In the United States African born blacks and their offspring exceed American born whites in many socio-economic indicators (particularly in the areas educational attainment and occupational status) in ways that resemble the gaps observed between native born white and black Americans in those same indicators (Charles, 2007; Le, 2007; Le, 2007; US Census Bureau, Census 2000. "5% Public Use Microdata Sample.") Something else to note, according to the New York Times (Roberts, 2005), for the first time in history more blacks are coming to the United States from Africa than during the slave trade. Immigration figures show that since 1990 more Africans have arrived voluntarily than the total who disembarked in chains before the United States outlawed international slave trafficking in 1807. In other words: black African achievement can not simply be dismissed as that of a “small group” of elites entirely unrepresentative of the greater continent. Moreover, the academic attainment and occupational achievements of African blacks have been documented in the UK (Li and Heath, 2006; Dustmann, Theodoropoulos, 2006) as well as in Canada (Guppy and Davies, 1998; Boyd, 2002).

By Bernie Douglas (December 27, 2007)

What is IQ, and Why the Controversy?

IQ is a culturally, socially, and ideologically rooted concept; an index intended to predict success (i.e., to predict outcomes that are valued as success by some people) in a given society. The items on these tests are largely measures of achievement at various levels of competency (Sternberg et al, 1998a, 1999, 2003a) and are devised impressionistically by psychologists to simply mimic the psycholinguistic structures of schooling and middle class clerical/administrative occupations (Richardson, 2002). Alfred Binet, the IQ’s inventor, originally devised the IQ test to screen children for educational difficulties, and made clear its conceptual foundations (See Richardson, 2002). IQ tests are, and were originally designed to be nothing more than devices for generating numbers that are useful in assessing academic aptitude with in a given culture. Most traditional Intelligence tests measure specific forms of cognitive ability that are said to be predictive of school functioning, but do not measure the many forms of intelligence that are beyond these more specific skills, such as music, art, and interpersonal and intrapersonal abilities (Braaten and Norman, 2006). Moreover, neither IQ tests nor any tests except dynamic tests (see Sternberg & Grigorenko, 2002a) that require learning at the time of the test, directly measure ability to learn. Traditional tests focus much more on measuring past learning, which can be the result of differences in many factors, including motivation and available opportunities to learn.

There is to this day no clear evidence that conclusively demonstrates IQ tests to measure either an inborn property (Hirsch 1970, 2004; Schonemann, 1997c, 2005; Kempthorn 1978, 1997, Capron et al, 1999) or what is commonly understood to mean “intelligence:” Intelligence is a highly subjective construct which remains largely undefined (Schonemann, 1997c; Sternberg, 1988; Cole et al, 1971; Guttman, 1955). This has not, however, stopped many ardent IQ advocates from continuing to promote the IQ test’s practical merits for predicting academic success and job performance in Western market based societies. Some of the more zealous IQ advocates have even gone so far as to suggest that the reason many blacks and minorities do not achieve in the areas of academic attainment and occupational status may be the result of low IQ, and not because of other more pressing societal factors. Ignoring historical events (e.g. slavery, Jim Crow) economic and educational biases (Pattillo,1999; Diamond and Spillane 2004; Roscigno, 1998), the affects of culture and cultural differences (Valsiner, 2000; Cole et al. 1971; Serpell R., 1979; Ogbu and Simons, 1998), the questionable methodology and theory involved in IQ testing (Schonemann, 1997a; Guttman, 1955, 1992; Hirsch, 1970, 2004), strong criticism leveled against heritability estimates (Capron et al, 1999; Schonemann, 1994, 1997c; Hirsh, 1970, 2004 ; Kempthorn; 1978, 1997; Lidz and Blatt, 1983; Joseph, 2004, 2006) and test bias (Manly, 1998), IQ advocates generally proceed with their arguments, unaltered.

