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Low economic groups should be focus of diversity

Ryan Johnson
By Ryan Johnson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, November 10, 2004
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I'll never forget that little sidebar in my freshman economics textbook. It was talking about IQ scores for blacks and whites in the '60s. In what was used at the time to justify calling blacks intellectually inferior, whites scored higher than blacks on the tests.

But some brilliant economist took the exact same statistics and correlated them with income. It turns out that rich blacks and rich whites performed exactly the same, as did poor blacks and poor whites. The conclusion was that blacks and whites are inherently as smart as each other, but that the poor perform worse than the rich. And since there are proportionally more rich whites, the overall statistics show that whites score higher.

People can sometimes make the question of race seem downright silly. A whole series of arguments surrounding the blacks vs. whites IQ gap abound from top intellectuals. Some try to explain it by comparing light-skinned vs. dark-skinned blacks. Or by comparing blacks with European ancestry vs. African ancestry. Thomas Sowell goes so far as to compare blacks whose ancestors were freed before versus after the Civil War.

To me, it's all economics. A much more telling series of statistics is the current performance on SATs. Blacks average 859, Mexicans average 909, whites average 1060, and Asians average 1067. Can you guess what the order of median incomes is?

Or look at the direct correlation between parental income and SAT scores. When dividing test takers up into their parents' income in increments of $10,000, a clear scale emerges. The higher the parental income, the higher the SAT score. While kids with parents making less than $10,000 average 864, kids of parents who make over $100,000 average 1126. With nothing to do at all with race.

Why do kids with rich parents do better? Easy. Kids with rich parents are more likely to have parental attention, more likely to participate in extracurricular activities, more likely to have summer school as an option, more likely to have books in their house, and more likely to have their parents read to them at an early age. More likely, more likely, more likely.

The near-uniform response to charges that poor kids have an unequal playing field is that there is a high degree of social mobility and that society is filled with examples of people who went from poor to rich in a single generation. Well, glamour stories sure are heartwarming, but we're talking about the entire population, not a few impressive examples.

But despite all the rational reasons why the underprivileged kid is more impressive out of two equal performing kids, most people can't get past the resentment of seeing someone they feel is under qualified getting a position, or getting into a college, because of race.

Is there merit to this, or is it just xenophobia? Maybe it's time to look into the argument a step further.

Maybe comparing a poor black and a rich white is completely different than comparing a rich black to a rich white. Maybe a poor white is actually at a disadvantage to a rich black. And maybe the defining characteristic really has nothing to do with race.

Even the staunchest supporter of affirmative action has to admit that one major problem of using race in such places as college admissions is that it inevitably helps rich minorities disproportionally more. And it leaves out disadvantaged non-minorities.

Do not confuse this message. The disadvantaged absolutely are more impressive with equal performance. I'm just calling for a re-evaluation of "disadvantages." Merely having a certain skin color doesn't make you one or the other. Rather, your parents and especially their income is what determines it.

How are college administrators supposed to take this in to account? Simple. Favor increased need based aid over programs emphasizing race. In the process, you'll also help out minorities more than non-minorities, but isn't minorities' lower economic condition the source of the entire conflict to begin with? And doesn't improving the condition of the richer members of minorities do anything to actually alleviate the problem?

Perhaps the race question has become such an ideological hot topic that policy setters can't get past it. A better approach would go at the question in terms of economic condition.

Ryan Johnson is an economics and international studies junior. He can be reached at

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