Today’s corporate press regularly churns out articles with a predictable theme: too few black people have this or that important position or advantage. As I began this review, a local newspaper was complaining that hourly workers at Amazon are mostly blacks or Hispanics, while the “highest ranks” are occupied largely by whites and Asians. That same day, a CNN feature lamented that blacks and whites still tend to occupy different neighborhoods in Atlanta and nationwide. Absent from the Amazon piece was any reference to what has been euphemistically termed the “pipeline” problem—the fact that there are many times more whites and Asians than blacks and Hispanics qualified to occupy upper-echelon jobs at Amazon. The CNN feature briefly cited the role of crime in driving people to flee black neighborhoods but summarily dismissed that explanation as a pretextual “myth” to hide discriminatory “opportunity hoarding” practiced by selfish, racist whites.
Both these articles followed the increasingly rigid conventions that now govern journalistic coverage and social science research on racial disparities. The most important rule of so-called “antiracist” analysis is that all racial inequalities are the product of white racism, whether it be “structural,” “systemic,” “institutional,” or otherwise. No inequity can be ascribed to shortcomings, personal choices, or untoward behaviors on the part of “people of color.” In the case of employment, the “pipeline problem” is either ignored or, if acknowledged, attributed to ubiquitous societal racism. Likewise, residential self-segregation can never be traced chiefly to group differences in behavior like family breakdown, school disorder, and criminal offending. Everything must be obsessively and universally blamed on racist white people.
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Charles Murray’s Facing Reality: Two Truths About Race in America challenges this prevailing dogma. Murray puts forward a simple thesis: The most consequential racial differences in our society are “in cognitive ability and crime.” These gaps cause and explain virtually all racial disparities that currently exist. It follows that discussions of “domestic policy issues involving more than one race” will virtually always prove “invalid” unless they take these facts into account. Unfortunately, most current mainstream journalistic and academic treatment of racial issues fall woefully short on this measure. Willful neglect of the two realities Murray describes is now standard operating procedure.
Most of this brief book is devoted to detailing the basic evidence and social implications of racial gaps in measured intelligence and criminal offending. With the clear, accessible prose we have come to expect, Murray acknowledges the complexity of the debates surrounding these topics but deftly avoids getting bogged down in technicalities. Without ignoring the wide range of ethnicities in American society, Murray concentrates on evidence of differences between whites (here called “Europeans,” in an attempt to sidestep vexed controversies surrounding racial terms) and blacks (designated “Africans”). He notes that these gaps have caused “by far the most controversy and angst,” especially after the 1960s civil rights era. These are also the disparities “informed by the most data,” including various measures over time of cognitive ability and academic performance, and databases documenting crime rates.
Murray disputes the fashionable assumptions “that all groups are equal in the ways that shape economic, social, and political outcomes,” and that “therefore all differences in group outcomes are artificial and indefensible.” These assumptions are “factually wrong,” he maintains. Rather, racial inequalities in a range of social indicators—such as health, wealth, occupation, educational attainment, and the composition and quality of schools and neighborhoods—can be traced most immediately to significantly greater rates of African criminal behavior and significantly lower average African intellectual ability. The existence and potent influence of these factors, explains Murray, undermine the claim that American society is pervasively and irredeemably riddled with racism.
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Murray aims to revive what he calls the “American creed,” a set of ideal commitments to foundational freedoms, human dignity, individualism, equality under the law, and the use of neutral, colorblind measures of individual talent and competence to assign economic and social roles. Central to this code, which he claims is still widely endorsed “by a consensus of the electorate,” is an impartial, meritocratic system that countenances no special treatment or lowering of standards for particular racial or ethnic groups. He identifies the 1960s Civil Rights Act, which both expressed and reinforced a sea change in public attitudes about racial discrimination, as the true culmination of the creed. He faults courts and executives for distorting the legislation’s original intent by enforcing race-based double standards like affirmative action and confusing racially disparate impacts with unlawful discrimination. These mischievous excesses, rooted in factually unjustified expectations of equal group outcomes, have now produced an extreme ideology that “repudiate[s] the American creed altogether.” “Wokeness,” “critical race theory,” and “anti-racism,” Murray laments, have created an entrenched system of special favors for Africans in jobs, education, and other sectors of society.
