“If only environmental factors were responsible for the different IQs of different populations, we should expect to find some countries where Africans had higher IQs than Europeans. The failure to find a single country where this is the case points to the presence of a strong genetic factor.” Richard Lynn.
The fact that black immigrants to the United States have shown achievements that are superior to native black Americans has been a phenomenon studied since at least the 1970′s. At first it was just the Caribbean blacks who were a subject of this unexpected outcome. As black Africans kept immigrating into the US, they showed even higher levels of achievement than the native blacks. Many scholars theorized on the reasons for these differences, from Thomas Sowell’s proposal that this disproved the validity of discrimination against native blacks as an explanation for their underachievement (Sowell, 1978), to other scholars who suggested that these immigrants were just the most highly driven members of their home countries as evidenced by their willingness to migrate to a foreign country (Butcher, 1990).
What most of these theories failed to predict was that the children of these immigrants would also show exceptional achievements, especially academically. It is only in recent years, as the immigrants have stayed long enough to produce a sufficiently high number of offspring, that it has been observed that they are over-represented among high academic achievers, especially when compared to native blacks, particularly at very elite institutions. What has been missed in the IQ debate is the full logical implication of these achievements: they have effectively nullified any arguments for a racial evolutionary explanation of the well-known IQ test score gap between blacks and whites. Even more fatal for the racial hereditarian side of the debate has been the corroborating data of school children performance in the UK, particularly when the black Africans are divided into their respective nationalities and tribal ethnicities, as reported in the latter section of this article.
Arthur Jensen gave at least two empirical tests that could potentially falsify his thesis of a race based genetic explanation for the black-white IQ gap. Firstly, if the gap is caused by genetic racial differences, the blacks with more white admixture should tend to show a higher IQ than blacks with less whiteness. Secondly, “regression to the mean” implies that children (or siblings) of extraordinarily high IQ blacks should tend to a lower IQ than the children or siblings of similarly high IQ whites. Social experiments concerning the first test have not been decisive, especially due to the difficulty of separating out environmental factors since lighter American blacks have historically faced more favorable socioeconomic conditions. The second test did indicate some evidence of regression to a lower black mean for African Americans, which only means that the racial genetic hypothesis was not nullified; it remained a valid proposition. Until now.
Using Jensen’s own empirical framework, the racial genetic hypothesis can be tested by comparing black African immigrants with native blacks, intellectually. If the genetic hypothesis is correct, children of elite African blacks will tend to have lower IQs than children of native black Americans, and perhaps even lower than children of low IQ blacks, the same phenomenon observed between American blacks and whites since native blacks are basically “more white” than African (or Caribbean) immigrants.
In the US, it is not only at elite universities where there is a clear over-representation of black immigrant children, it is also at public gifted schools and any kinds of intellectually gifted programs that are highly selective on intelligence. For example, when the New York Times did a story to show the experiences of blacks at Stuyvesant High School in New York, they had to use the personal account of a West Indian black child there (Ann-Marie Miller); if they had many native blacks, that would have certainly been their preferred subject. Furthermore, the only other student who was interviewed for that article, Opraha Miles, a former president of the black student society at Stuyvesant, also just happened to be Jamaican; no black American student was mentioned in the story. A close look at a number of other such institutions shows even more clear evidence of a tendency for black immigrants to be over-represented as selectivity requirements for an academic institution (or complexity of a subject) goes higher.
In the world of intellectually gifted schools, perhaps the most selective in the United States is a special program called the Davidson Academy started by Jan and Bob Davison in 2006 in Reno, Nevada. The tiny school boasts of selecting only the most profoundly gifted children (the highest of the five levels of giftedness) whose IQ is so high that “only one in every ten thousand children in America” can qualify to the school in any one cohort; it is more selective than Stanford or Harvard can ever be. The school makes no efforts or pretensions to affirmative action and as such, they have had very little “diversity.” However, a search through the promotional materials of the school for a black student – all schools and colleges will always show some black faces in their promotional materials if they have any – reveals that they have had at least one black student, and it was, unsurprisingly, a Nigerian Igbo name (the parent is interviewed in the ad posted on Youtube).
