Recently, I've been debating the relationship between race, intelligence and behavior with a friend. The debate revolves around the idea that there is a direct correlation between race and intelligence. My friend asserts that black people are genetically inferior, and are therefore incapable of the more complex thinking patterns that other races are capable of and are more prone to violent behavior. He cites various anecdotes in his life and history showing no advanced black or African civilizations as his evidence of the genetic inferiority of black African people.
Now we both are not ignorant to the controversy that shrouds conversations on such sensitive topics. But then again, I've never been a stranger to controversy. I actually relish in the idea of talking about the most taboo of topics with people such as religion, politics and yes, race also.
Now I acknowledge, along with my friend, that here in the U.S., there are definitely problems in the black community involving violence, poverty, educational gaps, income gaps, and family relations. I assert to my friend that these problems in the black community are cultural problems, and that there is no scientific evidence that shows that the brains of black people are incapable of the complex neurological transactions that other races have, and if there was, I would love to hear a reference. Now while I am still waiting on this promised reference, I am being accused of following the example of, and being a puppet of, the liberal media, which over and over again asserts no difference in intelligence among the races.
I don't particularly like being called a puppet of the liberal media, because I definitely have my criticisms of it, and I've even accused this same friend that he too is a puppet of the liberal media, because he's sympathetic toward Islam in that he thinks Islam is a religion of peace. I want to take a moment here to put into words why I think culture is to blame for the problems in the African American community.
A Culture of Apathy
One of the main problems affecting the African American community is a culture that embraces and nurtures apathy as if it was a virtue. This is in large part a legacy of the institutionalized racism that existed throughout most of American history and even before. The constant inculcation that blacks are inferior does have lasting psychological effects leading to feelings inferiority, and apathy can result as a process. For example, my dad was very verbally abusive when I was a child. He'd yell and curse at me repeatedly saying that I was stupid for making the slightest infraction. This as you can imagine, was not very helpful for my self-esteem growing up in my formative years and I was plagued in insecurity. I would sometimes not even try at achievement or do a half ass job, because I didn't feel I was good enough or worthy enough. On a larger scale, the systematic assertion that an entire race is inferior and less intelligent, can produce the same results that I have experienced in my youth.
This is the first step that establishes the main problem facing African Americans today. It is apathy that leads black kids to drop out of school, not care about striving in the workforce, and not taking care of their family and children. This behavior then becomes in a way, fetishized and ingrained in the culture to become as expected norms. And it is this, that makes the impact of apathy so devastating on a multi-generational and cultural basis.
The Epic of Violence
Let me now address the most visible problem today in the African American community, and that is of course, violence. We all know the statistics: young black men commit a much larger proportion of violence than their population. In New York City where I live, blacks represent about 24% of the total population, but they represent 61% of all homocide perpetrators and victims according to the New York Times. Similar statistics are reflected in other large American metropolitan areas.
Now the violence that plagues the African American community is I believe, a result of fear. Let me explain. Throughout American history, black people were routinely attacked, harrassed, subjected and humiliated. Black people had to be tough on the outside as to not show fear and intimidation by whites, and they had to assert their voices and rights, sometimes violently. They were for much of American history, forced to submit to the white majority and once they got their "freedom" so to speak, once they were able to assert their rights and voices, they did so vehemently. It was generally around this time, the 1960s, that we saw levels of violence in the black community dramatically rise.
When people fear you, that gives you a sense of power. White people often fear black people because of the statistically higher numbers of violent black criminals. As long as the statistics stay high in this regard in favor of violent black behavior, black people will continue to produce fear in the hearts of white people as well as other black people, and this I think for some black people at least, is used as a cloak of power. In other words, as long as black people continue "keepin' it real" as it is said in the 'hood, by keeping levels of violence high, they will be feared, and this fear will give them power. And it is this strive for power that is a reaction to the centuries of terror, humiliation and subordination that was forced on black people.
The Irish, Italians, and many Eastern Europeans were the subject of discrimination by Northern European WASPs in the new world, and were regarded as ethnically inferior and incapable of the higher levels of living that the ruling class WASPs were. Eventually larger numbers of these groups began working their way up the social and economic ladder as many African Americans have done. The main difference, is that those perceived inferior ethnic whites can much more easily blend into the WASP majority and become part of "White America". Black people will never get that luxury. They will always be distinct from the white majority as a result of their skin color, and this creates isolation where cultures of apathy can grow and flourish.
