Thursday, October 27, 2005

And now a defense of Fisher DeBerry

For instance, take this ill-reasoned criticism of his "we need more fast players and African-Americans sure seem to be faster" remark. The author, and others (almost all middle-aged white guys doing their best to personify White Guilt) who are in a tizzy about DeBerry's comments, has to have his eyes closed to think that there aren't more African-Americans (or, more specifically, individuals of West African descent) with top-end speed. How many Caucasian cornerbacks are there in the NFL? What's that? Zero? And how about halfbacks? Is that another zero I hear? Is that a coincidence that two of the top three speed positions in the NFL are uniformly honky-free? How in the world can anyone look at that disparity and think that DeBerry is wrong? And let's not even discuss the world of Olympic sprinting. Yeah, there is one Caucasian world champion in the 200. There is also the minor fact that approximately 196 of the top 200 times ever turned in in the 100M dash were turned in by runners of West African descent. Another striking coincidence. (And this, incidentally, is where the "race" arguments should end. People of East African descent don't have the type of speed that DeBerry was describing. Instead, they dominate the long distance events. So when DeBerry spoke of "African-Americans," he wasn't really describing a race, although I doubt that he knows that. He was describing people of West African descent, not the entire race of people of African descent.)

The author also creates a straw man argument by stating that DeBerry was making a "[b]lanket statement[] meant to describe a particular race of humans." Not exactly. He was saying that there are more African-Americans with top-end speed. I doubt he was saying that African-Americans are all faster than Caucasians. DeBerry could probably outrun Star Jones and he'd be the first to say that. He was saying that there are greater numbers of African-Americans with top end speed and that's completely right.

And then finally, we get the argument that public school education sucks in this country and that African-Americans are faster because they have no other options in life. Wrong wrong wrong. Public school education also sucks for rural whites in Appalachia, for instance, but you don't see Kentucky and West Virginia playing super fast Caucasians in their backfields, do you? And it can't be an American phenomenon. Again, the 100M dash is dominated by West Africans, as well as individuals from North America and Europe who are of West African descent. Are the schools crappy in all of those places? And are the schools crappy for West Africans in London, but not East Africans? How about all those poor kids in Pakistan with no hopes in life? Why aren't there sprinters coming from Islamabad?

Bottom line: why is it so hard to believe that groups from different areas of the world might have different distributions of genetic characteristics? Are we Jews full of it when we worry that we're more likely to have offspring with Tay-Sachs? Liberals who bend over backwards to claim that there are absolutely no differences between different racial groups just make themselves look dumb because they are making a claim that anyone with two eyes can see is not true. (Some sociologists would probably dispute my use of the term "race" there and a more precise way to say it might be that groups from different areas of the world, i.e. West Africans, Caucasians, Aboriginals, etc., sometimes have different genetic distributions in their populations.)


Aaron P. said...

The "author" refuses to believe it is ever ok to across-the-board ascribe characteristics based on class. No white man's guilt there, just a nod the slippery slope that gets us all on.

Your note of genetic diseases as it relates to race is well taken, but that is something that is demonstrably genetic, very different from the explanations for "fast" african-americans, or "smart" asians, which I continue to believe is environment, not an inhernet genetic difference. The problem wiht DeBarry's comment is it is tossed off too lightly, without nuance or understanding. And I do hate blanket statements such as that when it comes to whatever-the-race. The fact that it is a "nice" characterizataion does not make me any more comfortable in the least.

Again, as I said in your return post, damn glad you are writing again.

Welcome back.


Michael said...

Sorry, it's hard to say "when Bengal says this, he's wrong."

The problem with slippery slope arguments is that they often throw the baby out with the bathwater. For instance, it's obvious that there are more individuals of West African descent with top end speed. That's just stating the obvious. The fact that some ignoramus might say "yeah, well white people are smarter" doesn't make the first argument right.

Regarding genetics, speed is mostly genetic, I think. There are plenty of places where whites play football with the same level of commitment as blacks, but you still don't see white running backs or corners. That has to be the result of the genetic pool. "Intelligence," unlike speed or Tay Sachs, is mostly nurture. I'd totally agree with you if you said that blacks score lower on the SAT because of environmental factors, such as poverty and poor schools. (That assumes [falsely] that the SAT is a measure of intelligence.) I see smarts as different than speed and that's why the slippery slope from "blacks are fast" to "whites are smart" doesn't work.

I agree that DeBerry's comments are blunt and lack nuance, but they're not racist. You're setting up a straw man when you say that he was saying that all blacks are faster than whites. He was crudely making the observation that almost all players at most speed positions are African-American. I don't see why that's uncomfortable.

Martin A said...

I think you both are slightly correct, but both of you are also more than slightly wrong. How is that for a nuanced insult!

First, Michael is right to defend DeBerry's right to use the term "African-American" with word 'speed." (Kudos also to Michael for pointing out that what DeBerry really meant was "males of West African descent.") A gaffe is defined as imprudently telling the truth. That is what we have here.
Everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY, KNOWS that when a college football coach (99.5% likely to be white)says "dad gummit we need more speed" he is talking about males of West African descent. Most coaches are smart enough to understand that in the USA of 2005 you cannot say anything about race and physical abilities without upsetting people. I, for one, refuse to label DeBerry a racist for articulating what everyone has been thinking since at least 1965, when Bob Hayes just blew away man to man coverages for the Cowboys.
However, aaron p. is right, there is something racialist about DeBerry's comments. It took me awhile to figure it out, and I have not seen it brought up in all the brouhaha, but it is this: The United States Air Force Academy has academic standards that are so high that he, Fisher DeBerry, cannot recruit the African-American kid who can run a 4.5 forty. That is the subtext running
throughout DeBerry's comments about why the Falcons are losing to the likes of TCU.

First off, somewhere in this great land,every year there has to be at least a half-dozen kids who have shut-em down speed and who can take a calculus derivitive and who dream of being a fighter-pilot. There are only two places in America where,if you do the work, you can be guaranteed a seat in a super sonic fighter: the Air Force Academy and the Naval Academy. If Deberry could get just three of these kids every year he wouldn't have to worry about matching up with the Horned Frogs.

Michael said...

I agree with you that such a subtext would be racist, but I didn't read an "I can't find African-Americans who are smart enough to get into the Air Force Academy" reasoning into DeBerry's statement. He didn't take the Paul Hornung step and absent doing that, I don't think he should be drawn and quartered.