Letter to the Editor: Charles Murray feigns racial ignorance; by inviting him, NU College Republicans do too

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Political scientist Charles Murray currently enjoys a role as one of the right’s premier “make the libs mad” college acts, and he’ll be at Northwestern on Wednesday as one of NU College Republicans’ two fall speakers.

Demanding that Murray’s event be canceled is understandable, but it’s what those who invited him want you to do. Murray’s career has always thrived on his ability to complain about the misrepresentation of his work and the intolerance of the left. Instead, let’s look over Murray’s career and remember exactly why he is repulsive.

In 1960, Murray and some friends “nailed some scrap wood into a cross, adorned it with fireworks and set it ablaze on a hill beside the police station” in his Iowa hometown. Murray later claimed that “it never crossed our minds that this had any larger significance,” despite the fact he was a high school senior at the time.

After working for a controversial counterinsurgency program in Thailand and advocating mass incarceration in the United States, Murray produced his first popular work: “Losing Ground,” a book concluding that welfare programs harm people. Though it was presented as scientific policy work, Murray understood he was merely confirming white resentment. In the book’s proposal he explained that publishers could sell it because “a huge number of well-meaning whites fear that they are closet racists, and this book tells them they are not. It’s going to make them feel better about things they already think but do not know how to say.”

Murray’s most infamous work, however, is “The Bell Curve,” from 1994. The book argues IQ is a core determinant of one’s position in society, and that a cognitive elite is coalescing at the top of the country.

In one notorious chapter of “The Bell Curve,” Murray and his co-author Richard Herrnstein discuss the fact that on average, black people score lower on IQ tests than white people. This is true, but the scholars then irresponsibly use the fact in a way that furthers Murray’s habit of playing dumb while dancing around racist ideas.

Murray and Herrnstein claim this IQ difference means black people tend to be “dumb” in general and that this difference most likely has a genetic component. Though they don’t claim to know the size of the component, the book provides all the confirmation some white people need to support their belief that black people are the underclass in society because they deserve it. Murray often pretends he has no idea why “The Bell Curve” is perceived as racist. But his speculation that black people tend to be poor because they are unintelligent, along with his refusal to consider that racial IQ differences can be caused by oppression, makes “The Bell Curve” a racist book.

Perhaps I’m taking “The Bell Curve” too seriously. Numerous scholars have determined it a fraud. The book heavily cites research from the Pioneer Fund, which was described by The Sunday Telegraph in 1989 as a “neo-Nazi organization.” The Pioneer Fund’s first president, cited in “The Bell Curve,” was white supremacist Harry Laughlin, who tried to stop Jews from entering the U.S. because he believed they were too stupid. “The Bell Curve” cites research by eugenicist Richard Lynn, including “The Intelligence of the Mongoloids” and “Positive Correlations Between Height, Head Size and IQ.” Murray and Herrnstein describe Lynn in their book as “a leading scholar of racial and ethnic differences.” Yet, in a 1994 Newsday article, Lynn is quoted saying “What is called for here is not genocide, the killing off of the population of incompetent cultures. But we do need to think realistically in terms of the ‘phasing out’ of such peoples … Evolutionary progress means the extinction of the less competent.”

Is Charles Murray a racist? He doesn’t think so. He and his supporters like to argue his research is in the mainstream of American thought. If that’s true, then mainstream American thought is repugnantly racist.

College Republicans better do some soul-searching, fast. Recent Pew Research Center studies have shown only 22 percent of millennials identify as Republican and 23 percent of 18- to 29-year-old Republicans “defected” from the party between December 2015 and March 2017. Where is the youthful energy in right-wing politics these days? The alt-right. College Republicans better realize when inviting speakers like Murray it is associating itself with the guys who consciously support his central message: that whiteness is supreme.

Ryan Masson
Weinberg ’17