February 24, 2013

Dear Mr. Spielberg:

There is a lot about your movie that I found entertaining. However, there is something about the movie that I just cannot get beyond. This is the fact that the Black people in your movie, with the exception of S. Epatha Merkerson, seem cognitively limited; well, retarded. Unfortunately we only see Merkerson for a few minutes on the screen.

It was startling as well that you did not feature any of the Black intellectuals of the day, such as Frederick Douglass, who had actually developed a close relationship with Lincoln at that time. Seriously? Are you trying to convince us that all the Black people of the time were docile and their freedom was about the rebelliousness of one guy. It’s unfortunately the same story that was told for decades in history books and perpetuates the same ideas, no matter how unlikely and absurd. The ideas are that African Americans for the most part are limited and unable to advocate for themselves or do anything for themselves. These ideas derived from some history books hypnotized generations into thinking this was/is the case. Were you hypnotized?

For me, Lincoln was this season’s opposite of Beasts of the Southern Wild, where if you add a few Caucasians to the movie maybe nobody will complain about African Americans living like savages in a modern world. With Lincoln. maybe if you add a few African Americans then maybe nobody will complain about the fact that they most seem to be quite slow, and had very little to do with accomplishing their own freedom. They were simply not capable. Unfortunately, in terms of their portrayals of African Americans, we come out losing in both these movies.

For my money, Lincoln, The Vampire Slayer, was a better movie (and I don’t even like Vampire movies for the most part). But the screenplay was was smart and creative and the Black characters seemed to have more depth and intelligence.




What do you do when the school suggests that you have your child tested with an intelligence measure?

#1.  Arm yourself with information!

The best thing you can do is first understand that these tests have limitations.  At best, they are measuring your child’s current capacity to use typically Euro-American ways to process information.  Many of us are very good at this.  If your child scores at least within the average range on an IQ test as they are currently designed he or she will probably function in typical school settings.  If your child scores lower, he may need more supplemental help at home to bolster weaknesses.  You do not have to rely on the school to provide the extra help (i.e., special education) you can give the support yourself. 

Also, know that African Americans score about 15 points on average lower than their Caucasian counterparts.   However, unlike many Euro-American analysts in the past that attributed this to weaknesses in thinking for African Americans,  (See:  Scientific American’s Debunk of Hernstein and Murray’s  The Bell Curve, maybe the most racist book written in my time. ) other analyses are more plausible in my opinion.  Many of these past analysts like to argue that IQ correlates with “success”, but until we eliminate racism this is a flawed argument. 

There are two main issues here.   First, our current measures for IQ are weak and are susceptible to environmental influence, so whether or not they are measuring “IQ” (a supposedly “fixed” attribute in a human being)  is still a problematic question. 

Second, and in some ways most important, statistical analyses of these tests suggest that they do not tell the entire story of IQ even for Euro-Americans.  I think their ability to predict general brightness for children of color is even worse.  Many African Americans have different ways of processing information that are often neglected in discussions about IQ, I think for fear that we may be considered too different. 

Do not be afraid.  If you understand the limitations of the tests you have more power in what the educational planning will be for your child.  You do have a right to refuse testing by the Board of Education and get private testing done.  Private testing is usually more thorough and thoughtful (and MORE expensive, but worth saving for).  Then you can make a decision about whether or not you would like to share the results with the school. 

Oh, oh !! I almost forgot.  No test of IQ should be considered alone, without other information about the child.  So, I am saying it is not commonly accepted to label a child as Mentally “Deficient” with these tests alone.  Information about how the child is functioning in her everyday life is essential.  Adaptive behaviors and degree of normal developmental f are essential considerations in any determination of this kind. 

In summary, the proof that we are measuring actual IQ and that it is genetic is very weak.  The predictive properties of these instruments are weak for everyone.

Conceptually, these tests are limited and based on Euro-American values at their core and may be missing rich areas of processing and intelligence in other groups. 

#2.  Have a Meeting with the School to Establish the Reasons for the Testing and to Discuss Any concerns you may have.

I want to mention here that it seems to be standard in my part of the world to test preschool age children for entry into certain preschools.  This is really baffling since most of the research supports that “IQ” is not “fixed” until age 6. 

#3.  Know That Just Because Child Scores Lower than Desired Does Not mean she Cannot succeed with the Right support.

You will be supplied with a report after an assessment which should outline your child’s strengths and weaknesses.  Very few children score poorly in every area of the test.  Bolster the child’s self-esteem by reminding them about things they do well.  This will help them use strengths to address weaker areas.

If your child scores lower than average, try to bolster their learning experience by exposing them to other modalities of learning. Varying modes of learning through visuals like field trips, and even music can do wonders if you want your child to compete in this society.  I learned my multiplication tables through song and sometimes I still have to sing the songs to remember some numbers, but it worked!  

There is a great article on drumming and how it improves IQ (more evidence that” IQ” is not “fixed”):  Drumming, that our ancestors brought with them from Africa is still woven into our existence every time you listen to jazz, hip hop or turn on that R and B station.  The kind of genius that floats around in that music AND in the appreciation of that music I would say is an element of our IQ that is avoided along with many others.

It is not out of the question that your child will need extensive help that is beyond your capacity as a parent to give.  You may have tried everything possible.  But all other methods of support can be explored before deciding to bring in professionals.