Friday, April 30, 2010

Racist Harvard Law student emailer

Well if you haven't yet heard about the Harvard Law School student, Stephanie Grace, who had a conversation about race at a dinner and then sent out the racist email basically trying to prove that African Americans are not as intelligent than whites, here's the info and links to other sites who have talked about this incident.

Here's a copy of the email she sent (I found this on blog):

... 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.

Please don't pull a Larry Summers on me,

Stephanie Grace

Other sites have talked about it with more detail than I'm going to:

I am in agreement with Jill's blog post about this incident. It seems her post was closed for comments. If anyone has views on this incident feel free to post a comment here. It's pretty sad that a person who may be a lawyer or working with the law in some way in the future has these views but I bet there are many more.


Anonymous said...

I cannot believe this man, wat kinda person can say this!! Who does this chick thinks she is!! im not african but mY BEST FRIENDS ARE AFRICAN and im pretty sure i would be speaking for them when i say U R STUPID AND STUCK UP!!!I mean who says that africans are more stupid than white people. You watch your mouth in the future (and ur fingers as well) and keep ur biased comments to yourself.

Anonymous said...

I believe that this email is being potentially misunderstood. I believe that what the person is trying to say is that it is TECHNICALLY possible that genetically, one race might have an advantage over another race in some aspect. Whether or not this is ACTUALLY the case does not change the fact that this possibility cannot be discarded out of hand because it isn't PC.
There is, perhaps, a slight flaw however, which is that human beings are the same species. While other animals have split into different species due to different environments, it seems that the human's adaptability has allowed it to change from environment to environment with minimal change. The fact that humans the world over are so close genetically explains how, in practice, all races DO seem to be equal physically and mentally, thankfully. But it is still true that simply because it agrees with our moral instincts is not a valid scientific argument.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of sounding racist, I can agree with her insofar as the "possibility" goes. I find it improbable, but since it has yet to be proven decisively in either direction, I leave myself open to it just as I leave myself open to the improbability of a God. Shit happens. The thing I find the most important is the fact that it WOULDN'T MATTER. People should assess each other on an individual basis and group statistics like this are meaningless. I consider myself very intelligent but I know many 'African-Americans' at my university who are equally or more so and deserve to be treated as such.