Atlanta, GA  | Tuesday, October 10, 2000
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An open letter to Michael Polignano

Knowing the Emory community to be rational, fair-minded and decent, I am sure that I am not the only person who will be responding to your op-ed piece ("Genes may determine racial attributes," Oct. 6).

Let me begin by saying that, of course, I agree with you that "honesty and open discussion are mandatory for making any sort of progress in racial reconciliation." I agree with you also when you say, "the deepest fissure that exists in the U.S. is between whites and blacks." At the beginning of the last century, indeed exactly 100 years ago, W.E.B. Du Bois said, at the Pan-African Congress in London, "the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line." True then and true today.

Michael, welcome to the Emory community, for you are about to discover of what it is made.
That means that we should all examine the progress, if any, during the last century in making sense of race and the "color line." I want to assure you that much progress has been made, by many thinkers — many psychologists, geneticists, sociologists, political scientists and anthropologists — during the last 100 years. You seem to be under the impression that the only important contributor to this discussion has been Arthur Jensen. That is simply not so.

Jensen, whose controversial work you so enthusiastically cite, is not the only scientist who has studied the question of race, crime, genetics and innate capability. Indeed, Jensen (as well as Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, with whom he is often rightly connected) is but one of hundreds of scientists who have worked in this complex arena. And, while I myself am not a scientist but instead a lay reader much interested in the topic, I believe you to be either very lax in your research or very wrong in your results when you say that "I have yet to find any scientific articles that show any major flaws in [Jensen's] data or his conclusions." The literature abounds with such articles.

Hence I must ask you: Have you read only Jensen and no one else? That would make of you a very naïve researcher. Or have you diligently researched the vast literature in sharp conflict with Jensen and concluded that he is nonetheless right? That would make of you a very disingenuous young man when you plead that "we'll never know for sure until [Jensen's] theories can be openly discussed and debated and more research is done." There has been no lack of research into Jensen's theories. They have been thoroughly discussed and debated for decades. The jury is not out on Jensen.

But, as I say, I am no scientist, but simply a person who cares for genuine (and not rhetorical) honesty in matters of race. In order for you to get a deeper (or more honest) understanding of the matters in which you proclaim an interest, I now call upon the extraordinary resources of this university to answer you. I call upon the faculties of psychology, sociology, genetics, political science, anthropology and all others at Emory to bring to your attention what is known about race in the modern world. I ask these faculties to tell you (as well as the other readers of the Wheel) about Arthur Jensen and to acquaint you with the merit of his findings. I cannot do this, but I am proud to be at an institution that can.

Let me conclude by turning to what I must say is the wholly repugnant conclusion to your essay. You say that if Jensen is right, "then it does no good to pretend that compensatory programs like Affirmative Action and Head Start will eventually put blacks on an equal footing with whites." The programs to which you refer have never sought their foundation in so-called "genetic equality." They are based on history— the history of a country that enslaved a people for hundreds of years and thereby committed an immense moral wrong. The nation is now still trying to heal that wound and make itself truly one people. Despite every difference we have as Americans, we must be that one people. To do so means recognizing, in the spirit of reconciliation, that the unfairness embedded in our history must be corrected, and that the imbalances that have injured us must be righted. This is a practical matter and an ethical matter; it is not a matter of genetics.

You begin your essay by recognizing that it will "almost certainly generate controversy and will undoubtedly offend some people." Michael, welcome to the Emory community, for you are about to discover of what it is made. I conclude by asking that community, no, demanding of the community, that it use all of the instruments of reason and civil discourse— and no other means— to respond to what I consider a most unfortunate essay on the part of one member of the community, Michael Polignano.

William M. Chace is the president of Emory University.

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