Friday, February 22, 2008

Face, meet palm, I think you'll be friends.

My Knox College correspondent hooked me up with another lovely little piece of human failing this afternoon, only this one's about racism (or, at the very least, pig-ignorance of a racial flavor) instead of grammar and formatting problems.

The Knox Student - their version of the DI, but with apparently worse quality control - published a real beaut of an article yesterday, titled "Racism? Nah, just some truth." Now, thankfully, it's about sports and not, say, test scores or personal habits, but it's still pretty lovely. I'll let the fact that the old "I'm not bein' racist, I'm just bein' straight with you" is the oldest trick in the book slide, and get right to what makes this article jaw-droppingly awesome.

It begins reasonably well:
"Several of my suitemates have been embroiled in a discussion this past week in their psychology class, after one of their classmates brought up the fact that African-Americans are more predisposed to being successful in sports, and in general, being more athletic. Now, this seems like a straight off racist statement to some, but I have to say, it seems like there is more truth to this statement than a lot of people are willing to admit."

Well, yeah, and it's possible that there are all sorts of explanations for this. Cultural ones, economic ones, questions of incentives - things like that. There's probably a good book or two on the subject either out there or waiting to be written. This, however, isn't it.

After several paragraphs of nearly interminable basketball drivel - "
all they [white guys] can do is set shots and the like"* - we get to the money quotes. First some talk about genetics and Kenyans, and then this:
Now, the fact that these athletic juggernauts are in America is no secret. During that dark time in world history when the African was thought of as subhuman, one of many groups throughout history seen as that by the Europeans, they were packed onto cramped prison ships and sent across the ocean. Those who died on the trip were inferior, genetically, and those who were stronger survived the trip.

Once they got here, their owners would breed those who worked hardest, had the strongest back, that sort of thing to get the best work out of them. After a time, the genetically inferior ones were weaned out, and only the strong survived. These people are the ancestors of those who play in sports today, the ones who dominate on the court, and just make the whole arena their own. Basketball isn’t the only sport, either; baseball, football, heck, even soccer has its greatest players being descended from those who were once slaves.

One might wonder if the article is trying to say is "Dear Black America, You're welcome for the athletic stardom. Love, White People." One is also forced to conclude "probably not," but still, there's really nothing to recommend this column. It's got that bright, sparkling, negligent racism that also leads to things like, say, The Bell Curve. The Bell Curve, for those of you not up on your classic sociological flamewars, was a book that used the classic "I'm not bein' racist, I'm just bein' straight with you" defense, gussied up with graphs and charts, to explain the differences between test scores and IQ in black and white Americans. It really didn't do any good for anyone.

And neither does this column. No, I don't think it was malicious, but it was negligent. Yes, the Knox Student did already issue an apology, but you can't unring a bell. I'm not going to wag my finger at either author or the editor and tell them that they are bad people, but I really do wish they'd have sat down and read through the article before putting it in print.

*Fun fact about sports and race: in the early 20th century, it was Jews who were good at basketball. It's also interesting that they weren't considered "White," they were "of the Hebrew Race." Matthew Frye Jacobson's book Whiteness of A Different Color explains how this happened.

1 comment:

Deana said...

As a member of the editorial staff at The Knox Student, I can confirm that my hand and my face are now sending each other facebook applications and eating lunch together twice weekly. Still, I'm a teeny bit glad it happened, because I think it's going to help open the eyes of the apparent majority of people here who think we don't have a race problem just because we don't have black kids and white kids beating each other up in the cafeteria. I just wanted to say I dug your post, and thanks for paying attention.