At the tertiary level, a special program to promote African American academic pursuit of Science and Engineering called the Meyerhoff Scholars program was started by philanthropists Robert and Jane Meyerhoff at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). The program has attracted funding from a lot of companies by gaining a reputation for achieving something totally unexpected in American society: black students who take a deeply passionate interest in engineering and science majors and even proceed to advanced studies at elite universities. According to a book co-written by the Meyerhoff program’s leader, UMBC president Freeman Hrabowski III, they believe they have succeeded against all odds by having “strong academic advising and personal counseling, emphasis on group study and peer support, appropriate tutoring and mentoring, [and] involvement with faculty in research and access to role models in science.”
The program has been so successful that educators in other states and universities have been seeking to replicate its success by imitating its key principles and management practices. However, a closer look at the program reveals that their key to success is much simpler than it appears: they simply fill up their program with Caribbean and African blacks! For example, listening to the names of the graduating class of 2008 posted on youtube, this author could identify about half of the blacks in this class who were clearly of African (immigrant) descent. The other half can be expected to have a good number of Caribbean blacks, besides blacks with only an African immigrant mother (and black American father).
Many programs that have tried to emulate the Meyerhoff Program in other universities have failed, particularly in solving the problem of retention rates, according to one report in Science Magazine. One program that has also solved this apparently difficult task of keeping blacks enrolled after they enroll in a STEM course is another minority-focused program called the Biology Scholars Program (BSP) at UC Berkeley. However, it appears their secret to success is not different from Meyerhoff’s secret. Their homepage has a section on their members and it features the profiles of five minority students in their program, two of whom are black. Both blacks just happen to be of African (immigrant) descent!
Contrary to their boasting, neither the Meyerhoff Scholars Program nor the Biology Scholars Program has solved the intractable problem of low retention or low achievement in the real African American community (especially the African American male problem that the Meyerhoff’s program was originally intended for); their students simply come from black immigrant groups that already have those achievement and retention rates whether in their home countries or in the U.S., the U.K and elsewhere. This is not disclosed in Hrabowski’s triumphantly titled book, “Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males” or in its sequel on African American women!
Finally, browsing through some names of the competitive National Achievement scholars, which is the National Merit‘s program aimed at specifically recognizing and awarding academic scholarships to the best black high school graduates, also showed signs of clear over-representation of African immigrants, especially for STEM scholarships. In the 2014 Annual Report on their web site, they do not give all the names of their winners, but they give some special profiles of their most outstanding scholars. Of the three long profiles given in the report, one of the names is from the West Indies, and the other two are from Africa (one Ghanaian and one Nigerian); there is no native black American. The West Indian was awarded a scholarship to study multiple languages (including Arabic) due to her extraordinary talent in this area that has apparently been recognized by the State Department; the Ghanaian was awarded for medicine and the Nigerian for electrical engineering. Among the other smaller profiles given, the black immigrant names are still over-represented, especially for the harder sciences. This should put to rest the usual reasons given for why black immigrants are accepted into Ivy League universities more than native blacks, including the charge that these universities just favor immigrant blacks because “[whites] find them easier to get along with”, or native blacks just don’t apply to these universities, and so on. Apparently, occam’s razor wins again: they may just be smarter on average (for whatever reason).
The predictable response of the hereditarians is to adopt the environmentalist argument of super high immigrant selection to explain this unexpected trend: where some environmentalists propose that these immigrants are the most driven achievers in their countries, the hereditarians say they are the most intellectually elite, the ones from the topmost segment of the IQ bell curve in their countries; the outliers who got some lucky genes in an otherwise poor-gene environment. But like the hyper-driven-personality hypothesis, this argument cannot explain the equally, if not more impressive, achievements of their children: lottery winners never have children who also win the lottery. The stubborn refusal of their children to conspicuously regress to the much lower African genetic mean IQ (and not even to the African American mean IQ) predicted by hereditarians is simply inexplicable under their racial genetic hierarchy.
