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Home > Culture and Society

Hey Teacher! Leave Those Crackpot Racial Theories Alone

31 March 2006

Many observations have been made about racism, but noone, to our knowledge, has pointed out its creepy similarity to shopping someone for minor dole fraud.

Imagine you're an unemployable cretin living in a council estate shoebox in Oldham. You have, almost literally, no prospects. The dizziest heights of your own personal achievement was a two-week stint as a Blue Arrow temp, collecting discarded pig snouts in the local abattoir. Your only distraction from ITV and your own private hell is the local rat kids setting fire to your wheelie
bin. Your existence is, essentially, shit.

However, despite the unrelenting grimness of your 'life', you can feel validated as a human being by grassing up one of your neighbours to the DSS. Maybe a couple across the road are cohabiting whilst claiming housing benefit, or the bloke on incapacity benefit next door did a bit of moonlighting last year as Santa in the local Aldi superstore. One cowardly, anonymous phone call to the DSS, and you can feel immeasurably superior. Yes, you're at the bottom of the heap, but you're better than *those* scum.

Racism is much the same. You may be a largely pointless individual, but by subscribing to racial superiority theories, you can feel much better about your lowly status without having to do anything except have the skin colour you were born with. Ironically, one of the most popular racist theories is that white people are more intelligent than black/brown/yellow ones.

This is a view espoused by Leeds University lecturer Frank Ellis, who was suspended this week after claiming that black people and women are intellectually inferior to Aryan supermen like himself. Ellis, an Enoch Powell fan and believer in repatriation, is something of an expert in genetic theory, lecturing in Russian and Slavonic studies. Ellis made specific reference to the 1994 book The Bell Curve, by the American researchers Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, which purports to show a correlation between race and IQ. Not only is this a largely discredited work, but the whole notion of intellectual superiority based on race is as nonsensical as claiming that black people make good athletes because they're used to running away from tigers.

For a start, there is no such thing as a gene that defines intelligence. If there were, a select cabal of intelligentsia would already have bred some Mekon-like uber-child that could work out the square root of minus 1 in the time it takes the rest of us to switch over from Emmerdale to Eastenders. The other big problem with all theories of race and intelligence is that any gap between the average intelligence of racial groups can be better explained by social, rather than genetic, factors. In many instances certain ethnic minorities *do* lag behind whites and other races in terms of academic achievement. However, the reasons for this have much better explanations than race or genetics. There's the fact that some ethnic minorities are, on average, less well-off than the general population. Ditto the fact that some minorities are, in generational terms, relative newcomers to the UK and so their children have yet to progress up the educational scale in the way that the 'indigenous' population has, which is less to do with race than class. And of course many people have had their opportunities limited by good old-fashioned racism.

There are more controversial theories, such as the idea that many (black) kids are locked into an 'anti-learning' mindset that is related to 'street culture' (i.e. gangsta nonsense). This may or may not be true in some cases, but it certainly isn't anything to do with inherent genetic inferiority. And to use a moronically simple counter-example, there is plenty of plain old-fashioned evidence that black, Asian, etc. people are as intelligent as white people. It's a pretty sure bet that Maya Angelou, Martin Luther King or even Benjamin Zephaniah would do better on intelligence tests than the average member of the BNP.

So why do people persist in trying to find a link between race and intelligence? The truth is probably that, like holocaust deniers, people investigating links between race and intelligence often have an agenda. It doesn't take a genius to work out what it is, either: white people are superior. It's all such a bundle of nonsense that you'd think the argument could happily be dropped. But no - in the case of Frank Ellis, pundits have been arguing that it's a matter of freedom of speech.

The argument is basically that individuals should be allowed to hold whatever views they like. In a sense, this is a truism. In the absence of mind control technology, people will think what they think. You can explain why racism is bad until the cows come home, but the shrewd racist will simply keep their thoughts to themselves, except in the company of other people who really do believe that Jews are tight-fisted and South-east Asian women have vaginas at a 90-degree angle. The crux of this argument seems to be that everyone has different views, ergo we're all entitled to them, as long as it doesn't affect the way we deal with other people.

The argument is that even if an academic such as Frank Ellis sincerely believes that black (or whatever) people are intellectually inferior, they can separate their personal views from their professional life, for example by giving grades to students on their individual merits and work rather than some over-arcing racial theory. The problem with this argument is that it's bollocks. If you sincerely believe that one racial group is inherently less able, then it's going to colour your views of whatever they do, in a cruel inversion of the way that confident people are assumed to be more intelligent.

The other aspect of this argument is essentially that people can be racist *as long as they don't have any dealings with other races*. But again, this is shite. Racist policemen, like the scuzz who made monkey noises after Christopher Alder died handcuffed and face down in a Hull police station, are obviously cunts and the wrong sort of people to be dealing with any sort of racially mixed population. But the suggestion is that if you're a racist but not in direct contact with the public, that's OK. It's not. For example, even if you're collecting tolls in a booth in an underground car park (a job that leaves little scope for lording it over people) there's always the possibility that a racist will be a little bit ruder or more awkward with black or Asian people. Any discrimination would be trivial, but would white people find it acceptable to be discriminated against in even the most minor way because of their skin colour? No.

As if it needs saying, there really isn't any excuse for racism. The idea that racism is a view that should be tolerated under the principles of freedom of thought and speech is fine, but only in theory. In practical terms, racist views obviously have the potential for lots of harm. (And probably the most heinous thing about racism is that it boils down to creating grief for ordinary people who just want to go about their lives just like everyone else.)

That people are racist isn't a surprise, as anyone who's ever been taken into the confidence of a closet racist will know ('I'm not racist, I just believe in rights for whites.' etc.) What *is* surprising is that people will defend racism on the grounds of freedom of thought and speech. It's a pity that these same people don't bother to think about how they'd feel about someone who thinks that white people are inherently inferior, but claims it doesn't affect the way they treat them. Would they really be happy to have their essays on Russian and Slovakian topics marked by a black supremacist? We think not.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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