Thomas Jackson, American Renaissance, February 2000
Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It, Jon Entine, Public Affairs, 2000, 387 pp.
To the usual yelping that accompanies the slightest dissent from racial orthodoxy, someone has finally written a book that states the obvious: blacks dominate many sports because they have a genetic edge. Bravo for author Jon Entine but bravissimo for Public Affairs publishing, which has broken with what is one of the most conformist and cowardly industries in the country.
Only two kinds of people will be surprised or offended by this book — crazed egalitarians and people who have never watched the Olympics or a pro basketball game. Since it is the former group that sets the intellectual tone for the country, reviewers will probably either ignore this book or cluck worriedly over it, but whatever happens, another blow has been struck against anti-scientific foolishness.
But is this a good book? For people who like their racial analysis stuffed with facts and close reasoning, and devoid of pulled punches — for people who enjoy Michael Levin, Arthur Jensen, Philippe Rushton, and Richard Lynn — this is thin gruel. It’s breezy and meandering, and does its own share of clucking about the “slippery slope of racism,” but it does a great many useful and important things. And by doing them in a mass-market book that will probably find its way into the hands of a great many sports fans it could accomplish more than books by scholars and scientists.
The first useful thing Mr. Entine does is attack the goofy notion that race is some kind of optical illusion. He argues instead that race differences may be as old as the human species. He points out that whether one accepts the out-of-Africa-recent-differentiation theory or theories of dispersed evolution, “there has been ample time for [racial] differences to have evolved.”
To be sure, there is a great deal of the human genome that is common to all races, but Mr. Entine explains that tiny differences can have huge consequences. After all, he writes, dogs and humans differ in only five percent of their genome, and there are plenty of gene sequences unique to different races. Speaking of dogs, Mr. Entine notes that in 1998 the American Kennel Club recalled the latest edition of The Complete Dog Book after complaints that it perpetuated “pernicious stereotypes” about breeds rather than treating them all as equals. Breeds are the equivalent of races, he explains, adding that “the belief that dog breeds do not have stereotypical personalities is as intuitively ridiculous as claiming that there are no meaningful differences between human populations.”
Different kinds of dogs even get different diseases, just like different races of humans. Why is it so hard to accept racial differences in athletic ability, asks Mr. Entine, when it is widely accepted that the races differ in susceptibility to sickle-cell anemia, prostate cancer, Tay-Sachs disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes?
One of Mr. Entine’s most effective tactics is to use the record book to show just how concentrated certain kinds of athletic performance are in certain groups. The chart on this page, reproduced from the book, is worth studying carefully. It is a percentage analysis by race or country of origin of the 100 fastest times in the eight most common distances in track and field. In the sprints up through the 400 meters West Africans (including British, American, and Canadian blacks who are of West African origin) are crushingly dominant, but they are completely out of the picture at distances greater than 800 meters. Beginning at that distance, other Africans take over — North Africans and East Africans, especially Kenyans. At 5,000 meters, African dominance (here represented in three separate bars) exceeds 90 percent, with the remaining times held by whites. East Asians appear on the chart only in one event, the marathon. As Mr. Entine points out, only genetic differences can plausibly account for such marked athletic specialization by race.
The reason Kenya gets its own separate bar on the graph is due almost entirely to the remarkable running abilities of one tribe, the Kalenjin, who have won 70 percent of Kenya’s Olympic gold medals. Kenya’s Nandi district, in the heart of Kalenjin country, has only 1.8 percent of the country’s population but accounts for 35 percent of its top runners. Mr. Entine reports that the Kalenjin laugh at anything other than biological explanations for their prowess; they know they are naturally gifted runners. Another little-known tribe of prodigies are the Tarahumara Indians of Mexico. Mr. Entine reports they are best in the world at the gruesome 100-mile Leadville, Colorado, race that ends at an elevation of 11,000 feet. They don’t often bother to compete, but have been known to breeze to the finish in traditional sandals rather than running shoes.
In the United States, black dominance of basketball and football is virtually complete, and blacks are over-represented in baseball. For women, too, the racial differences are almost as stark, with whites offering no competition in sprints and not much in basketball. Seventy percent of the players in the National Women’s Basketball Association are black, as were nine of the ten women chosen in 1999 for the first and second all-NWBA teams.
Mr. Entine points out that during the Soviet era, there was a plausible argument to be made that with enough training white women, anyway, could compete with blacks. East German and Soviet women who had been through the national sports factories kept West Africans from dominating the sprints. Now we know that those Communist women looked so mannish and performed so well because they were doped up on steroids and hormones. Coaches wouldn’t let some of them speak to reporters or into a microphone because they had such deep voices. In the decade or so since Communism collapsed and drug testing became more sophisticated, Russian and East German athletes have dropped back in the pack to join the rest of the whites.
East and North Africans do not (yet) dominate women’s middle- and long-distance events, but Mr. Entine says this is only because African societies have kept women out of sports. As more African women start competing, whites and Asians will be squeezed out.