In the central chapters of the book, Murray sets out the facts about intelligence and crime rates that back up his thesis. On cognitive ability, he presents evidence collected over many decades based on standard measurements of basic intelligence, or I.Q., and levels of academic achievement that closely correlate with cognitive ability. He dispatches as empirically baseless the popular contentions that I.Q. measures are “racially biased,” that they fail to measure anything “real,” that I.Q. scores can be readily manipulated or significantly improved, or that tests of cognitive ability have no predictive power. And he supplies a short statistical primer on how group differences are estimated and described, including a useful exposition of the all-important technical concept of standard deviation (a measure of how extreme a difference is relative to the normal variation within a group).
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He reports that intelligence assessments have consistently revealed gaps in average I.Q. between different groups, including Asians (with the highest average I.Q.), Europeans (close behind Asians), and Africans, who have consistently lagged about one standard deviation or so behind Europeans. The latter divide narrowed a bit during the 1970s and ’80s but has stabilized since then. Although a few reviewers have found fault with some of his estimates, and Murray himself admits that he probably lowballs the African-European I.Q. discrepancy, these small disagreements don’t undermine his fundamental observations, which are uncontroversial among almost all professional psychometricians: racial gaps exist, are significant, and have predictive consequences for behavior, performance, and achievement. Throughout, Murray relies on an extensive and powerful literature in industrial and organizational psychology, accumulated painstakingly over many decades, which is now virtually ignored in academic and mainstream discussions of racial inequality. This work provides potent evidence that, as Murray summarizes, “cognitive ability and job performance are always positively correlated” regardless of work type or skill level. The correlation grows stronger for more complex and intellectually demanding positions.
Although he notes that the distributions of intelligence scores among groups overlap significantly, Murray stresses a basic statistical fact of momentous social and economic significance: when a human trait like intelligence falls along a bell-curve distribution within a group (so that most people measure near the middle of the population, and numbers taper off at the high and low ends of the range), any average difference between two groups will generate widening disparities at the extremes. This means that the ratio of Europeans to Africans with high I.Q. becomes ever larger as I.Q. increases. An I.Q. score of 125, achieved by about 5% of Europeans, is thought necessary for basic competence in the professions and other elite fields; 135 or above, representing less than 1% of Europeans, is typical for those functioning at the highest levels in top-tier jobs. By Murray’s estimation, among the 23 million Americans who are in their late twenties, there are currently about 228,000 with I.Q.s in excess of 135. That pool contains only about 2,800 Africans and 9,500 Latins (Murray’s term for Hispanics), compared to more than 50,000 Asians and 160,000 Europeans nationwide. Whereas Africans are about 14% of the population, they represent slightly more than 1% of that pool—or about 1 in every 100 people available for entry-level hiring in the most demanding jobs.
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Murray’s unavoidable conclusion is that Africans are severely underrepresented relative to Europeans and Asians among people qualified to occupy “the most prestigious, powerful, and highest paying jobs” in our economy. These jobs include “‘A full professorship at an elite university…. A senior position in the financial industry…[or] IT industry,’ or a ‘[l]aw partner…[or] CEO of a major corporation.’” It is also “inevitable that a large majority of employers of people with extremely high cognitive ability” will have “no Africans or Latins in those coveted jobs…[and] only a small minority will have even one in the upper echelons of the organization.” Most importantly, these outcomes “will occur in the absence of any racism whatsoever.” They are the result simply of the relative ratios of people from different groups with the ability to perform well in these positions and to compete effectively for them in a merit-based system.
