are crazy and overly emotional. I’m a woman, I laugh at some of those jokes. Some women do not laugh, they get all bent out of shape and go off on feminist rants. Those women are overly sensitive. They are unable to understand and accept that stereotypes come from real world observations. But that’s not really the point. The point is, something about the headline for this news article grabbed me and I clicked the link. Then I clicked another link to an older article. Then I clicked a link that took me to a place where the supposedly racist email in question was posted in its entirety.
From reading the first two articles I was able to ascertain the following:
- Third year Harvard law student Stephanie Grace went to a dinner party
- At the dinner party the conversation touched upon something which prompted a comment from Stephanie regarding race and intelligence
- After the dinner party Stephanie decided to clarify her comment in an email
- That email was leaked, possibly by someone who shouldn’t have had access to it in the first place, to Harvard’s Black Law Students’ Association
Now, here is the text of the email:
"… 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."
Now, I realize this isn’t going to be a popular interpretation, but I don’t think she’s necessarily being racist here. We don’t know what prompted the wording of this position. If the conversation at the dinner had nothing to do with race at all, then perhaps this suggests some racism. If the conversation was about intelligence and race, race being used as a general term with no race specified, then this email strongly suggests racism because of her specifying two particular races. However, if the conversation surrounding her at this dinner touched upon both intelligence and African Americans? Then no, I don’t see this email as racist at all. She is stating that she is open to the possibility that African Americans are genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. Being open to something is different from believing it to be true. And a group being predisposed to something does not mean that everyone in that group conforms to the predisposition.
I think that this email got blown out of proportion once it was made public. I also think that situations like this where something harmless is blown up by the media do more harm to racial relations than good. We don’t need to stop people from stereotyping and having opinions about large groups of people. What we need is for people to stop letting those stereotypes and opinions influence their interactions with other individuals. There are a lot of generalities and stereotypes about women that I find unfavorable, but that doesn’t mean I assume any woman I meet fits them. I get to know people on an individual basis, generating opinions based on their words and actions. If enough people did that then there would be no more racism or sexism.