Updated: Aug 20
Before I begin, we need a clear understanding of terms to help exclude assumptions and opinions. Please note, that these are not my definitions. These are the definitions provided to those who use a dictionary or Google.
The first to define is white supremacy. According to the dictionary, this is a noun meaning the belief, theory, or doctrine that white people are inherently superior to people from all other racial groups, especially black people, and are therefore rightfully the dominant group in any society.
I want to add that this global system functions through various mediums, i.e., control over resources, economics, education, politics, and societal norms, ensuring that whites are the dominant group in any society.
Next, we have the Intelligence Quotient. The IQ defines as a total score derived from several standardized tests designed to assess human intelligence.
To break this down a little more, let’s also define intelligence, which is the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills. Ability is the keyword here; intelligence is the ability to learn and act upon or with the information obtained.
Let’s keep going and define knowledge, facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education, the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.
Another definition is awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.
Finally, to close out the list of definitions, standardized test. Per the Glossary of Education Reform, any form of test that (1) requires all test takers to answer the same questions, or a selection of questions from a common bank of questions, in the same way, and that (2) is scored in a “standard” or consistent manner, which makes it possible to compare the relative performance of individual students or groups of students.
Now that we have these things defined, let’s discuss why and how white supremacy ties into the myth of the so-called legitimacy of the IQ.
Current society defends its use of the IQ test as an effective way to tell if a person is “intelligent,” which helps determine who will be successful. If we know the origin of the IQ test, we will agree that this is the idea of the test. Be that as it may, the current context and the idea do not sync up. Our modern society has used an air of arrogance to unofficially redefine the word “intelligence” to mean a “smartness” that is innate and genealogical versus an ability to act on gained knowledge. Intelligence is not considered a developed skill, even though there is no DNA strain, blood cell, disease, or biological function that produces or blocks cognitive ability. Regardless that the IQ test merely scores how well a person can apply skills and understanding that have already been taught, our society relies on the context that this is some unique gene that is hard to come by for select people. Again, it measures how well you apply the things you have been taught, per the exact definition. Basic. Simple. That stands to reason if one hasn’t been taught the same knowledge, that person cannot apply the same knowledge to a standardized test. (In the words of a friend hailing from Dominica, “Hold your last word.” We will discuss the current educational system momentarily.)
Over generations and centuries, the explanation for the IQ test has been reinvented. The true purpose, however, has never changed. The IQ test has always been used to categorize and separate people, elevating one group and ignoring and/or dominating another group.
To some, that assessment is just a biased opinion and not considered. This dismissal is because white supremacy must take every opportunity to advance themselves and make their advancement appear legitimate and unbiased. I feel the best way to prove this assessment/opinion regarding the IQ test is to bring up the history. We could go to the bottom line of the IQ being a fixed tool to divide, but I want people to know the why, who, and when of my analysis. It gives a foundation and helps build the reader’s understanding instead of simply relying on another person’s assessment or opinion.
Being the person I am, I want to go back in history to one point in a bloody fight for dominance between European parties. The Franco-Prussian War, fought from July 19, 1870 - May 10, 1871, is what I conclude led to IQ testing. France had been the leading power in Europe up to this point, with Napoleon III as its latest emperor. However, a resolute Prussian rule waited for its opportunity to shift the balance of power. When the dust settled, the unified German states had fought a well-executed and organized fight with over one million soldiers compared to the chaotic, slow responding slop-fest carried out by the French. Even though the French had better weaponry and more experience due to Napoleon Bonaparte’s thirst for battle, they were still no match for the German army. One conclusion was Germany had trained their soldiers exceptionally well at their military schools.
The result of this war finally shifted power in Europe and gave rise to the German Empire under the Prussian King Wilhelm I. The German Empire then levied heavy consequences on the French, as France soon succumbed to the status of the French Third Republic. From this point on, schooling became an essential topic in French politics.
There had already been growing tension between the Catholic Church and republicans, going as far back as the French Revolution in 1789. After the Franco-Prussian War, the republicans continuously argued that Germany had won and stripped them of their glory because of the schooling and training of the German soldiers, so the political battle for education began. No longer were the republicans going to sit by while religious men and women taught in schools, and republican leadership began placing schooling in the hands of more laymen than priests.
At this point, the curriculum quickly changed, and military training and gymnastics became the norm for male students. The reason gymnastics is important is that the French used it as more military training in secondary schooling. Army gymnastics was considered so effective that the Japanese accepted the French textbook about it, “Instruction pour l’enseignement de la gymnastique,” which the French military delegation brought to them.