In a Harvard University paper that later sparked some unfortunate controversy, Richwine (2009) estimated the IQs of the black African immigrants from a supposedly culture-free test of backward digit span as 89. Although many in the hereditarian HBD crowd accepted these numbers on faith (and the Heritage Foundation used his paper to try to influence immigration policy), such estimates can be highly misleading. They lump together black Africans into one homogenous group when there are different kinds of black Africans, including a good number coming in as refugees from highly troubled countries, while other nationalities consist of the most educated ethnicities in America. As I demonstrate below with UK data, the different groups of African immigrants can have very large background differences that reflect in cognitive gaps among them that are even higher than the gap between American blacks and whites (and yes, these are reflected on “culture-free” tests too). In other words, the mean IQ of African immigrants may be as unrepresentative of black Igbo immigrants as it is of white South African immigrants. It’s a meaningless mean.
Without accepting this fact, the IQ approximations of Africans do not make sense in the context of their academic achievements in the US compared to black Americans. For example, when one HBD blogger broke down the IQs of black Americans by state using one of Lynn’s methods for estimating national IQs, he found over 30 states that had black IQ above 89, i.e., higher than the black African immigrant IQ found by Richwine. If these black immigrants really have a representative mean IQ from a normal distribution that is lower than the black mean in 30 whole states, there is no way they would dominate the native black Americans so conspicuously and predictably in all academically elite institutions. The black Caribbean immigrant IQ of 83 (assuming it is represented under “Central America/Carribean”), which is lower than Alabama’s black IQ, is even more implausible in the context of their well-noted achievements. Correcting the different states’ black IQ by subtracting 5 IQ points from each state would still not fix the problem of plausibility: if there is even one state with blacks that are definitely smarter than (or just equal to) the black immigrants, it would be the children of the blacks from that state who would be conspicuously over-represented in those elite programs. There certainly would be no Caribbean names there.
The only plausible way to possibly salvage Richwine’s data is to accept that there are such large variations mediated by highly variable environmental factors (rather than restrictive genetic factors) within the African (or Caribbean) immigrant group that their mean IQ is totally inappropriate to use for estimating social expectations for every black immigrant group within the United States. As the UK data below shows, it is very unlikely that children of immigrants from the Igbo or Yoruba groups of Nigeria or the Ashanti group of Ghana, for example, have an average IQ below the white mean IQ.
The most definitive proof of Africans’ grossly underestimated genotypic IQ (80 according to Lynn, or 70 according to Jensen and Rushton, et al) has come in recent years from the performance of African school children in the UK. These results sparked instant reactions in the IQ debate world as soon as they started being reported by the news media, with some strong hereditarians suddenly becoming some kind of neo-environmentalists just to explain why white school children were not showing the kind of academic superiority over blacks that they have become accustomed to in the United States (wrong tests, declining white culture, an alleged war on whites, etc – the same kinds of reasons they always dismissed from liberal environmentalists explaining black underachievement in the US).
The first report that caused some consternation in the IQ blogosphere indicated that black African pupils were apparently catching up with British white pupils on their GCSE tests and that in fact, they had already overtaken them at the lower end: the poor black kids were now performing better than poor white kids (The Guardian, 2010). Hereditarian psychometricians and scholars from Jensen to Gottfredson, Lynn, Rushton, et al had after all declared that IQ predicted test scores on all kinds of tests since a common factor of intelligence, g, was highly robust.
A couple of years after that news and more stories of black and other minority progress on GCSEs, GL Assessment, an independent testing organization, published results of their Cognitive Assessment Tests (CAT), indicating the performance of different ethnic groups. The CAT, though given to children at age 11, is highly correlated with GCSE results at age 16. The CAT results confirmed what the GCSEs had shown: that black Africans were catching up with British whites, and this sparked even more panic in the IQ-human biodiversity blogosphere.