The gaps between Europeans and Africans are not confined to elite occupations and their upper tiers. Discrepancies in measured intelligence can be found throughout a range of occupations. For those employed in accounting, nursing, teaching, secretarial work, mechanical repairs, custodial jobs, and sales, Murray documents measurable differences in average I.Q. by race that sometimes even exceed those found in the general population. The discrepancy of 15 I.Q. points or more for teachers and nurses, he observes, is “especially large.” Murray considers various explanations for these findings, including a shortage of nurses and teachers (prompting managers to hire anyone who minimally qualifies), varying expectations for childcare workers by class, and the willingness to trade off cognitive ability for specific non-cognitive traits (such as reliability or emotional sensitivity) regarded as important for some positions. Oddly, though, he does not explore how steep affirmative action for top jobs might cause Africans to be overrepresented throughout the job market relative to their level of qualification, leading to an even greater gap in ability within each industry than in the population generally. Yet he does recognize a parallel effect in the educational context, describing a “cascading propagation of a large difference in the mean cognitive ability of African, European, and Asian undergraduates all the way down the line from elite schools to ordinary ones,” a phenomenon which he claims leads to a concentration of African and Latin students “in the bottom of their classes.”
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Crucially, Murray confines himself to reporting facts and exploring their consequences. He steers well clear of debates about the origins and causes of racial difference or the respective roles of nature and nurture in creating group inequalities. He takes no position on whether genetics contributes to racial I.Q. differences, though this is unlikely to save him from savage and ill-informed accusations of “scientific racism.” His observation that racial gaps in intelligence and academic achievement have proven largely intransigent will likely only intensify the animosity. Many of his critics cling to the belief that existing disparities can and will yield to external interventions and educational “reforms,” including the new pet project of banishing “structural racism.” For them, Murray’s skepticism about the potential for narrowing I.Q. differences establishes his secret conviction that differences are at least partly hereditary. As commentators like geneticist Kathryn Paige Harden have pointed out, however, not all cultural and environmental factors can be easily manipulated, whereas some innate defects can be alleviated or corrected—glasses can correct myopia, for example. But the fact remains that, for reasons still only poorly understood, we have no clue about how to raise I.Q. or reduce the group inequalities that have been documented for as long as data have been collected. There is no known version of myopia-correcting glasses for intelligence.
What about the role of racial gaps in criminal offending? Murray’s message can be simply stated: Africans commit crimes, especially violent crimes and homicide, at higher rates than other groups in American society. Europeans, and especially Asians, are much less involved in criminal activity. Latins fall somewhere in between. In many places, and especially minority-heavy urban centers, violence is almost exclusively committed by Africans, mainly against one another, albeit with Latins participating in some places. Drawing on a variety of sources such as records of violent arrests in selected cities, homicide arrests more broadly, and criminal activity reports, Murray documents rates of unlawful violence among Africans as much as nine to 11 times that of the background population. As with I.Q., some have faulted Murray’s evidence on crime, including his reliance on arrest rates potentially tainted by police racism, the small sampling of mainly urban locations, and the disregard of large federal databases of victim crime reports (which actually confirm high African rates of criminal offending). But these omissions don’t undermine Murray’s basic conclusion, which is that criminal involvement is far more common among Africans than other demographic groups.
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The trend today is for mainstream commentators simply to ignore this overwhelming evidence, or to dismiss it glibly as arising from the grand fons et origo of all African troubles, which is racism. Murray firmly rejects this narrative and turns it on its head. Elevated crime rates are at the root of many of the problems that beset Africans and their neighborhoods and communities, including general disorder and danger, chaotic and ineffective schools, and the relative lack of commercial activity and retail establishments. African criminal activity affects where all types of people choose to live, work, shop, educate their children, and establish businesses. In particular, crime drives residential segregation, which remains persistent and pronounced. To put it bluntly, it is crime that causes Asians, Europeans, and indeed some Africans with high social aspirations to “avoid going into minority neighborhoods,” and it is crime that generates the downstream effects that go with those neighborhoods. Even impeccably progressive middle- and upper-class Europeans routinely engage in white flight, scrambling to buy into a shrinking number of so-called “whitopian” zip codes protected by a wall of high prices and high taxes. The resulting “[w]idespread and voluntary residential segregation by race” is a central fact of our geography and social life, albeit one currently hedged with its own elaborate set of social rules and evasions, including the taboo on questioning the tendency of well-heeled progressives to self-segregate.
