July 9, 2012

Are races racist?

From the L.A. Times:
Is talking about slave eugenics a fireable offense? It depends.
By Dan Turner 
When Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder opined about slavery, eugenics and black American athletes, it ended his career as a sports commentator on CBS. When American Olympic sprinter Michael Johnson made similar comments to a British newspaper, it left some wondering whether he'd face the same fate -- Johnson, too, works as a sports commentator, for the BBC. 
The answer is, probably not. That's because Johnson, unlike Snyder, is African American and thus can say things about African Americans that whites can't ...

And so forth and so on.

Americans aren't very censorious about sex anymore, so what we get titillated and censorious about now is talking about race. But, that keeps us from actually thinking much about race. Nobody has much investigated the Snyder-Johnson hypothesis.

How much evidence is there for genetic selection of blacks in the New World? Let's look at the simplest relevant database for evaluating the Snyder-Johnson theory: Wikipedia's list of the 83 men who have run 100m in faster than 10 seconds. Of those 83, 81 are of at least partial black African descent, and most top New World sprinters are very African looking (i.e., not very admixed with other races -- e.g, Carl Lewis. So is Michael Johnson, for that matter, although he wasn't a 100m man.) All that's pretty good evidence that black African genes help. 

Out of those 81, I count 14 runners born and raised in Africa. That 14 includes 12 running for African countries and two who grew up in West Africa but run as adults for Norway or Qatar.

My basic assumption is that in most complex situations nature and nurture are of roughly similar importance. North America and the West Indies have better nurture than Africa, so it's hardly surprising that a majority of black nine second men are from the Diaspora rather than from Africa. (Of course, in the short run, drugs matter: Jamaica's rise relative to the U.S. from 2004 to 2008 stemmed largely from America finally cracking down on drugs -- e.g., Marion Jones going to prison -- but Jamaica not. But, in the long run, this tends to work out.)

The West African figures aren't as impressive as the 38 from the U.S., 11 from Jamaica, and five from Trinidad. Yet, excluding American and West Indian blacks, Nigeria leads the world with eight men under 10 seconds. In other words, Nigeria has four times as many sub 10 second men as the entire 6 billion people who aren't black African by ancestry.

So, from this data I can't reject my null hypothesis that blacks in the English-speaking New World are pretty much the same genetically as their distant cousins in West Africa, but just benefit from an environment more conducive to super-fast sprinting. But I can't confirm it either: the data fall right about where either notion is plausible but not persuasive.

Einstein said that explanations should be as simple as possible, but no simpler. The 100m dash data is congruent with a model with two, possibly three major factors:

- Nature -- On average, blacks tend to be faster runners for , especially men of West African descent in the sprints, the shorter the better.

- Nurture -- On average, the environment (defined broadly to include health, wealth, coaching, shoes, organization, drug test evasion sophistication, etc.) is better for sprinters in North America and the West Indies than in Africa.

What I can't tell is whether we need a third factor, which is differences in nature (genes) between West Africans and their distant cousins in the northern part of the New World. Because I don't see an obvious mechanism for selecting for faster sprinters, and because it's not obvious we need to find one, I'm not enthusiastic about this hypothesized third factor. But I can't totally reject it either.

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

For me New World slavery is one of the biggest historical mysteries. THEY were brought here to work? They were brought here to WORK? Really? And yet it seems to be true.

Anonymous said...

To be honest, I immediately thought of the dearth of elite African athletes when you repeatedly posted about the dominance of black sprinters.


Part of your argument is that "Everyone sprints as a child! It's not cricket or hockey!" The problem is that there are many more people of West African descent in West Africa than there are in Jamaica.

Anonymous said...

There is some plausibility about the idea that specimens looked in the mouth and measured around the thigh for fitness would provide strong athletic stock. I remember my older brother explaining this to me, as his own commonsense formulation, as a teenager, long before either of us had heard the term HBD.

