Performance Area => Strength, Power, Reactivity, & Speed Discussion => Topic started by: adarqui on June 05, 2016, 01:45:25 pm

Title: Athletics: Race, Racism, Genetics, Ethnicity
Post by: adarqui on June 05, 2016, 01:45:25 pm
this definitely deserves its own thread. we've had several discussions/debates over the years on this broad topic, but much of that is nested within journals or posts covering different topics. I don't think we've ever had a thread dedicated to it.

here's some discussion in FP's journal:'s-jump-journal/msg120437/#msg120437

I don't have the time to search right now, but LBSS (or any1 else) if you have the url to the "KellyB vs LBSS" discussion on this topic, i'd like to link that in here too.

Going forward, it's probably best to grow this thread with discussion, rather than have the information end up becoming hidden in other posts.

Title: Re: Athletics: Race, Racism, Genetics, Ethnicity
Post by: adarqui on June 05, 2016, 02:22:59 pm
Really interesting discussion that developed out of the question I asked.  Really impressed by the education level and the civility of the members of the board to educate and learn rather than attack and win arguments...  Really is promising how different the community is here from the rest of the internet!  I have a few things to add - but first to just address the initial argument that it makes sense to refer to race when one is a minority in the sport...  This excuse is totally fine IF THERE IS A REASON to differentiate the person.   For example if I was playing basketball with friends against a group of all strangers of whom all are black except one - it is totally reasonable (maybe not intelligent or politically correct but reasonable) to use race to differentiate.  I'm guilty of it myself - I can see myself saying "I'll guard the white guy" or after the game saying "the white dude was killing it".  Same if everyone was white except for one player - this player might get referred to "the black guy".   This might be lazy of me to use race in this context BUT it is reasonable because I don't know these players, my friends dont know these players, and we are trying to tell them apart, thus if only one is white or black we might use this identifier to tell them apart...

Should we practice this?  Maybe not.  Probably not.  But the point is the reason I was curious about the mention of race in your post was that it seemed so pointless...  You got beat to a frisbee by a player.  Adding the race of the player to your story doesn't help me understand your experience at the tryout in any way shape or form or help me differentiate between players at all...  The only reason why your inclusion of race would help me is IF I thought his race mattered.... 

Anyway with that out of the way I think that I have three points to add, (1) a sociocultural point, a (2) human point and finally a (3) scientific point (I am a geneticist in real life after all...).

EDIT: Is it racist to believe that black guys have a genetic advantage in athletics? Out of the couple of handfuls of black athletes I have played with in frisbee, almost all were well above average athletes. You could just say it's self-fulfilling prophecy and black and white people are pretty much the same. I'm probably just ignorant. It makes me cringe just typing this up. But then again I can't change my perspective without acknowledging it. I hope you can accept me as I am.

(1) First off...   YES.  It is totally racist to believe that black guys have a genetic advantage in athletics.  It's 100% racist and it's not a belief you should hold on to.  Racism is defined as the belief that one race is superior in some aspect to another.   If you take the dubious evidence that your personal experience is that the black athletes you played frisbee with were above average athletes as reason to believe that there is a genetic advantage in athletics to being black you are being racist - I can accept you as who you are but I also hope you can change!    Remember racism does not mean you believe everyone as a race is superior - slave owners didn't necessarily believe that slaves were less intelligent than mentally challenged white people - they just believed on average they were far less intelligent - you don't have to believe in racial differences that manifest 100% of the time to be racist.

I know the defense of this belief people try to cling to - whats wrong with believing something GOOD about black people (that they are great athletes).  Well, first off... A lot - but I will get to that in my second point...   But, beyond that the problem with claiming you only believe that good stereotypes are genetic is that it is logically inconsistent.  I don't see any black people in the spelling B - I see asians, indian and jewish people.  Black people graduate at a much lower rate from college.  Given this data why not believe that Asian, Indian and Jewish people are genetically smart and blacks are genetically stupid?  Do you believe that?  Or do you reject that belief and claim educational attainment is entirely cultural but ascribe sports performance to genetics - this is a silly inconsistent belief that people claim to have because they don't want to sound offensive.  Intelligence and athletics are both influenced by genetics and environmental - you can't choose to believe that positive things are largely genetic but then ascribe the environment as being 100% responsible for differences that would be offensive to categorize as genetic.   That's not how genetics works. 

(2) I want to give you a human example of why this belief is so troubling.  I have shared this story before I believe but it is a formative part of my past and I think it bears repeating.  I am/was a mixed athlete in track and field.  I ran short sprints.  I was never world class but I did run a couple good races and the interest in my performance along racial lines was striking.  After decent performances I was often approached by white and black athletes asking "what are you?".   I always hating answering the question because any mention of my fathers African ancestry immediately made white people crestfallen.  I would hear things like "oh that's why" or "oh that makes sense" and sense there disappointment that I wasn't what the wanted to see (a fast white person) and I could tell that the clearly thought that my speed was now not impressive and just a product of blackness.   This sucks.  I have sequenced my genome.  I have over 80% european ancestry!  I have thrown up on the track.  I have put in work.  To have someone dangle praise in front of you and take it away because they think it is a product of your skin color is extremely sad...  This is bad for white athletes and black athletes as well as mixed athletes.  I know a guy who has recently broke in as a special teamer on the carolina panthers.  His highlight of the season was chasing down pacman jones from behind on a punt return and making up a lot of ground to get the tackle.  He is extremely fast.  He is white.  But when he began to get noticed there was immediately an article on espn praising him.   Guess what it said:

From the article "He’s not the fastest or the most athletic, but he works hard and he makes plays. He also isn’t flamboyant or outspoken."

