Salvaging Sotomayor: More Race Denial From NYT's Kristof

That the Supreme Court may overrule President Obama's Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor in the crucial Ricci case continues to stimulate the Race & IQ Strawman-Stomping Reflex among MSM commentators.

Since I'm one of the few journalists who have bothered to explain exactly how the civil rights doctrine of "disparate impact" inevitably works to foster Ricci-style discrimination against whites on a mass scale, I've recently been attacked by name in The New Republic, Slate, Bloggingheads, and Marginal Revolution.

And then there are the two New York Times columnists, David Brooks and Nicholas D. Kristof, who devote many column inches to debunking caricatures of what few journalists other than me dare to say.

For example, Kristof punditized Saturday in the NYT (Rising Above I.Q. June 6, 2009):

"In the mosaic of America, three groups that have been unusually successful are Asian-Americans, Jews and West Indian blacks—and in that there may be some lessons for the rest of us. … These three groups may help debunk the myth of success as a simple product of intrinsic intellect, for they represent three different races and histories. "

Who actually advocates a "myth of success as a simple product of intrinsic intellect"?

I don't even say that!

Everybody knows that a strong work ethic matters.

The controversial questions are about whether you should be allowed to even mention the existing cognitive differences between groups when discussing, say, the Ricci case.

And, if you are allowed to bring up the racial gaps in intelligence, must we then all assume for purposes of public policy that they can somehow be made to vanish quickly?

Or will we get kicked to the curb like James D. Watson for expressing doubts?

Of course, Kristof's emphasis upon the importance of hard work would logically suggest that Non-Asian Minorities (NAMs) ought to work harder. But Kristof, who presumably likes his job at the NYT and wishes to keep it, won't say that. So he ends up repeating by rote irrelevant talking points about spending more on education:

"What's the policy lesson from these three success stories?

It's that the most decisive weapons in the war on poverty aren't transfer payments but education, education, education. For at-risk households, that starts with social workers making visits to encourage such basic practices as talking to children. "

Exactly how do these conclusions follow from Kristof's premises?

Did the Czar send social workers around to encourage Jewish mothers to talk to their children?

In reality, although the highest average income groups in America—Jews, Asian Indians, and Scots (not Scots-Irish)—tend to have the most education, there are also numerous American ethnic groups that tend to make more money than their educational levels might suggest. (For example, Cubans, Israelis, Lebanese Christians, Armenians, Italians, and Greeks.)

Furthermore, it's not uncommon for African-Americans to be more ambitious about acquiring academic credentials than is optimal for them. It's clear, for example, that too many blacks attempt law school: 43% of blacks who enter law school never pass the bar exam. That over-optimism exacts a high toll in tuition and wasted years among black college graduates.

Moreover, it's obtuse of Kristof to cite Asians, American Jews, and West Indians as examples of the importance of hard work relative to IQ since all three stand out in terms of IQ. American Jews average about 10 points higher and Northeast Asians about 5 points higher than gentile whites. The Bell Curve's analysis of the huge National Longitudinal Study of Youth database reported that children of black immigrants score five points higher on the military's IQ entrance test than children of American-born blacks.

It would be more persuasive if Kristof were instead to focus on groups with unexceptional average IQs who still do well enough in America. For example, Filipino-Americans only rarely reach the very highest levels of prominence—'s Michelle Malkin might be the most famous Filipino-American on Wikipedia's list of famous Filipino-Americans—but, they've carved out a niche for themselves by being law-abiding, well-mannered, and specializing in burgeoning medical careers, such as nursing and drawing blood.

Studying Filipino-Americans would be particularly useful because they show the paradoxical benefit of not being constantly targeted by diversity outreach. Nobody much cares that Filipinos are more likely to become nurses than, say, lawyers, but African-Americans are constantly lured in over their heads by affirmative action.

Kristof says:

"West Indian blacks, those like Colin Powell whose roots are in the Caribbean, are one-third more likely to graduate from college than African-Americans as a whole, and their median household income is almost one-third higher. "

There's no question that West Indian-Americans stand out disproportionately among successful blacks in the U.S. For example, Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder is a "Bajan"—a person whose ancestry traces back to Barbados, the most affluent and educated West Indian island. Although 12,200 web pages describe Holder as the "first African-American Attorney General," Nation News of Barbados reported last summer that Holder "was born in New York and was raised in what was essentially a West Indian enclave in Queens…"

For some reason, Holder forgot to mention that fact in his February speech demanding that Americans stop being "a nation of cowards" and spend each February out of our "race-protected cocoons" having a National Dialogue on Race. Indeed, Holder's father, a Barbadian immigrant, and his mother, the daughter of Barbadian immigrants, strove to cocoon him away from African-American culture while he was growing up.