As we were raised in an atmosphere of easy race realism, my brother's theory was actually a 'progressive' (or rebellious) attempt to salvage something of a blank slatist model. These days, it's about the most politically incorrect (and scientifically incorrect) non-HBD thing anyone can say.

Gilbert P.

Anonymous said...

Clarification: I still believe it's true that slavery may have selected the creme de la creme of an already genetically gifted population; but that's not the same as saying slavery causes speed; or racism causes football ability for that matter.
GP

Anonymous said...

Haha 11 from Jamaica...I'm sure none of this has anything to do with steroids. No, black suddenly became good at sprinting rather recently with the introduction of the widespread use of steroids, and that's a coincidence!

a very knowing American said...

"Americans aren't very censorious or titillated by pornography anymore, so what we get titillated and censorious about now is talking about race. "

from The Onion:

Use Of 'N-Word' May End Porn Star's Career
ISSUE 43•41 | 10.08.07 | Newsroom
'Cum Inside' star Jennica St. Foxx is receiving heavy criticism for using a racial slur in her latest film...

JayMan said...

Here you go. Couldn't resist:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2Wy_xRHJd4

TGGP said...

I believe it was Greg Cochran who pointed out (and you cited him) that with a single generation, you need some really extreme selective pressure to get the kind of result we see. If the slaveowners were "breeding" slaves for traits like farmers or dog-breeders you could see more of an effect, but given the amount of time it takes for humans to reach maturity there were only a limited number of generations. Still, if the Ashkenazi could derive a large IQ advantage in 500 years, the descendants of slaves could get some milder effect.

socks said...

Genetic distance between tribes in africa tends to be pretty large doesn't it? If slaves came from various west africa tribes, one environment could've lead to different sprinting genes in different tribes that were later combined here.

Anonymous said...

"For me New World slavery is one of the biggest historical mysteries. THEY were brought here to work? They were brought here to WORK? Really? And yet it seems to be true." - And they were an incredibly productive and valuable asset, worth more than all of our rails, banks, shipyards, and factories combined. Of course the accounting there assumed labor scarcity.

I think its a combination of genes, and America throwing a great deal of resources at finding the very best runners.

"Haha 11 from Jamaica...I'm sure none of this has anything to do with steroids. No, black suddenly became good at sprinting rather recently with the introduction of the widespread use of steroids, and that's a coincidence!" - Resources.

Anonymous said...

You'd think the best sprinters would be the ones who could escape the slave raiders.

Auntie Analogue said...

Of course one would not nowadays be forgiven for hypothesizing that in a population which, wherever its members settle, commits a hugely disproportionate amount of crime, natural selection might well favor fleet-footedness.

dave in boca said...

Jeremy Wariner was a contender, but I don't think, at 28, he's got enuf in his tank to beat LaShawn Merritt in the individual 400 meter dash.

Jimmy Snyder was right. In Louisiana before the Civil War, some slave-owners bred their strongest and most hard-working males and females just like they bred horses. It's very un-PC to talk about this.

One bizarre fact is that if you google "black slave-owners," you'll fund that in Louisiana, at least, almost a quarter of the slaves were owned by other blacks. Try mentioning that in public discourse nowadays. The Thought Police have achieved Orwell's nastiest dreams...

Anonymous said...

You get African-American-listed.

Anonymous said...

Whitey: 2+2=4.

You're fired.

Blacky: 2+2=4.

Stick around.

Anonymous said...

Sports aren't that important. Who cares if blacks run faster on the track.

It's what blacks do with their superior strength on the streets that really matter.

50 Shades of Grayscale said...

Anyone know whats the deal w/ Matt Drudge switching in the (tres classy) B&W format a few hrs ago? Before / After
Surely all the AM radio hosts will be puzzling over it tomorrow, while Salon.com/DailyKos decry a "Helter Skelter"-style incitement to race war

Anonymous said...