Many bloggers and commentators came up with countless explanations for the unexpected trend among blacks from Africa who were expected to be around two standard deviations (30 IQ points) below whites in average IQ scores, but were only half a standard deviation below. Almost all the guesses on what could be causing this unexpected trend assumed that the upward trend would not continue in future to the point of actually equaling white scores, an event that could cause a crisis in the hereditarian camp.
In fact, what most scholars and bloggers in the IQ world seemed to not know is that by the time these pieces of news were coming out in the media, there were already African nationalities that had overtaken the white average by a significant margin. The reason it seemed that the black Africans were only trying to catch up now was the usual academic tendency of lumping Africans together into one big racial group when other groups were being identified by nationality (e.g. Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, etc rather than “Asian” or “South-East Asian” etc). Grouping Africans into the monolithic “Black African” ethnicity concealed the different experiences of African immigrants from different nations, some of whom had emigrated as refugees from war-torn countries, while others lad left countries that did not speak much English and were thus disadvantaged in the tests. A negative correlation with English as Another Language was evident on both the CAT scores and the GCSE scores.
As the table above shows, some African nationalities, particularly Ghanaians and Nigerians, score way above the England mean (and the white British mean), while others, like the Somalis and Congolese, score way below (but still not as low as the Portuguese immigrants, apparently). The low scoring African groups are the ones that migrated as refugees and/or could not speak English, besides being very poor. Improvements among the Somalians have been impressive, especially due to programs dedicated to teaching them English.
Although the Chinese and Indians are still very conspicuously above even the best African nationalities, their superiority disappears when the Nigerian and other groups are broken down even further according to their different tribal ethnicities. Groups like the famous Igbo tribe, which has contributed much genetically to the African American blacks, are well known to be high academic achievers within Nigeria. In fact, their performance seems to be at least as high as the “model minority” Chinese and Indians in the UK, as seen when some recent African immigrants are divided into languages spoken at home (which also indicates that these are not multigenerational descendants but children of recent immigrants).
Africans speaking Luganda and Krio did better than the Chinese students in 2011. The igbo were even more impressive given their much bigger numbers (and their consistently high performance over the years, gaining a 100 percent pass rate in 2009!). The superior Igbo achievement on GCSEs is not new and has been noted in studies that came before the recent media discovery of African performance. A 2007 report on “case study” model schools in Lambeth also included a rare disclosure of specified Igbo performance (recorded as Ibo in the table below) and it confirms that Igbos have been performing exceptionally well for a long time (5 + A*-C GCSEs); in fact, it is difficult to find a time when they ever performed below British whites.
If these Nigerian groups really performed so well under the years in question when the media started catching the news, one would expect some names of their students to be reported in the news among the best performing students in the country. Statistically, if girls outperformed boys and Igbos outperformed other ethnic groups in 2010, one would expect an igbo girl to be among the top performers in the country. In fact, according to a Daily Mail report on the GCSE results of 2010, the best student in the whole country was indeed a Nigerian girl, Chidera Ota. A check on Nigerian names confirms that she is of Igbo descent. Ota scored 15 A*s, higher than any Chinese, Indian or white student, and higher than any student from prestigious elite schools like Eton College (she was at a state funded selective high school for girls).
To put it into perspective, these results mean that the children of black Africans (or at least West Africans) are not only not scoring below the scores of low-IQ poor white children, as Jensen’s calculations would predict, they are even able to score above children of elite whites too (who go to Eton college etc).
What are the chances of a girl from a small minority group of immigrants whose home country is 2 standard deviations below the host country’s mean IQ achieving the best academic results in the host country? If the average IQ of SubSaharan African adults is equal to 11 year old Europeans, as their IQ scores estimate (Rushton, 2004), what are the chances that an African child of such adults would ever beat all European children in academic achievement? Had the low phenotypic IQ of black Africans truly been biologically caused even to some degree, such feats should be as rare as having the fastest 100 meters runner in the world coming from the slowest running ethnicity in the world. In short, what are the chances of say, an Indian immigrant to Jamaica winning the national 100 meters sprint? Even more incredible, what are the chances that the children of such “super-selected” Indian immigrant athletes would also (on average and on top) beat the children of native Jamaicans and other immigrants known for their superior athleticism?
