The Wright Stuff: Echoes of The Bell Curve?

One of the stranger aspects of Jeremiah Wright’s speech came in the supposed neurological explanation of the differences between whites and blacks. Wright claims that the very structure of the brains of Africans differ from that of European-descent brains, which creates differences rooted in physiology and not culture:

“Africans have a different meter, and Africans have a different tonality,” he said. Europeans have seven tones, Africans have five. White people clap differently than black people. “Africans and African-Americans are right-brained, subject-oriented in their learning style,” he said. “They have a different way of learning.” And so on.

This sounds oddly similar to claims made in The Bell Curve by Charles Murray and Richard Hernstein, a book that created a firestorm of controversy with claims that race made a difference in IQ scores, among other claims. The two authors got reviled as racist enablers and their work became denigrated among a wide swath of researchers for seriously overreaching the science on which they relied for their conclusions. Bob Herbert wrote in the New York Times that The Bell Curve was “a scabrous piece of racial pornography masquerading as serious scholarship,” and that the book was “just a genteel way of calling somebody a n****r.” The American Psychological Association dismissed the racial differences hypothesized as “unsupported”.

Interestingly, one other point got made about the book, and specifically about its co-author Murray. Murray had no experience as a psychometrist, but instead received his PhD in political science. One critic tied Murray and his efforts to establish physiological differences in brains through genetics and race to one of the foundations that purportedly help fund the research for the book:

The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation is a particularly interesting case. … Even more striking is that Bradley grants supported Charles Murray and the late Harvard psychologist Richard Hernstein while they wrote The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life. According to PFAW, ‘the book was widely seen as a piece of profoundly racist and classist pseudo-science, and was denounced by the American Psychological Association.

Who was the critic? Julian Bond — of the NAACP. This comes in a footnote to his 2005 speech to the NAACP at their 96th annual convention. Apparently, they didn’t like the notion of physiological differences in brain structure three years ago, but had no problem with cheering Jeremiah Wright when he used their stage for his own “pseudo-science”.  (h/t: Right Wing Sparkle, who reminded me of the book.)