BULLSHIT.  He is the fastest and most athletic player on the team.  He isn't the best or the smartest which is why he is on special teams but the racist writer can't see past their biases.   The writer has to ascribe a white athletes success to hard work and "not flamboyance" while they take away credit from the black athlete and brand them naturally gifted and lazy.  This subconscious racism isn't just about something as harmless as sports.  This subconscious racism bleeds into academia, society, employment - it's a unspoken belief that white people work hard and deserve credit for it while black people are naturally good dancers and athletes but don't work hard.  This is terrible belief and it's one everyone should examine themselves for.   

Interestingly enough ESPN was called on their racism and wrote another article about him a few months later that included this gem:

"He also can play safety, so the Panthers don’t have to keep an extra player on the roster at that position. He's one of the fastest players on the team as well."

The writers behind this should be ashamed of themselves for being so racist and lazy.  Terrible journalism but nobody complains because they disguise racism as praise which sounds nice.   

(3) Finally... About science.  Hopefully I have convinced that believing that one race is better at sports (or smarter or quicker or anything you value) is a terrible belief to have because it hurts people and denies them praise for hard work and generally has negative effects on society.  But, in your last post you posed a question that is fair to me as a scientist... Sure beliefs about race and speed are racist and damaging but.... are they true?  In a complete unemotional scientific curiosity aspect...  are they true?  You write:

"Trying to figure out what's caused by environment and what's caused by genetics is tough, a lot of the time next to impossible. "

Well I am a geneticist so it's what I do for a living and it's not next to impossible.  Lets consider your statement for scientific truth.  Is it possible blacks have an advantage in athletics?   NO.   Do some people have a genetic advantage in athletics?  Yes.  This is true.  So why not blacks?   Well, to answer your question you have to understand genetics.

LBSS eluded to this in his answer but I don't know if you understand human genetic history and if you want to have a handle on it I think it's a helpful tool to conquer racism.   Humans come from Africa.   We evolved there at most 1 million years ago.  And for almost a million years we lived there exclusively.  Genetics allows us to measure time through mutations.   Mutations are rare events that arise spontaneously by chance and when they affect a benign portion of the genome do not affect fitness.  So if one family is genetically similar and splits apart and lives on two islands we can see how far they have been apart...  After 1000 years apart they may have a couple hundred new mutations that segregate the groups.  After 5000 years they may have a couple thousand mutations.  Counting these mutations allows us to calculate backwards how long ago we have a common ancestor...

Humans left Africa about 50k years ago.  Thus all non-africans have a common ancestor at most 50k years in the past.  In fact if you cluster mutations into groups to put humans into clusters (scientific genetic definitions of race or relatedness) you come up with about 13 haplotypes or "races".   All 13 of these groups live in Africa.  One lives in East Africa and the rest of the world...  Humans spent so much time in Africa that someone in south africa and someone in west africa may have their most recent common ancestor half a million years ago while all non-african humans share one at most 50k years ago... This is why LBSS made the statement "ethiopians and nigerians are more genetically different from each other than swedes and koreans" which is totally true.

Given this it is preposterous that a complex trait like speed would be shared among all people from Africa.   Like LBSS said - DO NOT LISTEN TO MALCOLM GLADWELL.  Seriously, this guy is a writer.   Not a scientist.  Not a statistician.  He is a talented writer and he cherrypicks science to justify his racist beliefs.  He is still angry that he didn't make it as a middle distance runner and is trying to blame his failure on genetics.  WEAK.

To summarize my point before my gladwell tirade... Africa has more diversity than the rest of the world (in fact the only coding alleles in common across the continent involve skin color - not even hair texture - so if you want to make a true statement about african people you can say "they have a genetic disposition to not be pale skinned" - that is it). 

But... What about non-africans.   I realize the irony in my point - that I am making an argument that the people of africa are "special" relative to other people and as such it's impossible that they have any genetic advantage or disadvantage in common.  Well - they are special.   But I don't think it's racist because they are special because we are ALL african.  Its our homeland.  It's where we started and it is special.  But so could these non-africans be slower?  Could chinese people be better at gymnastics?   The truth is an unsatisfying probably not.  Most of mainland china has very little admixture.  So while offensive and troubling a belief about a shared genetic trait common to Chinese is scientifically more plausible than for African/Blacks.  However, it's still really unlikely that it would be any complex trait like speed or intelligence.   You do see simple traits like height that are shared among the chinese people - of course you don't see these among africans on a whole - but you do for small groups like the very tall Masai and very short Pygmies...

Basically the more complex the trait the more unlikely you will see it shared among a big group of people (such as one of our sociocultural racial groups).  Very complex traits are shared among families.   Less complex groups are shared by closely related tribes or groups.  Simple traits are shared over larger geographically semi-spread out groups.  Nothing is shared over Africa.   

I hope that helps.  If the science is written poorly I will summarize by saying that Africa as the homeland for humans is not a place with enough genetic commonality for anything like speed to be shared.  In general our sociocultural racial structure (white, black, asian, etc) has far too large groups for their to be racial genetic differences that involve anything more than what you see...  It is possible that some racial or ethnic group outside of africa has enough genetic commonality to share a complex trait at a slightly higher rate that other groups.  But it wouldn't be meaningful - eg maybe chinese have a 1% advantage in learning to memorize multiplication on average when controlling for environment - thus this racist thought might have an acorn of truth BUT it does not have a bit of utility and DOES cause a lot of hard...

really good stuff.

also thanks for re-sharing the story about your experience with sprinting & race, it's very important.