Charles Murray is likely wrong about the causes and extent of the phenomena he documents, but he is correct about their implications. In his newest book, Facing Reality, Murray argues that racial differences in traits such as “cognitive ability” and crime rate explain many outcomes that today are universally attributed to “systemic racism.” Much of the data Murray assembles to support his point can, at the very least, be challenged. His estimate of the black crime rate is four times the accepted U.S. rate, for example. At a deeper level, the genetic explanation he may well see as ultimately causal for the statistics he discusses (Murray co-wrote The Bell Curve two decades ago) is challenged by much of his own data: Murray’s figures indicate that the overall black IQ rate has risen from 84–85 to 91 in the very recent past, which suggests mutability. However, the basic validity of the point that having a low SAT score or a felony record influences life outcomes more than vague modern racism cannot be denied by honest debaters.
Murray’s core point is very simple, and I have made it myself in my own book Taboo. In upper-middle-class discourse in the U.S., it has been commonplace for a decade or more to attribute all racial group gaps in performance—the average black household makes about $44,000 per year, versus $66,000 for whites—to subtle forms of racism such as those invoked by the widely lauded Ibram X. Kendi. However, at some level, we all know this is not true. Seventy percent or more of the world-famous centimillionaires in the NBA are black, and this is probably not due to widespread American bias against white star jocks. As Thomas Sowell, June O’Neill, and others have pointed out, traits such as median age, region of residence, and aptitude-test scores vary widely among groups, and these characteristics almost totally predict dependent variables like income.
Murray’s book makes an intentionally provocative version of this point, focused on the independent variables of tested IQ and crime rate. Murray contends early on (using NAEP-norming, if you’re a curious wonk) that the current average IQ in the U.S. is 91 for blacks (whom he calls “Africans”), 94 for Latinos, 103 for whites (“Europeans”), and 108 for Asians. A bit further on, he accurately notes that “African” rates of violent crime are far higher than white ones at least in a selected group of cities: 11.6 to 1 in New York City, 14.5 to 1 in Chicago, 19.9 to 1 in Washington, D.C., and so forth. He argues, again correctly, that data such as these obviously affect many other metrics of performance. Employers seeking a potential young executive with a college degree and an IQ in the 135+ range will be looking within a current pool that contains “only about 2,800 Africans and 9,500 Latins compared to 50,700 Asians and 160,100 Europeans.”
Much of this is true. However, Murray’s broader point is, again at the very least, to be taken only with multiple major caveats. There are issues with some of his numbers. For example, Murray’s estimate of the ratio (on page 51) between the black and white violent-crime rates seems to be about 10:1. He arrives at this frightening figure by analyzing the crime data from 13 specific large cities that report the race of offenders in criminal cases, ranging from Urbana, Illinois, and Charleston, South Carolina, to New York, and breaking down the race of all persons arrested for serious violent offenses in those locales.
This is a technique I have almost never seen used in a published criminal-justice or political-science paper, and there are reasons for this. The current composition of most large American cities, following ethnic white flight in the 1970s, includes a black and Hispanic population poorer than the national average alongside a “yuppie” white population far wealthier than the national average. Washington and Baltimore may well be the ultimate examples of this trend, and it would likely shock few residents of the capital city to learn that desperately poor black residents have almost 20 times the (blue-collar!) crime rate of Caucasian senators and the interns staffing their offices. “Now do the rest of the country,” a cynic might say.
When scholars do so, we obtain results dramatically different from Murray’s. It is worth noting here that the federal government compiles a well-respected estimate of the actual national crime rate literally every year, via the BJS-NCVS methodology of anonymously surveying hundreds of thousands of Americans about their experiences with crime. In the most recent year when data were gathered for all major U.S. racial groups, including outreach to respondents in poor and high-crime white areas, the actual ratio of the black crime rate to the white crime rate was 2.4:1. And that was before any adjustments for age or social class. That’s nothing to brag about, to be sure, and “we” need to work on it, but it ain’t ten-to-one. Given the existence of this well-known and annually discussed figure, one has to wonder why Murray didn’t simply use it to illustrate his point, adding methodological critiques whenever he deemed them appropriate.
Similarly, Murray’s estimate of the white American IQ at 103—and thus still 10 points higher than the black IQ—necessitates the exclusion of all Caucasian Hispanics, Arabs, and so on from the “white” category and redefining the remaining whites as “Europeans.” In so doing, he reduces the estimate of the current percentage of white people in America from around 74 percent to just 60 percent. I do not know how common the first emendation is in the field of psychometrics and similar disciplines, but I will note that most estimates of the current or recent-past white IQ place it at 100. If we assume that estimate is correct, then the current black–white gap in tested IQ would be, at most, 9 to 10 points.
THAT LAST POINT illustrates a deeper issue with several of Murray’s arguments, and with the “hereditarian” position in general. While genetic hereditarianism is not the focus of Facing Reality, Murray was one of the two authors of The Bell Curve, and an advocate of the idea that genes are at least potentially the determinant of most group IQ and performance gaps. However, a purely empirical look at the data compiled for Facing Reality illustrates several major problems with that.