The academic performance of the African students in the UK is even more remarkable when the well-known fact of higher black involvement in sport and athletics (at any level) is taken into account. Whereas Chinese and Indian students are not exactly expected to lead their schools or colleges to winning athletic championships, many black students are actively involved in athletics even when they have a strong academic focus. For example, a check on the Cambridge web site reveals that Chidera Ota, the UK’s best GCSE student in her cohort, was also the fastest runner in the girls 100 and 200 meters team for Cambridge (she qualified to Cambridge’s premed program after subsequently achieving straight A’s on her A-levels). Since she could not have just become a fast runner in college, it means that she achieved her academic performance in high school while being very active in athletics. It is quite plausible that the higher athletic commitments of black African students probably hinders them from achieving even further than they do in academics; it is especially difficult to develop a deep mastery of a specific academic field since this requires much more intensive focus and time commitments. On the other hand, it is also difficult for them to suppress their natural athletic (or artistic) gifts and interests for an unbalanced academic existence.
This trend of African blacks (especially West Africans) being expected to achieve exceptionally in both athletics and academics is not limited to their experience in the UK. African immigrants in the US (on average) are also highly involved in athletics, like other black students, while also being expected to perform exceptionally well in academics by their parents. A story in the SFGATE in 2009 confirms this typical double commitment of African immigrants. A Ghanaian American Owusu family had five star athletes at elite American universities who also just happened to be star students because if they ever got anything less than an A, “I will take them out of sports,” threatened their father, Francis Owusu. Owusu had migrated to America on an athletics scholarship from Ghana. His sons combined star athleticism and academic performance in such elite institutions as Stanford and Harvard (with a daughter at Colombia University), a data point that in itself goes against familial regression to the low African mean predicted by hereditarians.
NBA star Andre Iguodala (Nigerian heritage), the Most Valuable Player of the 2015 NBA Finals, was not an exception to this African requirement of combining academic excellence (and character) with athletic prowess, despite having decided early to become a professional basketball player. He was an Honor Roll student in high school besides being a star basketball player.
The tendency of black Africans to excel in both academics and sport may be one reason they are on such high demand with elite academic institutions in the United States. These universities get to preserve a reputation for academic excellence while also gaining some profitable athletic contributions to their student body, besides enhancing their “diversity” public profile.
Sporting victories and diversity are apparently not as important in UK universities as they are in American universities, at least in practice. This might explain why the two most elite universities, Oxford and Cambridge do not feel too pressured to take up as many black students as would be predicted by their impressive performance on the GCSEs. When pressed about this issue, the spokeswoman for Oxford admitted that there were many more blacks that academically qualify to enter their university each year than are accepted (the minimum qualification is three A’s or better on A-levels). She explained that one of the main reasons they do not accept as many blacks as would be expected is simply that they tend to apply to oversubscribed subjects (specifically, economics and management, medicine, and maths). Although this is a plausible explanation, it also highlights the difference between black American student performance (in the US) and black African performance (in the UK): can anyone imagine a similar situation happening in the US? What is the likelihood of the top universities in America turning down many black Americans who have scored among the very top high school students in the US, and then having, say, the Harvard University spokesman coming out to explain why they could only take a small portion of blacks with top SAT scores? (The reason itself is unimaginable in the US: too many blacks want to do maths!)
Another story that emphasizes this difference between black African performance in the UK compared to African American performance in the US was a report on London’s spectacular improvements in GCSE school achievement. The capital city has in recent years been doing so well compared to other areas of the country that it attracted some hot debates from different scholars about the causes. The main reason that has been offered and debated so far came from a highly reputable scholar who argued that these achievements of London are not due to any government policy but simply a result of three high achieving groups moving to London in recent years: Chinese, Indians, and Black Africans. The fact that such a statement can even be made proves how different the black Africans in the UK are from black Americans. How conceivable is it that researchers in America would propose something like, “the reason New York City is now leading in school performance nationwide is because it has a lot of Chinese, Indians and black Americans who have recently moved into the city in high numbers”? Mentioning blacks as part of the explanation for the academic success of any American city would sound like a page from an environmentalist science fiction novel, and yet it is accepted as a valid argument for the academic success of the biggest city in the UK!