In light of this book’s unsparing directness and attention to evidence, Murray’s scattershot final chapter is a disappointment. His brevity, ordinarily a strength, becomes a shortcoming as he fails to touch on important issues and gives insufficient attention to others. Especially unpersuasive is his discussion of the “existential threat” of the politics of identity. Although he rightly faults this development for “eroding the nation’s commitment to impartiality,” his bald assertion that “white identity politics” is “the most threatening new development” facing our country is unaccompanied by details, evidence, or support. He ignores the obvious truth that our present tribalist surge is almost entirely the brainchild of the Left, which now controls the major centers of social and economic influence. And he fails to identify the specific people or organizations that are his target of concern, says nothing about their objectives or key beliefs, and states that “many whites” endorse the so-called “white identity” movement without offering any facts to back this up. He appears to assume—once again without evidence or justification—that this movement mirrors the Democratic Party’s embrace of special protections for non-white minorities by advocating for formal “white privilege” rather than a return to the American creed and its expected consequences—which, admittedly, would likely include an outsized role for white Americans based simply on ability level and behavior, a result Murray himself predicts.
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Perhaps the most important weakness of Murray’s summation is his tone of detachment from important realities on the ground. He claims that our country is beset by “systemic educational problems, systemic law enforcement problems, [and] systemic employment problems” but offers no specifics on their nature, magnitude, or potential resolution. He never squarely details the particular commitments necessary to restore his vision for America or fully acknowledges the formidable, indeed almost insurmountable, obstacles to that goal. Instead he chooses to retreat to stirring sentiments and the lofty rhetoric of the American creed—a tactic unlikely to make much headway among the growing legions of sworn enemies to that creed’s principles.
The first big stumbling block for Murray’s vision is the nature of woke ideology itself. Wokeness is a totalizing, airtight worldview that offers one explanation for all social phenomena, which is that European oppression, inspired by racism, causes all woes besetting the African population. Murray’s cold hard facts about intelligence and crime are thus powerless against the diehard conviction, now enshrined in most centers of authoritative opinion, that America is a racist country and racism is everywhere. The talismanic invocation of racism supplies an all-encompassing, self-confirming explanation which need not be proven (which is itself a racist demand) and admits of no reasoned refutations or counterexamples (which are themselves racist).
Indeed, because wokeism decrees that European racism is always at fault, noticing problems in African communities is itself racist. As Ibram X. Kendi, the high priest of antiracism, has tweeted, “The only thing wrong with black people is that we think something is wrong with Black people.” If Murray is right that Africans have different I.Q. scores and crime rates than whites, then not only are both facts evidence of racism, but Murray himself is racist for talking about them. Taking on this closed system, designed to be impervious to critique or contradiction, is frustrating work, and it’s hard to blame Murray for avoiding the quagmire. But it is worth at least appreciating that the airtight carapace of woke dogma provides no obvious point of entry for the restoration of sanity that Murray seeks.