The Impact of Family
The reason why Asian Americans and Jewish Americans excel so well in acedemia, economics and why they have a tendency towards low levels of violent criminal behavoir, is culture. Asians and Jews have cultures where there is a very high level of expectation on education, business, and family. Family is the key to eradicating the culture of apathy. If children are raised with love, care, and are given the confidence and the moral guidelines conducive to engaging in a civil society, they will help grow a culture bereft of the embrace and nurturing of apathy. This is largely absent in the African American community.
One of the engines driving the continuation of the culture of apathy is the broken family. When you have a culture that doesn't respect responsible fatherhood, you will have problems. This is evident in black culture, such as Hip Hop. Furthermore, there are numerous examples of bad parenting even when there is a father present. Black comedians like to point out the differences between white and black parents on the issue of corporal punishment. It seems from studies that corporal punishment is more accepted and pervasive in the black community. When you use violence as a means for solving problems, you reinforce the idea that violence is an acceptable way of solving problems, and this leads to an overall increase in violent behavior.
Now in many East Asian cultures corporal punishment is pretty pervasive but we are not seeing Asian Americans blast each other away with semi-automatic weapons at the same levels we see among African Americans. This is because of a few primary factors. First, the overall family structure is better, in that there are more responsible fathers present. Second, the East Asian cultures do not have the history of racism and slavery to the same level that African Americans have had in the U.S. Third, in East Asia there exists a culture that places a high level of successful academic and business expectations, and a high importance to provide for the family, which is often extended past the nuclear family. African immigrants to the U.S. often are not entrenched into the cultural apathy that many African Americans are, and therefore are often more successful in academia and business. African Americans, because of the institutionalized slavery and racism in the U.S. are disconnected from their cultural African roots which values education and family.
The "Acting White" Dilemma
Finally, I want to address the societal scarlet letter in African American culture, that is being accused of acting white. This accusation is perceived by some as forfeiting one's African American cultural identity. The idea that speaking proper English like many white Americans do, getting good grades in school, obtaining higher education, and becoming a productive member of the work force is a forfeiture of African American cultural identity, might just be the single biggest cultural hindrance for the advancement of African Americans today. The same problem plagues some Middle Eastern and South Asian immigrants in Europe who are marginalized, and prone to criminal behavior. They come from conservative Islamic Asian cultures that doesn't always mix well with the open liberal modern day cultures of Europe. This cultural isolation, leads to the same culture of apathy that has beset African Americans in the U.S.
Is it not apparent that African Americans who "act white" are generally those more successful in academia and business and have a better family structure? The "acting white" dilemma can only be addressed if there is a change in African American culture, whereby intellect, pursued for its own sake, and family responsibility are seen as virtues. If these virtues are not embedded into the culture, represented by positive role models, the culture of apathy will continue, generation after generation, as it has in the past.
What About Africa's Problems?
So I have outlined the main reasons why I feel the problems in the African American community are manifestations of culture and history, but what about Africans in Africa? Jared Diamond wrote an excellent book addressing the distributions of wealth and advancement among all the world's people's in Guns, Germs and Steel. Regarding the technological superiority of Europeans over Africans, he writes "food production was delayed in sub-Saharan Africa (compared with Eurasia) by Africa's paucity of domesticable native animal and plant species, its much smaller area suitable for indigenous food production, and its north-south axis, which retarded the spread of food production and inventions."
Simply put, it is an accident in geography that has plagued Africa: it contained no native animals that could be domesticated; and it contained few native plants suitable for agriculture. Agriculture and animal domestication are the first steps required to evolve past the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. It is only with this, that a society can develop writing and metallurgy, the tools necessary to reach something like an industrial revolution. Eurasia, with its vast east-west axis, numerous domesticable animals (13 compared to Africa's 0) and plant species was where agriculture was invented, and this gave those peoples a technological head start. Thus, it is on the continent of Eurasia, that we today see some of the richest and most advanced nations.
African nations today have been plagued with ethnic and religious violence, often under the rule of corrupt dictators. This is due in large part from the legacy of European colonization, in which political lines were drawn outlining countries, without consideration for ethnic and land distributions. The same problem faces many parts of the Middle East and South Asia, where once great societies have fallen from grace.
In conclusion, I'd like to say that me and my friend both acknowledge human evolution as described by modern science. Homo Sapiens came out of Africa approximately 50-70,000 years ago and we have been human for about 100-250,000 years. While I don't think there is any evidence that shows a distinction in the cognitive abilities based on race, I told my friend that I'd be willing to change my mind if he can produce unbiased, peer reviewed publications that show it to be true. Until then, just as I operate with claims of divinity, the default position is disbelief.