Basically, too little time has elapsed fpr any meaningful 'genetic selction' to have occurred between west African populations in the Americas and in west Africa.
As a baseline, let's say that any given afro-American can trace an ancestry on American soil of 300 years. That's only 12 generations or so.Any reasonable understanding of natural selection and evolutionary theory tells us that basal phenotypical traits that are 'fixed' in the genome by natural selection and an endogenous gene pool accrue exceedingly slowly over countless generations - we're talking of tens of thousands of years here.

Anonymous said...

Look.
Suppose the USA 300 years back took Vietnamese slaves rather than west Africans to work the plantations. Suppose they withstood the same sea crossings and subsequent treatment that west Africans did.
Does anyone really, seriously believe that such a population 300 years hence would engender a population of track and field, sprinting etc super-stars?
No. The Vietnamese simply did not have the genetic substrate to work on in the first place to select for such activities in such a 'short' time. Therefore, it's very reasonable to suppose that the latent talents of African Americans existed, in potential form, thousands of yeras before whitey's slavery was ever devised.

dearieme said...

One argument seems to concern the high death rates of the slaves during the Atlantic crossings and trading cruises through the Caribbean. I've read somewhere that the slavers' crews died at much the same rate - if the cause was infectious diseases, that's not implausible. Do journals of the time make any mention of the surviving crew members being conspicuous for any characteristics?

Anonymous said...

"in Louisiana, at least, almost a quarter of the slaves were owned by other blacks."

white slave-owners in the past and youfs today. Generalizing about how not to generalize racially also be raciss.

Hapalong Cassidy said...

I'm curious about the effect of eugenics on Barbados, which is arguably the most prosperous black-run nation in the world. Someone hypothesized that being the easternmost British West Indies possession, the plantation owners there got the first pick of the slaves off of the boats. If that were true, would not Barbadans be more athletic than normal? Or did the type of farming on Barbados require the slave-owners to select for intelligence rather than athleticism?

SFG said...

No longer censorious about sex? Everyone got their panties in a bunch over Sandra Fluke's contraception, which I'm happy to pay for. Fewer baby feminists is fine with me.

Dahinda said...

Could it also be that blacks from Africa were chosen to be slaves over Native Americans, or even very low class whites, because they were more athletic in the first place? No selection based on fitness required!

Anonymous said...

How can having long legs and developed fast-twitch muscle (the main attributes of winning sprinters) possibly correlate with greater chances of survival in a slave ship?
Eve if bastard slave owners did 'breed selectively' why would they breed for running ability?, wouldn't they breed instead for docility and tractibility?, what use is being able to run fast to a cotton picker?
As for deaths in slave ships, as I've long intuited slave traders would have tried as hard as possible to minimize deaths in transit (ie treated slaves well), because of economics if nothing else. A dead slave is an economic loss which threatens financial ruin to the trader. A living and healthy slave is profitable ie the reason for the whole business in the first place.

Anonymous said...

I don't see it. You can't learn much about a person's athletic ability by looking at him, and to the extent that slave traders and owners were interested in such things they would have been interested in musclemen, not sprinters. The "they endured slavery" argument doesn't hold water either -- American slaves often lived in better conditions than poor whites, since it was in their owners' economic interest to keep them healthy. The idea that mortality during the Middle Passage might have had some sort of selective effect is vaguely plausible, but I don't see what that would have to do with athletic ability. I just don't see any way their experience in the New World could have selected blacks for athletic ability.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

And they were an incredibly productive and valuable asset, worth more than all of our rails, banks, shipyards, and factories combined.

I find this claim incredible. If slavery were that productive, the South would have won the war and, rest assured, the advanced economies would have retained slavery.

Anonymous said...

"Blacks & superior strength".

Uh have you looked at who dominates strongman competitions? Its nordic/slavic white europeans. Blacks have fast twitch muscle fibers for short bursts of energy but they get gassed really fast generally over long periods.