Blacks didn’t always crush whites in sports, of course, but this was because many American sports were segregated, blacks got little training, and Africa was a primitive wilderness. Even so, the writing has been on the wall for a long time. Not since the 1950s has a white ball player had the most steals in a season, and it has been 40 years since a white man, Armin Hary of Germany, held the world record in the 100 meters.
Needless to say, it is not just American sports teams that are now larded with blacks. Only two percent of the population of Britain is black, but 20 percent of its pro soccer players are. A track meet between the Canadian and American national teams would settle only the question of who has the fastest Africans.
What are the physiological correlates of black athletic superiority? Mr. Entine writes that as long ago as 1939, Eleanor Metheny of Iowa State University looked into sports biology and found that blacks had longer arms and legs, a shorter trunk, narrower hips, and heavier bones than whites. Hundreds of studies have since confirmed and supplemented her findings. We now know that West African blacks have more muscle, less fat, hands relatively longer than forearms, and feet relatively longer than lower legs (which are relatively longer than thighs). They have higher serum testosterone levels, which increases muscle mass and aggressiveness, and smaller chest and lung capacities, which is why they wear out at longer distances. Heavy bones and less fat explain why so many blacks are “sinkers” in the pool, and low lung capacity is a problem in swimming events as it is in long-distance running.
West African blacks have a larger percentage of what is called fast-twitch fiber in their muscles, which is what the body needs for explosive bursts of speed. It also helps blacks jump. The best whites can jump straight up 50 percent of their height; blacks can go over 60 percent.
East African blacks have a larger lung capacity than whites and process oxygen more efficiently. They do not suffer as much from lactic acid buildup in their muscles and are therefore less susceptible to fatigue. They naturally have the slim build of good distance runners.
Mr. Entine writes that blacks respond to athletic training more quickly than whites and require less of it. Sprinter Carl Lewis worked out only eight hours a week when he was training for the 1984 Olympics; whites may work out nearly that much in a day. East Africans can reportedly take months off from training but quickly regain top form.
This sort of thing is fascinating and entirely to the point, but there is not that much of it in Taboo. Mr. Entine could have made his case in about 100 pages. The rest of the book is taken up with stories about Kipchoge Keino and other famous Kalenjins, stories about the Communist sports factories, and a long, wandering history of race and American sports. This may be interesting to sports fans, but the chart on the previous page is worth a hundred stories about Jesse Owens and Michael Jordan. The early heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson, who snarled over prostrate white opponents and carried on publicly with white women, was a colorful figure, and very few people know professional football was (re)integrated with no fanfare the year before Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers in 1947 — but so what? Mr. Entine seems to be trying to parry charges of “racism” with sympathetic accounts of black sportsmen who fought segregation.
Still, he has assembled the necessary facts and they all hang together. What we know about racial differences in biology conforms perfectly with what we see on the playing field and in the swimming pool. So what’s the problem? Why can’t the country admit what everyone knows and make it official? The problem — and the answer to the question in the book’s subtitle — is that honesty about athletics could lead to honesty about intelligence. This is why we have near-universal dishonesty, which leads to all sorts of nuttiness. Mr. Entine quotes Bob Herbert of the New York Times, that praising blacks for athletic ability is “a genteel way to say nigger.” An early pre-publication story about Taboo in the Times, quotes a black who says scientific investigation of athletic ability is an “underhanded way” of saying that blacks are “closer to beast . . . than they are to the rest of humanity” and it quotes a white as saying, “Didn’t we hear all this in Germany in 1936?” Mr. Entine has collected many examples of this sort of non-thinking.
Sadly for the egalitarians, the evidence for racial differences in intelligence is far more systematic, far more carefully studied, and much better understood than the evidence for athletic differences. Everyone knows this, which is why everyone pretends so diligently and hysterically not to.
Mr. Entine knows it, too, but tries not to show it. He has laced the book with anti-racist pieties, calls the Pioneer Fund “a magnet for white supremacists,” sneers at Lothrop Stoddard and Madison Grant, and writes happily that the 1938 rematch victory of heavyweight Joe Louis over the German Max Schmeling “was a knockout blow to the smug Nazis and their legion of Aryan-supremacist sympathizers around the world.” He even stoops to what can only be called disingenuousness: The book’s “only real message,” he writes, is that “for all our differences, we are far, far more similar.” That is not the book’s real message; it is a transparent sop to the censorship commissars.
However, despite all the jabber about “racism,” Mr. Entine is careful never to deny the possibility of intelligence differences. He even writes sentences like: “The evolutionary crucible has left population groups with distinct physiques, musculature, testosterone levels, metabolic efficiency, reaction time, and a slew of other characteristics.” (emphasis added) He even writes that black babies are born after a shorter gestation period and mature more quickly than white babies. He knows, all right.
Some day Americans will start saying what they really think about race. If they can’t yet talk about intelligence let them at least begin with sports. May Taboo sell and sell.