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Arthur Jensen

Arthur Jensen was arguably the father of modern academic racism. For over 40 years, Jensen, an educational psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, provided a patina of academic respectability to pseudoscientific theories of black inferiority and segregationist public policies. Jensen was responsible for resurrecting the idea that the black population is inherently and immutably less intelligent than the white population, an ideology that immediately became known as “jensenism.”

About Arthur Jensen

Jensen promoted eugenics as the only practical solution to the problems facing the black community, arguing that they lacked the intelligence necessary for compensatory education programs to be successful. His ability to repackage fringe racial theories in the dry, dispassionate rhetoric of science made Jensen an instant celebrity in white nationalist circles, where he is still revered as “an intellectual pioneer comparable to Nobel Prize winners” and “a man of the highest distinction, not just scientifically, but also morally.”

In his own words

“[T]here are intelligence genes, which are found in populations in different proportions, somewhat like the distribution of blood types. The number of intelligence genes seems to be lower, over-all, in the black population than in the white. As to the effect of racial mixing, nobody has yet performed experiments that reveal its relative effect on I.Q. If the racial mixture weren’t there, it is possible that the I.Q. differences between blacks and whites would be even greater. I think such studies should be done to lay this uncertainty to rest once and for all.”
—Quoted in “jensenism, n. The theory that I.Q. is largely determined by the genes,” The New York Times Magazine, 1969

“Much more thought and research should be given to the educational and social implications of these [dysgenic] trends for the future. Is there a danger that current welfare policies, unaided by eugenic foresight, could lead to the genetic enslavement of a substantial segment of our population? The possible consequences of our failure seriously to study these questions may well be viewed by future generations as our society’s greatest injustice to Negro Americans.”
—“How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?” Harvard Educational Review, 1969

“The rate of AIDS in the black population of the United States is increasing much more rapidly than in any other segment of the population. In the homosexual population, which is not differentiated from the rest of the population in intelligence, the rate of AIDS is going down. I mean the message has gotten to them, apparently. The message is really, probably, getting to just about everyone, but people in the lower part of the distribution don’t seem to be able to have enough [intelligence] to put messages together in a way that influences their behavior. This is one of the reasons why all methods of birth control, except sterilization, are dysgenic, because the effectiveness with which they are used is related to [intelligence]. There’s no getting around it. … My personal opinion is that I think society has to protect itself from dangers without and dangers within. I don’t think it can survive otherwise. I think the dysgenic effect that [William] Shockley was worried about may become so evident one day, that when everything else has been tried and found not to be effective — importantly effective — people will realize that something has to be done at a political and governmental level. Because education will not do the job in a large segment of the population.”
—Interview with white nationalist Jared Taylor, 1992


Historians note that prior to the 1969 publication of Arthur Jensen’s long and innocuously titled article in the Harvard Educational Review, “How Much Can We Boost IQ and Scholastic Achievement?” the post-war scientific establishment had reached a broad egalitarian consensus on questions of race differences. Horror at Nazi atrocities, widespread approval of the civil rights movement, and advances in population genetics that brought into question the very idea of “race” as a biological concept led scientists and scholars to see racial inequality as first and foremost a sociological phenomenon, the result of centuries of discrimination and structural oppression. Historian of psychology Graham Richards has shown that by the standards of normal scientific controversies, the debate over race differences and intelligence should have been decisively settled by the middle of the century. Instead, Jensen’s article, which argued that the differences in scholastic achievement between white and black students were due almost entirely to innate, genetic differences in intelligence, provided a catalyst for a racist backlash against that consensus, a backlash fueled by Nixon-era racial resentments and the newly reinvigorated efforts of segregationists, still bitter over their defeat 15 years earlier in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision which ruled school segregation unconstitutional.

Jensen worked hard to develop a reputation as an objective scientist who “just never thought along [racial] lines,” and to portray critics of his racist conclusions as politically motivated and unscientific. His followers and allies have continued to push this narrative, presenting Jensen as a latter-day Galileo, unfairly persecuted for his pursuit of scientific truth. Despite this pretense, however, Jensen was deeply involved with the racist radical right. He received over $2 million (in inflation-adjusted 2002 dollars) over the course of his career from the Pioneer Fund, a foundation that exists to bankroll research proving black genetic inferiority. He was also a close friend and intellectual ally of several notorious academic racists, including William Shockley, J. Philippe Rushton, Raymond Cattell, Henry Garrett, and Carleton Putnam.

Most egregiously, Jensen sat on the editorial board of the German neo-Nazi journal Neue Anthropologie (New Anthropology). Neue Anthropologie, published by The Society for Biological Anthropology, Eugenics and the Study of Behavior, was edited by Jürgen Rieger over the course of Jensen’s tenure there. In addition to his editorial duties, Rieger served as deputy chairman of National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), the “most significant neo-Nazi party” to emerge in post-war Germany. Under Rieger, Neue Anthroplogie was primarily dedicated to synthesizing modern psychological research with the Rassenhygiene (racial hygiene) theories of Nazi scientists like Hans Günther. Other members of the editorial board alongside Jensen included Rolf Kosiek, a race theorist and member of NPD; H.G. Amsel, member of the anti-Semitic Gesamtdeutsche Arbeitsgemeinschaft; and H.W. Hammerbucher and F.J. Irsigler, both of whom were writers for neo-Nazi publications. Jensen was not only a member of the editorial staff, but was among Neue Anthropologie’s most frequent contributors, and the other members of the editorial board relied heavily on Jensen’s work in their own writings.

