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No US Study Ever Said Igbos Are the “Most Brilliant Black African Race”

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D. Twitter: @farooqkperogi Several Nigerian websites, including the online version of the traditional New T...

By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
Twitter: @farooqkperogi

Several Nigerian websites, including the online version of the traditional New Telegraph newspaper, quoted a putative “US study” to have averred that Igbos are the “most brilliant black Africa [sic] race.” As you would expect, this has animated a frenzied debate in Nigerian cyberspace.

But let’s get the facts straight. The article from where the notion of Igbo IQ superiority is extrapolated isn’t a study, nor is it American. It is a reflective essay by a Zambian man called Chanda Chisala. The essay, titled “The IQ Gap Is No Longer a Black and White Issue,” was first published on June 25, 2015 in “The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection,” an American-based website that bills itself as “A Collection of Interesting, Important, and Controversial Perspectives Largely Excluded from the American Mainstream Media.”

 “The Unz Review: An Alternative Media Selection” isn’t an academic journal, nor are essays published in it considered scholarly. Although the essay that caused Nigerian websites to claim that Igbos have been crowned as the most intellectually endowed African race is a synthesis of scholarly and popular articles, it is itself not a systematic scholarly study. It is merely one writer’s perspective.

The author of the essay, Chanda Chisala, isn’t an American; he is a Zambian born in the Zambian town of Chingola. He studied Biochemistry at the University of Zambia and graduated in 1997. He is known in Zambia as an intrepid internet entrepreneur who founded Zambia Online, Zambia’s leading internet portal. He later relocated to the United States where he has held fellowships at Stanford University, the Hoover Institution, and the National Endowment for Democracy.

So headlines attributing Igbos’ unparalleled brilliance to a “US academic study” are factually inaccurate.
Chanda Chisala: writer of essay on IQ that Nigerians said was a "US study"
In the essay, Chisala merely sought to disprove the notion that whites are innately more intelligent than blacks. As most people know, IQ tests in the US consistently show native-born American blacks underperforming their white counterparts, leading some to conclude that racial difference, not income, social class, or environment, is the most important causative factor for white intellectual superiority and black intellectual inferiority in IQ tests.

Over the last few years, however, with the increasing migration of black people to the United States from the Caribbean Islands and Africa, many settled certainties about racial disparities in IQ tests are being exploded. African immigrants in the US are high academic achievers. In some cases, they outperform white and Asian Americans. For instance, Nigerians are the single most educated demographic group in the United States, although it must be admitted that Nigerians in the United States are both too numerically insignificant (we are a mere 228,000) and too self-selected to be representative of the general population at home.

Before Africans began migrating to the United States in fairly large numbers since the 1970s, Caribbean immigrants had excelled, and still excel, in academic pursuits in ways that disrupt notions of racial hierarchy in cognitive endowment.

So Chisala’s basic argument is that if race is the only explanatory framework invoked to account for the IQ gap between white Americans and native-born American blacks, then native-born American blacks should be smarter than recent African and Caribbean immigrants since native-born American blacks have more white genes in them than both Caribbean and African immigrants.

He also dismissed a controversial 2009 Harvard IQ study that found black African immigrants in the United States to have an average IQ of 89. “They lump together black Africans into one homogenous group when there are different kinds of black Africans, including a good number coming in as refugees from highly troubled countries, while other nationalities consist of the most educated ethnicities in America. [T]he different groups of African immigrants can have very large background differences that reflect in cognitive gaps among them that are even higher than the gap between American blacks and whites…. In other words, the mean IQ of African immigrants may be as unrepresentative of black Igbo immigrants as it is of white South African immigrants. It’s a meaningless mean,” he said.

The putative average IQ of 89 among African immigrants (it is 83 among black Caribbean immigrants) is lower than the average IQ of native-born American blacks, yet African and Caribbean immigrants, on average, outperform American blacks in academic pursuits and rival, in some cases outrival, whites. Chisala argues, therefore, that the IQ tests aren’t representative of all Africans. “As the UK data below shows, it is very unlikely that children of immigrants from the Igbo or Yoruba groups of Nigeria or the Ashanti group of Ghana, for example, have an average IQ below the white mean IQ,” he wrote.

The data he presented to make his case uses Igbo academic achievement in the US and the UK, and that was the basis for the notion that a “US academic study” has pronounced Igbos as the most “brilliant African race.”

The article was “resurrected” from last year because an Augusta Uwamanzu-Nna, a Nigerian-American high school graduate born of Igbo parents, was recently accepted by all 8 Ivy League schools in the United States. Last year, Harold Ekeh, another Nigerian-American born of Igbo parents, was also accepted by all Ivy League schools.

However, although Nigerian websites, including the New Telegraph, claim that these brilliant young Nigerian-Americans “have broken a record of being accepted by eight Ivy League schools,” it is actually not true. Every year, a few smart teenagers get accepted to all 8 Ivy League schools. In 2014, for instance, a Ghanaian-American teenager by the name of Kwasi Enin was accepted in all 8 Ivy League schools. In 2015, a high school student by the name of Ronald Nelson was accepted by all the Ivy League schools, but he rejected every single one of them and instead went to a state school.
Ronald Nelson: Rejected all Ivy League schools that accepted him
This is in no way intended to diminish the praiseworthy achievements of the two brilliant Nigerian Americans. Nor do I want to be understood as denying that Igbos, on average, have a higher intellectual drive than the rest of us. (In my high school in Nigeria we often jokingly questioned the Igboness of any Igbo person who wasn’t among the top 3 in his class).

 Nevertheless, no systematic scholarly study anywhere, and certainly not in the US, has proved that Igbos are the most brilliant people in Africa. That study may yet come, but Chanda Chisala’s opinion article is not it.

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