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29 Back to the Future with The Bell Curve: Jim Crow, Slavery, and G JACQUELINE JONES According to Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, we live in an age and a country untainted by history, an age that springs full blown from g, or the "general intelligence" of the citizens who live here, now. In presenting their rigidly deterministic view that IQ is the major force shaping social structure in the United States today, the authors of The Bell Curve exude a smug complacency about late-twentieth-century American society: they argue that, judging from current housing and job patterns, people are pretty much where they should be-members of the so-called cognitive elite are ensconced in the wealthiest communities, while the poor (dubbed the"dull" or "very dull") languish, and deservedly so, in run-down, crime-ridden neighborhoods because they are unable to do any better for themselves. Yet even as the authors revel in the purity of a g-driven society, they hearken back to the supposedly glorious days of yesteryear, when poor people not only remained in their place, but also knew and understood that to be their place. As we read The Bell Curve, then, the past unfolds behind us, and beckons, full of promise for the future. Among the more ludicrous claims of The Bell Curve is the authors' assertion that they are fearless scholars, venturing "into forbidden territory" (p. 10), into an intellectual noman 's land "between public discussion and private opinion" (p. 297). In fact, the book is simply the most recent in a long line of efforts to prove the congenital inferiority of poor people in general, and black people in particular. In the seventeenth century, settlers in the British colonies justified the enslavement of Africans because most blacks were non-Christian, non-English, and non-white. In the eighteenth century, white elites arranged that poor black people be permanently stigmatized, and forced to toil at the dirtiest jobs, so that white men could enjoy their republican liberties. In the late nineteenth century, southern politicians and landowners charged that the former slaves were lazy, immoral, and irresponsible ; the federal government gave its blessing to efforts to keep black men and women disenfranchised , hard at work, and segregated from whites. In the early twentieth century, racists turned to scientific theories to bolster their contention that whites were superior to non-whites in culture and intelligence. As a text revealing of our times, then, The Bell Curve pursues traditional ends via new means; it seeks to denigrate blacks and justify their exclusion from the best jobs. Well-paying, secure positions that include benefits like health care will remain the province of whites (and a few Asians), while the most menial jobs will remain reserved for blacks and the From THE BELL CURVE WARS, edited by Steven Fraser. Copyright © 1995 by Basic Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Reprinted by permission of Basic Books, a division of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyrighted Material 180 Jacqueline Jones "New Immigrants" from Latin American countries. According to The Bell Curve, persistent racial and class segregation of neighborhoods and workplaces will insure that the poor, with their bad morals and shiftless ways, will not contaminate the well-to-do. As a political program, these ideas have the added advantage of appealing to poor whites, who might otherwise have to compete with the darker-skinned "lower orders" for scarce resources. Although the authors do not dwell explicitly on the alleged glories of days gone by, they do seem to envision a society that bears a striking resemblance to earlier periods in the nation 's history, periods characterized by the legal and economic subordination of black people as a group. Indeed, the history-minded reader can discern that The Bell Curve begins by evoking the days of Jim Crow, and then moves back to the time of slavery, building toward a dramatic climax in the last chapter, when the authors wax eloquent about the virtues of the political ideology and social structure characteristic of the late eighteenth century. As a blueprint for the good society, the period 1890 to 1915 has much to recommend it when viewed from the perspective of The Bell Curve. (Not coincidentally, it was during these years that intelligence testing came into vogue, no doubt in response to large-scale immigration from Eastern Europe; economic transformations often provoke new theories and systems of social control and racial inferiority.) During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the...


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