With the clergy now out of the way and everything dominated by republican ideals, they decided to continue to push forward with education. In 1881 the Jules Ferry laws were put into place, making school a must for kids 6-13. After such time, only those deemed fit to benefit society would move on to secondary schooling. As Germany continued to hold the advantage in education, France continued to strive for educational superiority.
Now we come to the nitty-gritty of this backstory, and I must start with Alfred Binet. Binet was a well-known French psychologist who was self-taught. After going to school to become a lawyer, his interest shifted to hypnosis and development once his two daughters were born. Some narratives explain that his daughters were born with mental challenges, which shifted his career focus. By 1904 the French government tasked Alfred Binet with finding a way to identify students who would struggle in school. More specifically, La Société Libre pour l’Etude Psychologique de l’Enfant, a group dedicated to child phycology, requested the French government grant a commission on the education of mentally challenged children. Binet and another psychologist, Theodore Simon, then co-invented the first IQ test, now referred to as the Binet-Simon Scales.
As it was, the Binet-Simon test was deemed valid; and even today, some people hold it in great esteem. However, due to the test focusing on attention, memory, and problem-solving skills, Binet did not believe it could measure innate ability. The IQ test does not measure creativity or emotional intelligence. It also cannot measure the limits or potential of anyone who takes the test. In Binet’s own words,
“Some recent philosophers seem to have given their moral approval to these deplorable verdicts that affirm that the intelligence of an individual is a fixed quantity, a quantity that cannot be augmented. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism; we will try to demonstrate that it is founded on nothing,” Les idées modernes sur les enfants, 1909.
One could assume Binet had a concern about where such sentiments could lead. Either that or he could have very well wanted to distance his daughters from the thought that they had no potential to “become better.” Unfortunately for people such as his daughters, the idea that IQ is fixed and not influenced gave rise to the practical use of eugenics, the practice or advocacy of controlled selective breeding of human populations (as by sterilization) to improve the population’s genetic composition. The father of eugenics is marked as Francis Galton, and with Binet’s quote, one could assume he would go against eugenics; instead, Binet was fond of Galton’s work.
Galton, a leading eugenicist, pioneered the work that legitimized the “heritability of intelligence” argument. This is the debate of nature versus nurture influencing intelligence, which is still ongoing, as layers are constantly added to control what is believed to be “intelligence.” There’s now fluid intelligence, the ability to solve new problems, use logic in new situations, and identify patterns, and crystallized intelligence, the ability to use learned knowledge and experience.
One example used to “prove” heritable intelligence is that intelligence increases from around 20% in infancy to about 80% in later maturity. This survey shows slight growth from childhood to young adulthood, but it isn’t until later in adulthood when significant increases in “heritable intelligence” occur. Some people believe this happens because “smart genetics” kick in as they mature, like part of puberty. They believe this brain function increases more commonly with certain people, the same way male pattern baldness and the risk of an aortic aneurysm does with those same specific people. Others believe the growth in later adulthood is evidence of developed skills continuing to be developed, i.e., people seeking out “intellectually demanding environments.”
I believe the latter explanation because even explanations for the former justification explain that “heritable intelligence” is not fixed and can increase. It also claims that while “good parenting and a healthy upbringing” don’t affect anything, “bad parenting and an unhealthy upbringing” will cause a negative effect. There seems to be room for an increase and decrease, but it’s bottled up by point-of-view genetic hope by some. The claim that “bad parenting” stifles intellectual growth is plausible, as that actually backs up a claim of nurture, but it makes it hard to connect to the idea that parenting could suppress something that is hereditary. After all, “bad parenting” does not stifle male pattern baldness, nor does “good parenting” stave off bipolar disorder.
Hopefully, we understand the background of the IQ, the limits of the IQ, what the IQ is, and what it isn’t. Now for the history of how the IQ made its way to the United States of America.
In 1908 Henry Herbert Goddard published the first American form of the IQ test. Goddard, the pioneer of IQ testing in America, would in his early career use his work to proclaim that a majority of the immigrants he tested at Ellis Island were “feeble-minded” to the tune of 83% of Jews, 80% of Hungarians, 79% of Italians, and 80% of Russians. However, the scientific community later renounced this work as heavily flawed, along with Goddard’s early published work of The Kallikak Family, which championed the hereditary notion.
In his early career, Goddard heavily advocated for the authority of the IQ test as he also heavily pushed eugenics. Mental Science at the time was vying for its legitimacy among the sciences. Per America’s recycled tendencies, it had to align with proving a particular race's superiority. With these conflicts in play, eugenicists began to lead in determining societal norms. Mental Science legitimized itself by providing supposed evidence of identifying superior genes, people, and a plan to perfect the race. With IQ testing as their weapon, eugenicists battled to perfect the race by deeming “feeble-minded” people the principal candidate for sterilization. Eradication of the “feeble-minded” would leave a race of superior genes.