For example, a black IQ of 91 is still a bit below the American white IQ, but is also 6 to 7 points higher than the black IQ Murray himself cited in The Bell Curve back in the early 1990s—and up to 14 points higher than the black IQ he and most other social scientists recognize as having existed in 1960. There is no genetic mechanism that can explain a single racial or ethnic group gaining roughly 15 IQ points in fewer than 60 years.
However, there is a nongenetic mechanism by which it could have occurred. Again, quantitative social scientists have empirically demonstrated that cultural variables such as study culture, family structure and stability, and even diet are highly predictive of the performance of different groups. From this perspective, it is not particularly surprising that black Americans posted gains in IQ after being freed from the shackles of segregation, and after integrating mainstream public schools and dramatically increasing our mean personal income. Similar transitions have been quite common historically. Thomas Sowell notes in his magisterial Race and Culture that the IQ of Poles/Polish Jews in the U.S. rose from 91 to 109 during a handful of decades in the mid-20th century.
Indeed, if I may speculate, culture and training also probably explain why the black IQ today remains as low as it does. An out-of-wedlock birth rate of 72 percent in the community and the teaching of woke gibberish in most urban public schools cannot have helped. Certainly, there is little doubt that black children in quality lottery charter schools—such as Success Academy, where the latest senior class sports an average SAT of 1268—would test at or above the national median score on the IQ boards.
Cultural explanations also suffice when it comes to one of the more troubling issues raised by Murray’s book: Why do U.S. Hispanics score almost identically to U.S. blacks on IQ tests, despite the fact that something like two-thirds of Hispanics are largely or entirely Caucasian (as Murray himself openly states on page 12)? We do not need to resort to unquestionably racialist canards (not that Murray himself does so) about some potential element of mixed heritage or “Aztec blood” to explain these facts: Hispanics are a younger and more working-class population than whites or blacks, with a lower level of first-language fluency in English. It may well be that academic paradigms such as IQ hereditarianism and critical race theory often have less explanatory value in the real world than commonsense statements like: “You will do well on an exam if you study hard for it, and speak the language it is written in.”
WHETHER OR NOT all of his measures of the gaps he discusses are precisely correct—or indeed whether these gaps are due to racism, genes, or my preferred variables—Murray’s central point in Facing Reality is true: Major group differences around factors such as crime rate will affect the success and sometimes treatment of different groups. This is an empirical and mathematical point, totally distinct from ethical conversations about whether it “should” be the case. And Murray makes it well, especially when discussing the effect of crime on policing and business location, and the effect of test-scoring averages on minority hiring and representation.
The point about policing is especially relevant. The core argument of the Black Lives Matter movement is that there is a quiet police genocide taking place against black Americans, and the evidence provided for this is that the number of black individuals shot by police is 200–300 percent greater than our representation in the population overall. The elephant in the room here is that the black crime rate might simply be 200–300 percent of the white crime rate.
While I do not consider all of his selected cities to be representative, Murray points out that we see black-to-white violent crime ratios of 5.5:1 and 4:1 in such places as Tucson, Arizona, and Fayetteville, North Carolina. Everyday disparities of this kind obviously affect where police officers are stationed. All of those armed cops aren’t driving around in the ’hood just to anger BLM.
Perhaps more important, consistent violent crime obviously affects where businesses choose to locate. It is more than a bit ironic to see complaints about inner-city areas being “food deserts” following almost immediately on the heels of the torchings of successful businesses such as Baltimore’s CVS or the heavily black and Asian Lake Street business district in Minneapolis. Few businesspeople, regardless of the color of their skin, are likely to open up their lovely little store in an area where mobs will probably burn it down.
More subtly but just as obviously, factors such as test scoring and educational accomplishment directly predict which jobs individuals are qualified to do and choose to do. Group differences in tested IQ correlate with score differences on the SAT and GRE, both of which are essentially intelligence tests. In 2017, the mean-average SAT scores in the U.S. were a bit under 950 for blacks, roughly 970 for Hispanics, 1,118 for whites, and 1,181 for Asian Americans. As a result, there are simply fewer black and Hispanic folks in the graduate-school pipeline
In one representative recent year, no black citizens obtained the highest degree in a range of fields—including wildlife biology, geophysics (and seismology), paleontology, astronomy, nuclear physics, European history, and classics. It is tempting for well-intentioned people on the political left and center, who notice facts such as this, to assume racism or at least to mutter sympathetic nothings about “the lack of a pipeline into ichthyology.” But reality can often be much simpler than the politicized modern explanations we enjoy today. How many brothers have both the requisite grades and scores and any desire to study fish as a lifelong career?
By asking such questions, does Murray make us “face reality”? Well, that depends what you mean. The “culturalist/hereditarian/CRT debate” is one of the most famous in social science, and it remains a debate because no one has yet won it. Murray does not win it here, and I doubt that some of his specific statistics—such as the crime-rate data—will ever become the accepted gold standard. However, Facing Reality does provide a powerful overview of one perspective that those who allege sweeping forms of systemic or institutional racism find it all too convenient to ignore—or cancel without due consideration. I would recommend reading the book, and the responses and alternatives to it.
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