Why is this crackpot pseudo-science so popular?

From the talk given by Heidi Safia Mirza, the professor of racial equality studies at Middlesex University, at the Royal Festival Hall, London
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The Independent Online

In The Bell Curve the hereditarian psychologist Charles Murray and his co-author Herrnstein claim that high levels of hereditary genetic intelligence correlate with success in school, ultimate job status and membership within the "cognitively entitled" establishment. Low intelligence, they suggest, is the cause of America's overwhelming social problem, the underclass. In a mass of data they produce a bell curve - the graphical illustration of the normal distribution of intelligence. In the curve we find the racial subtext that fuels their agenda. They argue that African-Americans score on average 15 points lower than whites on IQ tests, and one in five blacks score below 75, the borderline of mental retardation.

Women, poor women, both black and white, are particularly demonised. They write: "Going on welfare really is a dumb idea, and that is why women who are low in cognitive ability end up there." In their analysis, unwed teenage mothers are the root cause of everything that plagues the nation. They argue that these women produce low-birthweight babies with low IQs who will themselves grow up to become chronic welfare recipients and abusive parents: a natural causal cycle, a cycle of poverty, a cycle of deprivation. Their message is plain and simple - don't waste taxpayers' money on affirmative action or educational initiatives, welfare handouts or anti-discrimination legislation - these folks are dumb, culturally and intellectually pre-determined, and social spending will make no difference.

If racist pseudo-science is so clearly the work of the crackpot fringe, whose scientific claims have been globally denounced, then why is it so popular? The Bell Curve made the front cover of Newsweek. It was on The New York Times' bestseller list for 30 weeks. Why do we morbidly crave biological explanations for social phenomena? Why do we still say "it is all in our genes"?

But you don't have to be a member of the "crackpot racist fringe" to believe the female-centred pathology of what is considered to be the black underclass. The unredeeming picture of black women in Britain and America is the unmarried lone mother. Scrounging on the welfare, having babies to manipulate and bribe their way into council accommodation. We pity the poor women trapped in their council flats, those harassed souls who stuff their screaming, ungrateful keeps into very expensive pushchairs. Such pervasive images seep into our minds when we pass through the decrepit seething inner city.

It would seem that the persistence and popularity of racist and sexist pseudo-science is the outcome of a deep underlying tension that marks contemporary society. On the one hand we have the ideology of equality and universal humanity, the foundation of our liberal right-minded thinking, on the other, the continued persistence of material, economic social inequality. This contradiction has opened up a space in the discourse, a festering wound, which has allowed the continued thinking that differences, whether cultural or physical, are innate, fixed and immutable.

The 'New Right' have set up shop in this intellectual vacuum, this space of irreconcilable tension. They claim that they carry the banner of good sense, that they are the courageous vanguards of sensible thinking who are brave enough to speak the unspeakable truth about social difference, no matter how much they are beaten back by the waves of political correctness and loony-left censorship.

The focus on inherent, heritable difference has become a quick fix, an easy explanation, a way of "blaming the victim" when faced with the material reality of privilege, wealth and racially structured political and economic inequality. Ironically, in this "genomic century" of science and progress, 19th century ideas aboutgenetic, scientifically provable difference are still at the heart of our thinking about "race".

We need to look at the ugly face of scientific thinking straight in the eyes, because that is where commonsense everyday race-hate breeds; the kind of hate that cold-bloodedly stabbed Stephen Lawrence, brutally burnt Michael Menson, cowardly drowned Ricky Reel, and viciously scapegoats asylum seekers as "human sewage".

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