Bias & Race

Science and Reason that is prejudiced is the worst form of Bias, because science and reason are the instruments for liberation from Bias


   Paraphrase Allan Bloom – The Closing of the American Mind

An introduction from a Caucasian Canadian:

Early in my career, just a handful of years after Independence, I lived and worked in Jamaica. While at a meeting to plan the construction of a government building I noticed the participants seated themselves as two distinct factions: personnel from Jamaica’s top engineering and architectural consultants, all Jamaican nationals, and a bloc of civil servants, all transferees from the UK. I soon became aware of a discrepancy between the two sides in their quality of performance - not to the advantage of the British civil servants. Judging from the poorly concealed expressions and glances between the head consultants they had clearly come to an identical conclusion. It then dawned on me that I would be judged as being one of the group of "Inexperienced Brits". That emotion directly affected my mental ability and performance. I have not forgotten it to this day.


That emotional feeling now has a name: Stereotype Threat; and it can be described as the concern about personally confirming negative stereotypes about one’s assumed social group.


One of the pre-eminent studies* regarding this phenomenon involved subjects from two races. The participants were asked to fill in a questionnaire to measure how they perceived their athleticism and intelligence. They were then divided into groups and “primed” differently. Some were told the game they were about to play was a measure of “sport strategic intelligence” and others that it gauged “natural athletic ability”. In reality this was not a game but a social studies experiment and the study was not about measuring intelligence or athleticism. Results for both races varied (scores increased or decreased) depending upon their race, the type of priming they received, and their self-perception. The report’s conclusion, for both races, was fully consistent with the stereotype threat concept: If a culture holds the belief that a particular group’s performance, in academics or sports (or perhaps other topics, too), is better, worse or indifferent to those in other groups (the report provided data that showed many people do hold those beliefs) that will end up being the actual outcome.


The report concluded: When people “become aware that they are being evaluated in terms of a negative (or even a positive) stereotype, they become intensely concerned about being labelled and treated in terms of the negative (or particular) characterization”


Race relations have become so emotional that rational discussion often seems impossible. But the facts are available: Dr. Thomas Sowell in his 1994 book Race and Culture: A Worldview, demonstrated there is always a specific reason when a group over-achieves in a particular endeavour [called an "outcome" difference]. He showed that the positive emphasis a culture places on particular things can account for virtually every outcome variation between groups. Sowell’s findings are contrary to current fashions in the social sciences as, in effect, he was saying national or ethnic stereotypes may in some cases be perfectly legitimate – but not for reasons of race.


Despite these findings athleticism and intelligence as related to race have hatched hundreds of books and countless theories. But once one takes into account stereotype threat the data turn out to be uncomplicated and inarguable.


Regarding IQ: it is virtually impossible to develop a test that measures innate and practical intelligence without involving ones axioms and philosophies - which could loosely be called ones "culture". However, tests for intelligence are not useless and need not be abandoned; they should simply be renamed, perhaps being called Cultural Utility Tests, which should vary depending upon their intended purpose. It has been shown that those who measure highly gifted (150) on a conventional IQ test can score less than seventy (100 is an average score) on a counter-culture “IQ” Test.


Regarding Athleticism: differences in outcomes can be generally accounted for by two factors: the degree of ones culture’s interest (as Sowell’s findings) and body geometry characteristics specific for each sport or activity – with each variable being present in every broad people-group. Trivial examples are: Scandinavian men (inc Finland) with under 0.5% of the world's population have won over 50% of Olympic gold medals in the Javelin Throw: leading high jumpers are mostly taller than 98% of the population; long distance runners are exceptionally light-framed; Olympic weight-lifters have relatively short limbs.


The facts emphasize the equivalence of races. But demean a person or group sufficiently and they will eventually prove you were “correct” to do that in the first place. Bias and stereotyping are overwhelmingly powerful; and should be taken seriously, irrespective of race.   


 See the topic: Bias & Equality for related thoughts on this topic.


* Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 1999. Vol. 77, No. 6, 1213-1227 

Racial prejudice is diminishing but race relations appear to be deteriorating. The question of race is now, primarily, how to manage cultural diversity. There are two general schools of thought: one would prefer cultural minorities to blend in with the cultural majority; the other desires the cultures of minorities to be equal in influence and respect to the majority culture.  “Bias Aware Thinking” can play a role in clarifying and managing this situation.

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