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Murray would have done well to spell out the changes needed as well as the stark, day-to-day consequences of applying his creedal principles. The America he envisions—particularly a return to colorblind individualism—would entail a radical reversal in our society’s present direction and drastic transformations of our culture and institutions and in the attitudes and beliefs considered socially acceptable. Murray especially falls short in failing to drive home key lessons from the existence of the group differences he painstakingly documents and from their inevitable consequences under a meritocratic American creed. Most importantly, he should urge conservatives and all intellectually honest people who elevate facts over ideology to accept, and defend without apology, the decline in the number of blacks in higher-echelon positions that will result from the adoption of colorblind standards, even with multiple, expansive avenues for advancement. Moreover, it would help if he stated more directly that the charge of pervasive, ongoing racism will never be decisively vanquished unless and until society is willing to acknowledge what he himself observes: that persistent racial disparities are almost entirely the product of real, though not necessarily innate, differences in intelligence and behavior that society, and white people, lack the power to alter or abolish. An important corollary would be a clarion call to entirely dismantle the vast, elaborate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) bureaucracies that have been set up primarily to achieve “equity” and “diversity” by manipulating the racial composition of every imaginable social and economic sphere. The DEI establishments are deeply meddlesome, mischievous, and destructive, and their existence stands directly in the way of Murray’s fond hope of restoring the American creed.
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The obstacles to that restoration are formidable. Under the new progressive dispensation, diversity, equity, and inclusion have become sacred imperatives, affirmative action cannot even be questioned, and traditional notions of meritocracy are under furious fire as a cover for unfair privilege and power. Anyone daring to go up against these positions by advocating a return to colorblindness and its consequences would have to be reckless, foolish, or unaccountably brave. Likewise, openly pointing to race differences in crime would be met with outrage, accusations of racism, and censorship. In public and in private, rhetoric in many parts of America today is strictly policed to fit with antiracist imperatives. Dissenters risk personal attack, social ostracism, professional penalty, and job loss. And once the enforcers of political correctness realize what the American creed really means on the ground, their response is likely to be intensified opposition rather than acceptance or compromise.
Adopting Murray’s vision would also entail upending dubious legal doctrines and interpretations that have become entrenched in all branches and at all levels of government. Although the plain language of the 1964 Civil Rights Act explicitly forbids action “on the basis of” and “because of” race, that language has been ignored for decades through a process of legal legerdemain and judicial overreach. Race-conscious affirmative action in employment, education, and other arenas, and the redefinition of race-neutral disparate impacts as unlawful discrimination, are today celebrated as the quintessence of racial justice by the left-leaning legal and academic establishment. Professional and political leadership would be needed to roll back these developments through judicial and executive decisions that restore the original meaning of the civil rights laws.
The prospect for a total revision in the civil rights laws and in the prevailing racial attitudes dictated by left-leaning elites is presently dim. But Murray does miss an opportunity to shine a small light by reiterating some modest possibilities, which he and his co-author, Richard Herrnstein, mentioned in chapter 22 of The Bell Curve (1994), for ameliorating the effects of lower African I.Q. and higher crime. Based on the observation that people of lower intelligence tend to show less foresight and effective self-direction, he and Herrnstein stressed the importance of maintaining strong, clear, widely accepted norms of behavior. These can help guide and channel average people into the constructive social roles of work and marriage. We don’t know how to raise I.Q., but we do know that people of ordinary ability can still improve their life chances and reduce their risk of poverty by completing high school, working consistently, staying out of trouble with the law, and marrying before having children. As a nation we have moved in the opposite direction, abandoning a pre-existing consensus on proper adult behavior, repudiating a common ethos of respectability, and replacing reliance on strong families and traditional civil society with government-funded programs and services. A change in these trends would face resistance from many quarters, but it could offer some cause for optimism.
Likewise, closing racial gaps in criminal offending has eluded us. But in the 1980s and ’90s we achieved success in lowering crime rates in many urban areas, in some cases dramatically. Those gains, too, have slipped away with the post-George Floyd era’s adoption of anti-police initiatives and relentless attacks on the criminal justice system. Homicide rates across the nation have soared, and the victims are mostly young African men. Still, a reversal of our current approach to crime looks increasingly popular and could become a realistic possibility.
Facing Reality is a bold, important book which should be widely read and discussed, but will almost certainly be largely ignored. Charles Murray advocates eloquently a return to the American creed of the mid-20th-century conservative consensus. That is devoutly to be wished, not just by him but also, one would guess, by many readers of this publication. But until there are more like us—many more, well-placed and powerful—the odds against this happening are steep.