Finally, it has to be noted that even if hereditarians can somehow manage to convincingly argue that the Nigerian (or Igbo) children in the UK do in fact have a lower IQ than average white children, as their biological model predicts (despite our evidence), they also have to show that these West African children even have a lower IQ than average black American children (since the latter have more white admixture)! At the very least, they should show that these children of “elite” Africans actually have a lower IQ than the children of equally elite native black Americans: the same elite black Americans whose children already score lower than poor whites, according to Jensen. That is by no means the most enviable task in academic history.
Chanda Chisala, originally from Zambia, has been a John S. Knight Visiting Fellow at Stanford University, a Visiting Fellow at the Hoover Institution, and a Reagan-Fascell Fellowship at the National Endowment for Democracy.
- Sowell, Thomas (1978).Three Black Histories. Essays and Data on American Ethnic Groups.The Urban Institute, pp 41-48
- Butcher, K. F (1990). Black Immigrants to the United States: A comparison with native blacks and other immigrants. Department of Economics, Princeton University.
- Business Insider (2015). An Elite Group of Students accepted to all 8 Ivy League Schools have one thing in Common
- Murray T, et al (2010). African and non-African admixture components in African Americans and an African Caribbean population. Genet Epidemiol.
- Anekwe, P N (2009). Characteristics and Challenges of High-achieving Second Generation Nigerian Youths in the United States, Universal Publishers.
- Jill Rutter (2013). Back to Basics: Towards a Successful and Cost-Effective Integration Policy
- White British Children outperformed by Minorities The Guardian 2013
- Ethnicity and Education: The Evidence on Minority Ethnic Pupils aged 5–16
- Gottfredson, L. S. (1998). The general intelligence factor. Scientific American Presents, 9(4), 24-29.
- The Grio (2011). Harvard has more black students than ever, but are they African-American?
- New York Times (2004). Top Colleges Take More Blacks, but Which Ones?
- The Guardian (2013). White British Children outperformed by Ethnic Minority pupils, says Think Tank
- Feyisa, D. (2009). Raising the Performance of underachieving Children: Success Factors
- Feyisa, D. (2013). Raising the Achievement of Black African Pupils: Good Practice in Schools. Lambeth Council
- SFGate (2009). Speed Runs in the Owusu Family,
- Science Magazine (June 2009). Minority Retention Rates are Sore Spot for Most Universities AAAS
- The Economist (2013). Ethnic-minority pupils are storming ahead, thanks partly to tutors.
- Hrabowski, F. et al (1998). Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males. Oxford University Press.
- Richwine, J. (2009). IQ and Immigration Policy. Department of Public Policy, Harvard University.
- The Guardian (2010). How Fair is Britain?
- The Guardian (2015). Is London’s ethnic diversity driving its school success story?
- Okoye, P. (2014). Academic Achievement of Nigerian and Ghanaian Students: Report on Academic Achievement of Nigerian and Ghanaian students in Camden Schools
- Strand, S. (2015). English as an Additional Language (EAL) and educational achievement in England: An analysis of the National Pupil Database. University of Oxford Department of Education
- Rushton, J. P., & Jensen, A. R.. (2005). Thirty years of research on Black-White differences in cognitive ability.Psychology, Public Policy, & the Law, 11, 235-294.
- Rushton, J.P. (2004). Solving the IQ Conundrum. Vdare.com
- Jensen, A.R. (1999). The g Factor: the Science of Mental Ability. Precis of Jensen on Intelligence-g-Factor. Psycoloquy: 10(023)
- Lynn, Richard;Vanhanen, Tatu(2002). IQ and the Wealth of Nations. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger.
- Lynn, R. (2008).The Global Bell Curve: Race, IQ, and Inequality Worldwide. Augusta, Georgia: Washington Summit Publishers.