For example, in 1994 authors Herrnstein and Murray argued in their controversial book “The Bell Curve” that a dysgenic trend exists in western societies that foresee the establishment of a “cognitive elite.” Although their work was subject to wide and often scathing criticism, the authors still managed to generate a substantial amount of media attention, which would help to perpetuate negative ethnic stereotypes in both the formal literature and in public discourse, for a number of years. Other IQ advocates have argued that a general index of cognitive ability is the best single predictor of virtually all criteria considered necessary for success in life in the Western part of the developed world (Jensen, 1998; Schmidt, Ones & Hunter, 1992). Efforts have been made also to show that undergraduates, those who graduates from college, must possess IQs that are on average no lower than 115 (Ostrowsky, 1999; Gottfredson, 1998), while an IQ in the range of 125 is necessary for those individuals who are able to obtain a graduate level degree (Gottfredson, 1998). These kind of studies generally serve the purpose of suggesting that the reason many blacks and minorities (as well as others) do not go on to, or graduate from institutions of higher learning - and ultimately on to professional careers and economic success - is not due to matters relating to personal interest, financial ability, or quality of schooling received in the past, but instead, because of factors relating to IQ (e.g. Jensen 1998; Gottfredson, 1998). This line of argument also tends to lead back to tiresome debates about nature vs. nurture. In this case, does more school develop high IQ, or does a high IQ equal more school?

African Blacks Exceed Whites in Educational Attainment and Professional Employment:

African-born blacks comprise 16 percent of the U.S. foreign-born black population and are considerably more educated than other black immigrants (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). The vast majority of these immigrants come from minority white countries in East and West Africa (e.g. Kenya and Nigeria), and less than 2 percent originate from North or South Africa (World Factbook, 2004; Yearbook of immigration Statistics, 2003). In an analysis of Census Bureau data by the Journal of Blacks in higher education African immigrants to the United States were found more likely to have a college education than any other immigrant group, which included those from Europe, North America and Asia (also see U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). African immigrants are also shown to be more highly educated than any native-born ethnic group including white and Asian Americans (see also, Logan & Deane, 2003; Williams, 2005; The Economist, 1996; Arthur, 2000; Selassie, 1998).

Most current data suggest that between 43.8 and 48.9 percent of all African immigrants in the United States hold a college diploma (Charles, 2007; U.S. Census, 2000). This is slightly more than the percentage of Asian immigrants to the U.S., nearly “double” the rate of native-born white Americans, and nearly four times the rate of native-born African Americans (Williams, 2005; The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 1999-2000). Black immigrants from Africa have also been shown to have rates of college graduation that are “more” than double that of the U.S.-born population, in general (Williams, 2005). In 1997, 19.4 percent of all adult African immigrants in the United States held a “graduate degree”, compared to 8.1 percent of adult whites (a difference of more than double) and 3.8 percent of adult blacks in the United States, respectively (The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education, 1999-2000). This information demonstrates that America has an equally large achievement gap between white Americans and African born immigrants as between native born white and black Americans.

In the UK, 1988, the Commission for Racial Equality conducted an investigation on the admissions practices of St. George's, and other medical colleges, who set aside a certain number of places for minority students. This informal quota system reflected the percentage of minorities in the general population. However, minority students with Chinese, Indian, or black African heritage had higher academic qualifications for university admission than did whites (Blacks in Britain from the West Indies had lower academic credentials than did whites). In fact, blacks with African origins over the age of 30 had the highest educational qualifications of any ethnic group in the British Isles. Thus, the evidence pointed to the fact that minority quotas for University admissions were actually working against students from these ethnic groups who were on average more qualified for higher education than their white peers (Cross, 1994; Also see, Dustmann, Theodoropoulos, 2006).


Dustmann and Theodoropoulos (2006) provide a first thorough investigation of educational attainment and economic behavior of ethnic minority immigrants and their children in Britain. They studied how British born minorities perform in terms of education, employment and wages, when compared to their parent generation as well as to comparable groups of white natives, using 27 years of LFS data (Labour Force Survey). In terms of educational attainment their results showed a strong educational background for Britain’s ethnic minority immigrant population. In addition, they showed that second generation ethnic minorities do better than their parents, and substantially better than their white peers. For both generations Black Africans topped the list in both years of schooling/educational qualifications and wages/employment (ibid).