In addition to his association with German neo-Nazis, Jensen also actively supported the efforts of American scientists and business leaders who still opposed school integration. Jensen used Orwellian language to suggest that in order to both recognize diversity and treat people as individuals, society had to recognize that the disparities between black and white students were “not mainly the result of discrimination and unequal environmental conditions,” but rather a manifestation of inherent differences between the populations. Educational policy should address these differences, Jensen argued, by providing “a diversity of conditions suited to the diversity of individual abilities and needs of the pupil.”

While this last statement might sound at first blush like a simple affirmation of diversity, these arguments were actually part of Jensen’s efforts to undermine school integration. Historian and psychologist William Tucker has shown that numerous studies cited by Jensen as showing the failure of compensatory education for black students actually showed the opposite of what he claimed they did. Jensen used his misinterpretation of these studies to argue that, because remedial education would not help black students catch up with their white classmates, school integration would do nothing to help black students. Jensen testified to this effect before Congress in 1970, alongside scientists and public figures who opposed school integration. In his testimony, Jensen was careful to avoid explicitly supporting segregation; however, he warned that integration would lead to black students being funneled into “normal” classes, rather than special classes for “the retarded,” and that teachers would mistakenly “treat [black students] like the average white child.”

Although Jensen’s work was widely used by segregationists as evidence in lawsuits against integration, in testimony before Congress, and in propaganda from organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, his 1970 testimony was his only personal engagement with the issue. He continued, however, to speak out publicly against affirmative action, which, he argued, had been debunked as sound policy by his own research showing black intellectual inferiority. According to Jensen, affirmative action was not only unfair to whites who were “crowded out” by equally competent minorities, but it inevitably led to the hiring of incompetent minorities, like “the accountant who cannot calculate or the surgeon who has not learned anatomy.” Needless to say, Jensen never provided any actual examples of such incompetent affirmative action hires, but his conclusions regarding racial intelligence were enough for him to remain convinced that they must be commonplace.

Jensen’s ability to hide this radical agenda from the wider public stemmed in large part from his reliance on abstruse jargon to mask the crude racism of his underlying arguments. To take one glaring example, in his 1973 book, Educability and Group Differences, Jensen claimed that “[t]he possibility of a biochemical connection between skin pigmentation and intelligence is not totally unlikely in the view of the biochemical relation between melanins, which are responsible for pigmentation, and some of the neural transmitter substances in the brain. The skin and the cerebral cortex both arise from the ectoderm in the development of the embryo and share some of the same biochemical processes.” Stripped of its scientific affectations, Jensen’s statement boils down to the claim that dark skin causes stupidity. No biologist would ever take such a statement seriously, and indeed, none has—though it is now a widely accepted belief among white supremacists.

While Jensen was generally savvy enough to avoid the overt racism of some of his colleagues, the mask did occasionally slip. In 1992, he gave an interview to the white nationalist American Renaissance magazine in which he laid out his beliefs about black people in plain language, without hiding behind obfuscatory jargon. In this interview, Jensen ridiculed people, including his own mother, who believe “that blacks would be no different from the rest of us — the rest of the population — if they simply had the same education and all of that.”

Jensen also suggested that, unlike people of European and Asian descent, the black population is fundamentally incapable of functioning in “civilized” society, because “[w]here the differences in basic characteristics are not conspicuous, as in the case of Asians and whites, and when persons can fit in and do the same kinds of jobs and do them as well as anyone else, it may work. See, there are blacks who fit in this way too — who do all right. But the black population in this country is in a sense burdened by the large number of persons who are at a level of [intelligence] that is no longer very relevant to a highly industrialized, technological society. Once you get below IQs of 80 or 75, which is the cut-off for mental retardation in the California School System, children are put into special classes. These persons are not really educable up to a level for which there’s any economic demand. The question is, what do you do about them? They have higher birth-rates than the other end of the distribution. … [T]he best thing the black community could do would be to limit the birth-rate among the least able members, which is of course a eugenic proposal.”

He went on to discuss his fear that the growing black population would lead to “a nation that devolved to the point where the great things of Western civilization would be lost. I’d hate to think that Beethoven would be lost to all except some small elite, and that these things could only be accessible on recordings and laser discs and so on. I like the idea of having an opera house where I can go and see Wagner, Verdi, and Puccini. I think that the Asians are capable of preserving that level of civilization, once introduced to it. My fear is that if the population deteriorates to the point where there’s no demand for these things, then that part of our culture is lost, at least here. Maybe it will be preserved somewhere else in the world. The fruits of genius, wherever they’ve occurred in the world, have to be preserved for future generations. It’s conceivable you could have a country, or maybe even the world, in which these things become irrelevant because people are more concerned with creature comforts, overpopulation, and pure survival.”

Jensen concluded the interview on a particularly ghoulish note. After pointing out the high rate of AIDS in the black community Jensen suggested that “[t]his AIDS crisis is simply another opportunity for evolution, in a sense. That’s what’s going to happen. It’s going to divide the population into those who can avoid AIDS and those who, for whatever reasons, can’t.” By citing AIDS as an evolutionary “opportunity,” Jensen was echoing his colleague and fellow eugenicist Richard Lynn, who cited “evolutionary progress” as a justification for “phasing out” the world’s black population. As his interview with American Renaissance made clear, Jensen’s scientific arguments, like Lynn’s, cannot be separated from their white nationalist roots.