In Goddard’s later years of his career, his understanding expanded, and he began to focus more on the development of children instead of eugenics advocacy. However, his early work was a significant inspiration and staple for eugenics that could never be erased or walked back. The door was now wide, and until this day, people are still debating over the IQ, nature versus nurture, and elements of eugenics.
Back in 1917, World War 1 inspired another form of the IQ test, which was developed by Army Lieutenant General Robert Yerkes. The Army Alpha Army Beta test determined which jobs suited each recruit. A fun little fact about this test, though, is the results eventually showed that Americans were unfit for democracy. Anyway, Yerkes did receive help with the “Alpha-Beta” test from another psychologist, Lewis Terman. In 1916 Terman published this description of the IQ test,
The scale does not pretend to measure the entire mentality of the subject, but only general intelligence. There is no pretense of testing the emotions or the will . . . The scale was not designed as a tool for the analysis of those emotional or volitional aberrations which are concerned in such mental disorders as hysteria, insanity, etc
A second misunderstanding can be avoided by remembering that the Binet scale does not pretend to bring to light the idiosyncrasies of special talent, but only to measure the general level of intelligence. It cannot be used for the discovery of exceptional ability in drawing, painting, music, mathematics, oratory, salesmanship, etc., because no effort is made to explore the processes underlying these abilities. It can, therefore, never serve as a detailed chart for the vocational guidance of children
Besides revising the IQ test, Terman holds acclaim for many things, namely identifying “gifted” children as soon as possible to further their development. Again we can see the legacy of this era still around today with the gifted student programs in schools today. Regardless of those wanting to focus on the notion of "having the best of intentions," Terman was yet another eugenicist who sat on the board of multiple eugenics organizations. With his push for the authority of the IQ test, he was also very insistent on selective reproduction.
With all that the IQ test received praise for, it has always been nothing more than another tool used to establish privileges for a categorized elite class. From only certain children in France being allowed to continue to secondary schooling to the army recruits taking the “Alpha—Beta” test in WWI to Goddard, Terman, and an entire eugenics boards deciding who could procreate, these were all decisions made based on a “standard” test given to a collective that had not been given a “standard” education.
Due to such poor and arrogant judgment, in 1927, the country had not only conditioned the masses to value the “IQ,” but the Supreme Court upheld the state’s right to forcibly sterilize persons deemed unfit to procreate. This ruling was all on the authority of the “IQ,” leading to 30 states passing sterilization laws. The argument defending this is that the only intended targets were those who were disabled and mentally challenged. However, that argument ignores the dominance of eugenics and racism at the time, especially in medicine. It also ignores heinous acts like the Mississippi Appendectomy, where Black women such as activist Fannie Lou Hamer were given hysterectomies without consent. Another example is Elaine Riddick, who was a 14-year-old Black girl whose social worker decided to sterilize her after a heinous rape left her pregnant. Even as recently in 2010, incarcerated women in California were forcibly sterilized, so this decision was not some isolated one-off from the past.
The IQ test, from its American inception, led the way for privilege and separation. Companies began to use more psychologists’ tests for employment and job advancement in occupations ranging from typists to sales clerks to ship captains. Companies felt these tests could also curve the turnover rate, union strikes, absenteeism, and accidents. With all its supposed grandeur, the IQ test was the avenue that allowed a select group to advance because of labeled “intelligence.” In contrast, another group labeled feeble-minded or merely undesirable had laws passed to sterilize them. (Note: There is no assumption that non-Black people weren’t targets of eugenics as the control of employment through tests and sterilization affected the white populace, but this piece focuses on the Black experience.)
Going back to the IQ tests, which allowed an “elite” class to commit such crimes against humanity, it leads us to the idea that a standardized test could effectively categorize an entire people as “low IQ.” To not see the partisan politics and racism is absolutely asinine. Starting from 1908, how is it even a wonder to guess what the results would show for a collective Black America? When the legitimacy of the IQ was cemented into the American psyche, Black America still had not gained civil rights. Brown v. Board of Education was in 1954; The Little Rock Nine walked the threshold in 1957; Ruby Bridges made her mark in 1960. The fight for Black people to get the dominant society’s education had yet to be categorized as a continued struggle, yet the Supreme Court and the South were sterilizing not only Black women but Black men for being “feeble-minded.”
Admittedly, this is not to say the dominant society’s education was the “best,” mainly due to its tendency of indoctrination to subservience and its doggedness to ignore “Blackness.” However, this was/is the “general education” used as the standard to quantify “intelligence.” Regardless, I will not assume that because schooling was legally segregated until 1954, that voided any chance of having “intelligent” Black people until we could attend white schools.