Again, when comparing immigrants in the United States one quickly finds that the racialist models adopted by many Psychologists do not always predict outcomes in the way one might expect. For example, it has been shown that black immigrants born from Zimbabwe (96.7 percent), Botswana (95.5 percent) have high school graduation rates that far exceed all white immigrant and native born groups. Moreover, the average Nigerian immigrant (58.6 percent) living in the United States is eight times more likely to have obtained a bachelors degree than the average Portuguese born (7.3 percent) (Dixon D, 2006; Dixon D, 2005)!

The African born in the United States are concentrated in management or professional and sales or office-related occupations. Of the employed population age 16 and older in the civilian labor force, the African born are much more likely than the foreign born in general to work in management and professional occupations as well as sales and office occupations (i.e. clerical/administrative). Additionally, the African born are less likely to work in service, production, transportation, material moving, construction, and maintenance occupations than the foreign born in general (Dixon D, 2006). In the UK a study by Dr Yaojun Li, from Birmingham University, and Professor Anthony Heath, from Oxford University, found that Africans are more likely to be in professional and managerial jobs than white British men, with a large proportion, about 40%, holding these positions (Li and Heath, 2006).

African Educational Attainment and their Implications for IQ:

The presented information (above) strongly suggests that African born blacks residing in western countries, as a group, may have IQs that are on average as much as between 5 points and a full standard deviation (15 IQ points) above that of whites living in these countries - particularly those in the United States and the in UK (see, Gottfredson, 1998; Ostrowsky, 1999; Richardson, 2002; Cross, 1994; Williams, 2005). One may also expect to find, according to much of the literature that relates IQ to education, nearly twice the number of African immigrants with IQs in the 115 range than among the general American population (Gottfredson, 1998; Ostrowsky, 1999; Williams, 2005), and “more” than twice the number of African immigrants in the 125 IQ range (Gottfredson, 1998). In the United States African born blacks and their offspring exceed American born whites in many socio-economic indicators (particularly in the areas educational attainment and occupational status) in ways that resemble the gaps observed between native born white and black Americans in those same indicators (Charles, 2007; Le, 2007; Le, 2007; US Census Bureau, Census 2000. "5% Public Use Microdata Sample.")

Advantages to using academic attainment comparisons for the evaluation of group differences in “intelligence,” particularly with respect to residents living in industrialized nations, is that it provides really big numbers, sample sizes often in the hundreds of thousands, that are genuinely random; and consequently specific ethnicities can be compared with statistical confidence. The differences in overall educational attainment between African blacks in the United States and native born white Americans are quite spectacular. Indeed, if one chooses to adopt the hereditarian thinking of Jensen (1998), Herrnstein and Murray (1994) or Gottfredson (1998), these disparities become suggestive of underlying intelligences difference between the two populations; differences in overwhelming favor of African born blacks. Though higher cognitive indices have been said to be predictive of more educational achievements and more education predictive of higher intellectual outcomes (e.g., Brody, 1997; Ceci & Williams, 1997), so that there are reciprocal relationships. Most who study African immigrants attribute their inclination toward academic attainment to be the result of positive cultural factors (Arthur, 2000; Selassie, 1998).

African born blacks residing in Western countries also tend to be concentrated in higher level professional occupations; these occupations considered to be more cognitively demanding, by some scholars (Gottfredson, 1986; Herrnstein and Murray, 1994), than are the average occupation of either American or British born white citizens (Dixon, 2006; Li and Heath, 2006). According to IQ advocates and social Darwinists, this should be also indicative of higher level intelligence (e.g. Gottfredson, 1986; Jensen 1998). In fact, virtually all IQ tests in popular use today were designed specifically to predict one’s potential for academic success and occupational level. Thus, it could be convincingly argued based on census and PUMS data and the work of independent researchers, that the west’s hereditarian “Cognitive Elite” -- discussed in Herrnstein and Murray’s (1994) work, “The Bell Curve” – might be better described as black men and women from Africa, if not more simply as non-whites from aboard, or foreigners in general.

