The Science of Racism: Does IQ Have Anything to Do With Bigotry?

Racism is defined as ‘prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.’ Racism is a plague, a pandemic that has affected the world for hundreds of years.

MLK anti Racism

According to European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 1 in 3 black people face some sort of racial harassment every day, with 4 out of those 10 not reporting these incidents as they believe nothing would have changed. Furthermore, they found that racial harassment and violence are so common in Europe yet never reported in the official reports. Racism in Europe has been a big issue for minorities like Muslims and Jews, so much so that 4 out of 10 Jews have considered emigrating.

Racism is not a problem just in Europe, but also in the US, which is considered to be a racially and ethnically diverse country. Racism in the US is obvious in the employment opportunities, housing rates, and general living conditions of African Americans and Hispanics in the US. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 50% of People Of Color (POC) work in the lowest-paying industries and are barely even represented in the white-collar, high paying industry.

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Discussion of racism often makes it sound like it is an issue only at the high branches of government. But it is an issue at the individual level as well. Statistics above show the amount of racism POC faces on a daily basis. This racism is from companies, healthcare, or judicial system and from individuals who believe themselves to be superior to POC or other minorities.

Are racists psychologically and mentally healthy?

According to Dr. RAvi Chandra, who is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, racists themselves may have mental issues that cause them to act the way they do. He believes that racists might be acting out due to their self-centeredness and lack of empathy for other people, especially those they consider to be lower than them.

He also claims that the anxiety and paranoia they have, based on ingrained social stereotypes manifests itself as hatred and anger towards these communities and people.

Their lack of empathy and deep-rooted anger leading to them causing physical harm to others may point towards underlying psychopathic or sociopathic tendencies.

Do racists have lower intellectual capabilities than their counterparts?

According to research done by Kaine Adam Grigg, Lenore Hilda Manderson at Monash University, School of Psychological Sciences, there is strong evidence between racism and psychopathic tendencies.

Two different types of psychopathic traits exist; interpersonal psychopathic traits and behavioral psychopathic traits. While the former is related to higher intellectual ability, the latter is associated with lower intellectual ability.

Since racist attitudes are strongly related to strong anti-social behavior, they fall under behavioral psychopaths, those that are associated with low IQ.

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Furthermore, research conducted by Kristof Dhont of Ghent University, Belgium, and Gordon Hodson of Brock University, showed a clear, causal link between lower intellectual capabilities and racism. They based their work on other studies already done and built on it with their own work. One such study worked with adolescents (11 and 12-year-olds) and measured their intellectual levels. Then, two decades later, they met these subjects again and found low intellectual level individuals to be racist and sexist as adults.

Dhont and Hodson explained the racist attributes of these individuals to be associated with political right-wing theories and ideologies. They believe that low IQ individuals believe the racist and sexist ideologies of the right-wing because they over-simplify their concepts for the understanding of such individuals. Since racists don’t need to apply complex thought processes to these ideologies, they believe them firmly and start acting on them.

This further proves Dr. Chandra’s claim of racists being insecure and mentally ill themselves. They are insecure about their intellectual abilities, and way too easy to understand concepts of right-wing make sense to them. These political parties benefit from the anxiety and insecurity of racists.

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Right-wing policies support low-thinking ideas of authoritarianism and this makes the racists feel superior, helping ease their own insecurities. Also, racists, if believed to be of lower intellectual abilities, are used to things being a certain way. Dhont and Hudson claim that right-wing ideologies make these racists believe that accepting minorities or creating equalities of genders and color might be a threat to their authority and lifestyle. The paranoia that arises from this thinking leads to acts of aggression, verbal or physical, towards minorities, of racial and gender type.

Are ‘Smart’ people less prejudiced than their counterparts?

‘Racists are dumb’ is a common connotation to explain the behavior of racists. And although some studies may show that racist people are less intellectually inclined, does that mean all intellectually able people are free from prejudice?

According to an article published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, smart people were more likely to be prejudiced and stereotyping. In fact, in this study, most well-educated, intellectual individuals were all found to be stereotyping. However, a limit to this study was the use of cartoon faces with background information to test stereotyping, rather than actual people of different races.

Geoffrey Wodtke, a professor at the University of Toronto, was to call out the limitation of the study above. He performed a study of his own, in which he asked straight-forward questions about racism and effects of discrimination to two groups of people; eloquent, well-versed, whites, and non-eloquent white. Although eloquent whites spoke against racism and were shown to be less likely to be racist towards the black populations, when it came to supporting equal opportunities for their Black counterparts, they seemed to be against it.

They supported the idea of Blacks and WHites attending the same schools, verbally. But when the question of voting for public busing system, which would allow children from the Black community to attend these schools, their answer was no.

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This goes to prove that a smart individual might be racist, yet eloquent and well-educated to not voice their racist thoughts or to act out directly on them.

Another study that studied three decades of answers to the General Social Survey found that ‘smart’ people are equally racist as their ‘not smart’ counterparts, but their smartness or intellect helps them hide it more. These ‘smart’ people know the consequences they may face if exposed as racists, and hence, don’t act in a direct way on the racist or sexist thoughts they may have.

This was evident from the results of the survey and interviews. Most of the ‘smart’ went on the record to say, ‘whites have no right to segregate their neighborhoods’ but when asked if they would vote for a system that helps remove racial bias from real-estate business, their answer was no.

It seems like these ‘smart’ white individuals do not want to put money where their mouth is. They support the idea of equality verbally, and verbally alone. They do not want to act on it, and that makes them racist, as racism can also be defined as, ‘the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another’.

According to Whodtke, racism prejudice, and sexism do not arise due to high or low intellectual capabilities but in fact from the need of certain people to dominate and protect their position of power, simply as a white human being.

Since these individuals are intellectually capable, and yet racist, the only thing that can be said is that smart people are good at hiding their racist ideologies. But not so smart people are not, and hence the term, ‘racists are dumb’ was born.

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Furthermore, all studies that prove that less intellectually inclined individuals might be more likely to be racist do have a grain of truth in them but they all fail to clarify the limitations of their study. For example, individuals raised in different socioeconomic statuses may be on either end of the racism spectrum, but that has less to do with their intellectual ability and more with their status.

Regardless of the intellectual capabilities of racists, the only thing everyone can agree on is that racism can only be eradicated by actions and not by verbal support. As many who verbally support do not want to take any action against it, and that is why getting rid of racism might be a long process.


Bell CC, Dunbar E. Racism and Pathological Bias as a Co-Occurring Problem in Diagnosis and Assessment, in The Oxford Handbook of Personality Disorders. 2012

Bell CC. Race and America’s Future.
Clinical Psychiatry News. August 2, 2016.



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