As championed in this piece, “intelligence” is relative due to current social definitions. Long before desegregation, countless critical thinkers and teachers were not part of any dominant society’s school system. Along with those thinkers and teachers, there were other professionals who would not have been able to push for change and a progressively civilized country without “intelligence.” Even still, Black people who were not professionals nor deemed educated had “intelligence.” Since the colonizer’s rule of this country, intelligence—acting upon information, facts, knowledge, and experience—has always been a part of Black America’s experience. It’s called survival and conditioning. Survival and conditioning both show levels of “intelligence” as Black people have always had to learn how to maneuver in the dominant society while simultaneously fighting for a better future for all.
Though the thrall of survival and conditioning leaves us as a people managed and controlled, our application of survival is still a display of intelligence. We have been “taught” a certain way, certain things, certain “truths,” and we as a collective apply that knowledge in how we operate with the world and each other. The dominant society now insinuating that Black people are innately less “intelligent” is merely the dominant society’s conditioning to feel superior due to this country’s routine of conditioning beliefs that Black people are nothing more than “feeble-minded” slaves freed by Lincoln and the “good whites.”
Now, now...I can already hear the chatter of why bring up slavery and why link that image with today’s notion of the Black community as freed inhumanely classed persons. But it simply brings in the foundation of education, expectation, and conditioning. This concept is better and more thoroughly explained in my book “History vs. Us.” Your history is the foundation that sets you on your path, and we as a collective have reacted to the selected events taught as our history in either one of four ways. Regardless of either path, conditioning is dictated by the orchestrated tale of a quarter of history. Despite the subjects taught in school and regardless if we pass or fail, our intelligence is still not gravely measured in academics or recalling sequences of photos, finding patterns in numbers and shapes, deducing such problems as “John, 12-years-old, is three times as old as his brother. How old will John be when he is twice as old as his brother?” and etc. Our conditioning in this country has always focused on and trained us to fight for equality and acceptance instead of our own cultural and educational foundation. We still celebrate “the first Black to…” because our intelligence navigates and challenges societal norms of a country still steeped in white supremacy.
As we look at ourselves now in 2020, where funding and curriculum still leave much to be desired for the majority of Black students, we are still plagued with concerns from generations past. Since 1970 courts had made rulings to equalize school spending. The results proved promising when between 1970-1990, the gap lessened considerably between Black and white students on every significant national educational test. Also, between 1976 and 1994, scores for Black students on the SAT went up 54 points while white students saw no notable change. Continuing to now, however, and considering where funding is for Black students, what programs are offered for Black students, the quality of teachers hired to teach in majority Black schools (let’s not pretend as if schools aren’t still pretty segregated), and the curriculum taught and not taught at Black schools, we must recognize the inequality of “standard education” used to determine “intelligence.”
I say yet again that this “standard education” has no bearing on the sole claim of intelligence. Garrett Morgan was “intelligent” enough to invent the gas mask in 1914; however, this country was so conditioned to things such as “low IQ” that Morgan had to fight fires himself to prove his invention could and would save the lives of the firefighters who refused to wear the invention of a Black man.
It all seems like a war at times for Black people. We celebrate in triumph when we believe someone has proven the “low IQ” debate wrong in academics. We heap praise and pride on our Firsts, our Inventors, our Scholars. This understanding of “intelligence” receives recognition versus Black men exercising their rights with a police officer. “Just think what could happen if he’s not intelligent enough to comply,” we may say in caution. “Intelligence should tell him the officer has the right to shoot him for not complying,” a subscriber to the “low IQ trope” may say.
As an American, however, should we not have all gained knowledge to know our rights? Here is an example of where “standard education” clashes with Black conditioned life. Americans are taught we have Rights to exercise while a separate group of Americans is also conditioned to survive in a country where Rights are subjective. Americans are taught everyone receives an education in this country because, at minimum, a GED is required to be employed. Still, a separate group lacks funding and other essentials to provide quality education. For this separate group, this is all while paying higher taxes that don’t go to school districts, living off lower wages that funnel back out of the community, and attempting to navigate a world deemed “fair” by privileged people who dictate the concept of “intelligence.”
“Intelligence” does not measure the aspects of rocket science. A 5th grader can have an IQ of 135, and so could a college student. Of course, that child will not know as much as the college student. Intelligence quantifies the ability to apply knowledge. The ability Black people have to learn the dominant society’s faulty education and conditioning while finding ways to fight it speaks to our people holding something more than intelligence.
The IQ’s legitimacy is only valued by those using it to their advantage because of a slanted understanding and a society the IQ Myth influenced and helped to sterilize. The challenge now is breaking the binds of our conditioning so we can finally and adequately educate ourselves. Then the intelligence we show will not be of the conditioning which currently manages us.