“Black Brain, White Brain: Is Intelligence Skin Deep?” – a simple, fascinating read that debunks racist myths.

black brainDid Europeans and Asians evolve to be more intelligent than Africans? Are Bushmen and Pygmies the dumbest people on earth? Are poor people poor, because they are stupid? Is a low IQ the prime cause for bad health? Is it true that Africa never invented anything and that civilization was only brought to the continent by European colonizers? Have you heard that Jews are evolved to be well suited to capitalism, that the English evolved to work hard, the Chinese to be authoritarian, Finns to become violent when drunk, and Africans to be too trusting and highly sexed?

These are some of the myths that have been bandied about for the past couple of hundred years, and that have once again resurfaced with a new group of racist biologists, geneticists, and psychologists. And it’s these fictions that author Gavin Evans exposes as fallacious and untrue.

Evans, who grew up in South Africa, has worked as a journalist for three decades, and authored several books. In Black Brain, White Brain: Is Intelligence Skin Deep? he evaluates mountains of research by both racist scientists and the mainstream researchers who have debunked the myths, in an accessible and engaging way. The book is methodical and meticulous (there are 14 pages worth of footnotes and citations) in its explanations but still reads easily.

The book explains how cave art found in South Africa predates any previous findings by about 60 000 years. Such art has been used to show the evolutionary development of modern humans. Evans also highlights the development of key civilisations and empires on the African continent (most of which I had never heard of due to racist colonialists’ decisions to ignore their existence as it didn’t suit their Heart of Darkness narrative). These civilisations were highly sophisticated and contained centres of learning with large libraries. Many created their own writing and numerical systems. They had large military forces and had massive operations smelting metals, creating weapons and sculptures.

Evans also discredits the idea that IQ is an accurate measurement of intelligence, or that intelligence is genetically inherited. Through this, he pulls apart ‘findings’ that Africans are less intelligent, and will remain so. He cites research on identical twins that were separated at birth to show that environment, rather than genetics, have an impact on IQ scores. Someone who grows up in an environment where access to learning was emphasized, will have a higher IQ score than someone with the same genes, who grows up in a family where access to education is poor. Furthermore, Evans explains that so-called research ‘proving’ that black people, Aborigines, Bushmen, and Pygmies have inferior brains, are based on assumption, false science, and even made-up studies.

Black Brain, White Brain is not only important in the global context of using so-called science to ‘prove’ the superiority of Asians and Caucasians, but is very useful for South Africans who reject racist ‘science’ and would like to have the research to back this up. As someone who is not a fan of the non-fiction genre, I found this a fascinating read.

Notable passage:

“The alternative idea – one rooted in science – embraces a different concept of race: of the human race with its ever looser population groups which flow one into the next, the genes shared faster and faster as international travel becomes ever easier and borders more porous. Within those seven billion bodies and minds, regardless of nation, region, tribe or ethnic group, the entire range of human capacity can be found, albeit a capacity mediated by wealth and poverty; by family custom and religious belief systems; by education; by heat and cold; by trees, mountains, deserts and buildings; by viruses and microbes; and by everything that falls under the canopy of culture. But despite these huge environmental differences, we can be sure of one thing: within any group we choose to name we will find the full spread, in roughly equal proportions, of human nature: cruelty and kindness, violence and gentility, madness and sanity, inventiveness and placidity, idiocy and genius”.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Black Brain, White Brain is published by Jonathan Ball Publishers SA.

** My interview with Gavin Evans was played on PowerFm 98.7 on 14 June 2015. Listen to it here.

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