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Facing Reality: Two Truths About Race in America


Charles Murray has been writing about bad public policy in the United States for a long time. He first made his mark with Losing Ground in 1984, where he argued that the federal government’s War on Poverty had actually made matters worse for the poor, by substituting welfare dependency for self-reliance. We are still making that mistake, along with a galaxy of related ones that don’t ameliorate social problems, but perpetuate and institutionalize them. In consequence, Murray found a country that was Coming Apart in 2012, as socio-economic groups had less and less contact with each other.

If his prognosis for the nation in 2012 was “serious,” it has now reached the level of “grave.” In his new book, Facing Reality, Murray foresees an America that is beset by an advanced, highly malignant cancer—identity politics. The book’s goal is to help people talk sensibly about our social problems, something that has become extremely difficult with the extraordinarily vehement claims about “institutional racism,” “white privilege,” and the like. These days, anyone who tries to argue that the country is not thoroughly suffused with racism that oppresses minority groups is far more likely to be physically assaulted (as Murray was in a talk he gave at Middlebury College) than to receive a reasoned reply.

What we can no longer discuss are matters pertaining to race, especially when it comes to education and crime. The “progressives” denounce those who ascribe different outcomes as due to anything other than racism. Murray argues that racism is a facile, erroneous explanation. He wants readers to grasp two facts. First, that groups have different means and distributions of cognitive ability, and second, that groups have different rates of violent crime.

With respect to the first, Murray is venturing into the intellectual minefield of IQ differences. What IQ tests measure, he writes, “is not virtue, merit, character, wisdom, or common sense. It is irrelevant to human worth. IQ denotes the mental agility that lets some people collate disparate bits of information and then infer and deduce from that information better than other people….” He then goes to considerable lengths to persuade the reader that cognitive ability is not equally distributed among racial groups.

Owing to that fact, it doesn’t make sense to expect economic equality among groups. For jobs that call for very high levels of cognitive ability—the jobs that generally are the highest paid—there are very few African or Latin (the terms Murray uses in the book, along with European and Asian) members who have the necessary ability.

We have known about these group differences for a long time and keep acting as though they can be erased through targeted educational programs. As long ago as 1966, the famous Coleman Report concluded that quality of schooling had almost nothing to do with the problems of black students in big cities. That finding was treated as heresy and ignored. Murray is not saying that nothing can or should be done to make schools better, but that if we do, that will still not do much to alleviate our group differences.

In the same vein, progressives have insisted that putting more minority students into college, especially the most prestigious institutions, is necessary to close the wealth gap between “privileged” groups and those that are “oppressed.” We have been doing that since the 1970s, preferentially admitting students from some groups while keeping down the number of others, especially Asians, but it has not worked. Unfortunately, opponents of racial preferences are almost completely ignored and thus college officials continue with a divisive policy that, if anything, impedes learning by obsessing over racial differences to the detriment of mastering real bodies of knowledge.

Turning to the problem of crime, once again we have to face the fact that it is unequally “distributed,” meaning that it is much more likely to be perpetrated by African-American and Latin males in big cities. The crime maps that Murray includes show that, in Washington, D.C. for example, violent crime overwhelmingly takes place in the parts of the city where there are high concentrations of minority populations. The people who are victimized by the crimes there are mainly others from those same groups. Outside of big cities, violent crime is far less common among African-Americans and Latins.

Those facts are inconsistent with the claim that high crime rates are somehow rooted in America’s “systemic racism.” They also explain why the sorts of policy solutions offered by intellectuals do not work. Can’t the government do something to revive those parts of our cities? No, Murray says, because the crime rates deter commerce and investment no matter what incentives politicians might create.

He explains why major retailers can’t be lured into these areas. “It often doesn’t make economic sense for big chain stores, which have business models based on low profit margins, to locate in such neighborhoods. Either they won’t make a profit or they will have to charge higher prices, leaving themselves open to accusations of racist price gouging. If they take measures to apprehend shoplifters, they risk charges of racism and financial shakedowns through the threat of lawsuits. Actions taken to prevent shoplifting can also put employees at risk of violent confrontations. It’s a no-win situation.”


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