IQ Tests, SAT Scores and Other “Intelligence” Tests Propagate Racism

Author and professor Ibram X. Kendi joins us to discuss his new book, How to Be an Antiracist. He talks about the racist development of intelligence tests that blatantly discriminate against people of color under a veneer of scientific objectivity. “Even when we talk about antiracism, when most people think of who needs to be an antiracist, they think of Southerners. They think of people who voted for Trump,” says Kendi. “They don’t think of people who are advocating for the maintenance of these tests, which are denying access to some of the best schools in New York City to black and Latino kids.”

TRANSCRIPT

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Our guest for the hour is Ibram X. Kendi, on the day of the release of his new book, How to Be an Antiracist. He has won the National Book Award, the youngest person ever to win the National Book Award for Nonfiction, for his previous book. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Fox News TV personality Tucker Carlson is under fire for insisting that white supremacy is a hoax and not a real problem in America. Carlson made the remarks on his program last week.

TUCKER CARLSON: The whole thing is a lie. If you were to assemble a list, a hierarchy of concerns or problems this country faces, where would white supremacy be on the list? Right up there with Russia probably. It’s actually not a real problem in America.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we’re continuing our discussion with Ibram Kendi. Your reaction to Tucker Carlson?

IBRAM X. KENDI: I mean, these are some of the same types of people who say that the Holocaust was a hoax. They say that racism is a hoax. They say that slavery was good for black people. I mean, this is the ideology, right? Because when they can’t deny the obvious evidence that shows that domestic white supremacist terrorism is on the rise, that it is the principal form of domestic terror that is affecting American lives, they just deny its existence completely. And that’s certainly what he’s doing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you — in your previous books, you looked at the history of racist ideas in the United States, and one of the issues that you focused on was the development of intelligence tests and the history of intelligence tests in terms of being racially motivated from the very beginning, and so many young people in the African-American and Latino communities are basically oppressed and classified and cast aside as a result of their performance on various intelligence tests.

IBRAM X. KENDI: Yeah. So, currently, in most intelligence tests, Latinos and black people receive lower scores than whites and Asians. The question is: What is the problem? Is there a problem with the test takers or the test? And for a hundred years, Americans have made the case that black people, Latino people are not achieving intellectually as much as other people, as much as white people. And I would argue, no, the problem isn’t with these test takers; the problem is with the tests themselves.

These are tests that were created by eugenicists. When you look at the person who created the SAT test, when you look at the person who first popularized the IQ test in the United States, these were avowed eugenicists.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, go into that more fully. We’ve got the hour here, and this is an astounding history you write about.

IBRAM X. KENDI: Well, I mean, Lewis Terman, for instance, who wrote, a century ago, this book called — in which he sort of sought to promote this new IQ test that he had brought over from Europe — in that book, he talked about that these tests will prove that black people are intellectually inferior. I mean, this was the hypothesis that he put forth in a book that promoted the original IQ test a century ago. And Carl Brigham, who essentially established the SAT test a decade later, in the ’20s, was a eugenicist from Princeton.

I mean, these are eugenicists who created these tests, not just to prove that Latinos and black people were inferior to white people, but also to prove that women were genetically intellectually inferior to men, that poor people were genetically intellectually inferior to wealthy people, that Southerners — I mean, everyone — that non-Anglo-Saxons were intellectually inferior to Anglo-Saxons. And so, this test became the evidence that they had been looking for, really, for hundreds of years, to prove that people of color and poor people and women were intellectually inferior.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what the College Board has recently announced, that they are adding an Environmental Context Dashboard for all students taking the SATs. What does this mean?

IBRAM X. KENDI: I’m trying to figure that out, too. One thing I think many — the College Board, ETS, some of these other institutions that have been under fire, by not only antiracists, but even parents who don’t want their children being in these high-stakes testing environments. And I think they’re figuring out new ways to essentially maintain the existence of these tests. And certainly, this is a way to respond to those who are fundamentally pointing to the environment as the problem, and not necessarily the test takers.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, here in New York City, Mayor de Blasio has been attempting to eliminate the standardized tests for the most elite high schools in the city, because, actually, the number of African Americans and Latinos admitted into this highly specialized high school has been dropping, hasn’t been increasing even as the population has been. But he’s met enormous resistance at the state level, and he has not been able to get that through. Your sense of this battle that’s been going on, not only in New York City, but across the country, over tests?

IBRAM X. KENDI: Well, I’ve been following that, and what I’ve specifically been following is those parents who come to town halls and argue for the maintenance of tests. Many of these parents, though certainly not all, have said things like, “My kids are scoring on the test because they work hard.” Those other black and Latinx kids, obviously, the implication is, they’re not working hard. What they’re not talking about, though, is that the test prep companies, the test prep tutors, the test prep industry is concentrated in New York City in white and Asian neighborhoods, so it makes sense that those who get the best test prep and who have the most access to resources to pay for test prep are going to do the best on these tests.

AMY GOODMAN: And very interesting, and probably a corollary of all that, is that the New York schools, the public schools, are the most segregated in the country.

IBRAM X. KENDI: In the country. It is —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re not talking about the South here; we’re talking about New York.

IBRAM X. KENDI: And I think that’s an incredibly important point, because even when we talk about antiracism, when most people think of who needs to be an antiracist, they think of Southerners. They think of people who voted for Trump. They don’t think of people who are advocating for the maintenance of these tests, which are denying access to some of the best schools in New York City to black and Latino kids.

AMY GOODMAN: This brings us to the presidential race, to former vice president, 2020 presidential hopeful Joe Biden, who is coming under fire after he recently contrasted “poor kids” with “white kids” at an event hosted by the Iowa Asian & Latino Coalition.

JOE BIDEN: We have this notion that somehow if you’re poor, you cannot do it. Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids — wealthy kids, black kids, Asian kids.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Biden later said he misspoke while delivering his remarks. Ibram Kendi?

IBRAM X. KENDI: I mean, if he misspoke, there’s a reason why he misspoke to begin with, right? And I think that this idea — right? — connecting poor kids to black kids, is quite widespread, just like there’s an idea that connects rich kids with white kids, which not only — and so, with the first, it not only sort of recognizes that, actually, the majority of black people in this country are not poor, but in the case of connecting rich kids with white kids, you are ignoring all of these poor white kids — right? — who are classified by white racists as “white trash.” That’s a racialized term that imagines — right? — that there is something wrong with poor white people, and they have less because they are less.