Something else to note, according to the New York Times (Roberts, 2005) , for the first time in history more blacks are coming to the United States from Africa than during the slave trade. Immigration figures show that since 1990 more Africans have arrived voluntarily than the total who disembarked in chains before the United States outlawed international slave trafficking in 1807. In other words: black African achievement can not simply be dismissed as that of a “small group” of elites entirely unrepresentative of the greater continent. Moreover, the academic attainment and occupational achievements of African blacks have been documented in the UK (Li and Heath, 2006; Dustmann, Theodoropoulos, 2006) as well as in Canada (Guppy and Davies, 1998; Boyd, 2002).

Culture and Intelligence: Who is Really Smarter?

There are countless empirical and theoretical studies that debunk the contentious racial thinking involved in IQ testing; some good examples being Schonemann (1997a) and Guttman (1992). However, few researchers attempt to provide solid examples where the disadvantaged or culturally distant/distinct groups in question actually do better on standardized measures; and particularly on those measures imposed by members of dominant society. In addition, few researchers will apply standardized measures that are preferred or constructed by individuals that operate within more informal sectors and/or economically disadvantaged circles to members of the more dominant or mainstream society, in order to provide some kind of balance. It has been shown, for example, that tests which are highly novel in one culture or subculture may be quite familiar in the next. That is, even if components of information processing are the same, the experiential novelty to which they are applied may be different (Valsiner, 2000).


Serpell R. (1979) asked Zambian and English children to reproduce patterns in three media: wire models, clay models, or pencil and paper. The Zambian children excelled in the wire medium with which they were familiar, while the English children were best with pencil and paper. Both groups performed equally well with clay. Thus, children performed better with materials that were more familiar to them, from their own environments. Carraher, Carraher, and Schliemann (1985) studied a group of Brazilian children and found that the same children who are able to do the mathematics needed to run their street businesses were little able to do school mathematics.

Cole et al (1971) studied a tribe in Africa: The Kpelle tribe. In this study adults were asked to sort items into categories, however, rather than producing taxonomic categories (e.g. "fruit" for apple), Kpelle participants sorted items into functional groups (e.g. "eat" for apple). After trying and failing to teach them to categorize items, they were asked, as a last resort: how a “stupid” person would do this task. At this point, without any hesitation, they sorted the items into taxonomic categories (Cole et al., 1971)!

Crawford-Nutt (1976) found that African black students enrolled in westernized schools score higher on progressive matrix tests than do American white students. The study meant to examine perceptual/cultural differences between groups, and demonstrated that one’s performance on western standardized tests correspond more closely with the quality and style of schooling that one receives more so than other factors. In the United States, when matched for IQ with Whites, American Blacks show superior “Working Memory” (Nijenhuis et al., 2004); an interesting finding as African Americans are typically taught by less qualified teachers than their white counterparts and are provided with less challenging school work (Hallinan 1994; Diamond et al., 2004). In Chicago, for example, the vast majority of schools placed on academic probation as part of the district accountability efforts were majority African-American and low-income (Diamond and Spillane 2004).

Other IQ studies have shown IQ score differences between black and white groups in the United States to virtually vanish by controlling simply for cultural factors. In a study published in the ‘Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society’, Manly et al (1998) found that when cultural factors, such as linguistic behavior (e.g. black vs. standard English) are controlled for between healthy black and white Americans that score differences on IQ tests, particularly Wais-R (Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale--Revised), become statistically insignificant in virtually all areas! The study demonstrates empirically what countless researchers have shown in indirect studies for decades (Carraher, Carraher, and Schliemann, 1985; Greenfield, 1997; Valsiner, 2000; Cole et al, 1971). That is: There is a strong cultural bias built into intelligence tests! This should not come as a very big surprise, however; as IQ tests were created simply to identify individuals who had already been deemed 'intelligent' by other, more subjective, criteria (Richarson, 2002). In short, there is absolutely no reason why the racial stereotyping relating to IQ tests should continue. The problem lies with the highly suspicious nature of “Intelligence” tests, and not with those to whom they are applied.


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