Still, it's not clear that West Indian-Americans having a one-third higher household income on average than African-Americans is all that impressive. Many West Indians are concentrated in New York City and other metropolises with high costs of living, and so few live in cheap small towns in the South. When housing prices finally collapse in New York, it's likely that West Indians will wind up defaulting at high rates.

Kristof asserts:

"Richard Nisbett cites each of these groups in his superb recent book, Intelligence and How to Get It. Dr. Nisbett, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, argues that what we think of as intelligence is quite malleable and owes little or nothing to genetics. "I think the evidence is very good that there is no genetic contribution to the black-white difference on I.Q.," he said, adding that there also seems to be no genetic difference in intelligence between whites and Asians. As for Jews, some not-very-rigorous studies have found modestly above-average I.Q. for Ashkenazi Jews, though not for Sephardic Jews. Dr. Nisbett is somewhat skeptical, noting that these results emerge from samples that may not be representative."

Don't you love how this is phrased to appeal to ignorant New York Times readers' ample self-regard? Well, sure, lowbrows may think that Jews tend to be smart, and, well, yes, I guess the social science research does support this stereotype … but us smart sophisticates all know that the "samples that may not be representative"—so there!

Kristof continues:

"In any case, he says, the evidence is overwhelming that what is distinctive about these three groups is not innate advantage but rather a tendency to get the most out of the firepower they have. A common thread among these three groups may be an emphasis on diligence or education, perhaps linked in part to an immigrant drive. "

The concept of "immigrant drive" is the kind of thing that passes for Deep Thought without much thinking ever being devoted to it:

  • First, in cases where "immigrant drive" really does exist, it's in large part a selection effect: the more intelligent and/or energetic tend to immigrate.
  • Second, there are giant examples of foreign countries where America is clearly not skimming the cream: most importantly, Mexico, whose well-educated seldom end up in America. There's little evidence of educational "immigrant drive" among Mexican-Americans. Fourth generation Mexican-Americans have only a six percent college graduation rate.
  • Third, it's ridiculous to attribute the high levels of achievement observed among young Jews in 2009 to "immigrant drive." Most of them are third to sixth generation Americans.
  • Fourth, do Jews in America show more "immigrant drive" than do the small number of Jews back home in Russia? I wouldn't be surprised if Jews in Russia are more likely to become billionaires than Jews in America.
  • Fifth, do Chinese in America show more "immigrant drive" than Chinese back in long-booming Guangdong? Maybe, maybe not. It's not obvious.
  • Sixth, so that leaves West Indian-Americans, who have traditionally been more enterprising than either African-Americans or West Indians.

Remember the recurrent segment on the 1990s Fox comedy sketch show In Living Color called "Hey Mon with the Hedleys" about a hard-working West Indian family? The comic point was to express African-American incredulity over West Indian families' high rates of moonlighting at multiple poorly-paid service jobs. For example, Damon Wayans complains about his daughter wanting to marry an American doctor who has only one job, explaining, "I never loved your mother. I just married her because she had six jobs."

Kristof continues some more:

"Among West Indians, the crucial factors for success seem twofold: the classic diligence and hard work associated with immigrants, and intact families. The upshot is higher family incomes and fathers more involved in child-rearing."

In other words, the greater success of West Indian-Americans over African Americans is due less to education than to hard work and monogamy.

That's plausible, although there's an explanation for these behavioral differences that Kristof won't touch: the most successful West Indian-Americans, such as Colin Powell, Eric Holder, and Malcolm Gladwell, tend to come from the islands' mulatto middle class.

As the final chapter in Gladwell's bestseller Outliers about his mother's Jamaican family implies, the West Indian middle class worked hard for generations to keep their posterity as "light and bright" as possible by discouraging their daughters from socializing with boys from the darker agricultural and working classes.

Look, if Kristof were actually serious about cultural explanations for the low average levels of achievement by Non-Asian Minorities, then he would recommend a policy of making it clear to them that we aren't accepting excuses anymore—especially not the pervasive discrimination rationalization.

If we actually want to get a message through to low-achieving minorities, the obvious place to start would be for the Supreme Court to overturn Sonia Sotomayor's vote in the Ricci case—and for the Senate to reject Sotomayor over that case.

I shall await Kristof's column advocating these simple, practical, cost-saving steps.

But I won't be holding my breath.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]