Blacks on the street attack in packs, which accounts for a lot of the brutality. Its why gun control is just an attempt to disarm the great equalizer against wildings since not everyone can be a strongman .

JayMan said...

The key thing that would have weakened any selective breeding of Black slaves (as well as plain natural selection under the condition of slavery in the Americas) was that new slaves were constantly coming in. Intermixing of FOB slaves with long-time ones would have diluted any new traits accumulated here.

That said, I'll be highly surprised if some changes did not occur among the American slave population.

Camlost said...

It's what blacks do with their superior strength on the streets that really matter.

Yes, like the "superior" NFL cornerback Ty Law who got chased down by a fat cop:

http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=1785289

Anonymous said...

I am not sure why superior black speed/strength would be tied to slave breeding. I would think slave owners would want moderately healthy and strong men but not bucks who are naturally more aggressive and could easily overcome them. In addition wouldn't this sort of thing be part of official farm records? Easily proved or disproved?

Anonymous said...

Jimmy Snyder was right. In Louisiana before the Civil War, some slave-owners bred their strongest and most hard-working males and females just like they bred horses.

No, that never happened. You would be hard-pressed to find a single documented case of systematic slave breeding in the American South.

Anonymous said...

Focusing on race and sports is like focusing on military and air shows.
American fighter jets are the best and put on the best air shows, but is that what really counts? No, what really counts is American military force can smash nations all over the world.

Similarly, who cares if a black guy can run fast, jump high, or whatever on the sports field? The fact is blacks in real life are gonna use their physical advantage to jump you in the real world.
Blacks you see jumping high have relatives who will jump you.

Anonymous said...

Per 50 shades' question about drudge, the lead story now (1:53 pm cdt) is about Romney being too white.

goatweed

Anonymous said...

"One argument seems to concern the high death rates of the slaves during the Atlantic crossings and trading cruises through the Caribbean."

European diseases wiped out maybe 90% of all native peoples of the Americas. Only the toughest and the most resilient survived. Those who weren't killed by disease were pushed off their native lands and had to make treks over long distances to make it to Indian reservations. So, that must have weeded out the weaklings too. But, how come most indigenous peoples of the Americas are not great athletes?

The wars, revolutions, and famines in Russia and China wiped out tens of millions in the 19th and 20th centuries. You had to be tough to survive through such horrible times. Yet, how come most Russians and Chinese cannot compete with blacks in sports?

Whether selective breeding was practiced or not by whites, it was at best a secondary factor as to why blacks are so tough and strong. It was due to the 100,000s of yrs of evolution in hot/dangerous/primitive Africa.

It's like this. If you use selective breeding with beagles to produce the biggest/toughest dogs, it's gonna be less effective than if you try selective breeding with pit bulls or dobermans.
If whites had brought Vietnamese or Bolivian Indians to US as slaves, selective breeding might have produced tougher Viets or Bolivians, but they are still not gonna be towering athletes or supertough guys.

Also, the reason why the selective breeding theory doesn't wash is because EVERY slave was valuable in the New World. So, even if a slave wasn't the toughest dude in the world, if he could mate and produce MORE slaves, it was good for the slave master.

Anonymous said...

"Suppose the USA 300 years back took Vietnamese slaves rather than west Africans to work the plantations. Suppose they withstood the same sea crossings and subsequent treatment that west Africans did.
Does anyone really, seriously believe that such a population 300 years hence would engender a population of track and field, sprinting etc super-stars?"

Exactly. Death rates were high for the Chinese who worked on the railroad, and the weak tended to die from exhaustion. And it was even worse for the Chinese back in their homeland who worked under even worse conditions under both their own people and under the Japanese. And Chinese elites routinely used 'corvee labor' to force Chinese masses to labor on stuff like building the Great Wall of China where 100,000s or even millions perished. So, the weak must have gotten weeded out. But Chinese are a bunch of geeks.

If anything, at least in the US among New World colonies, many more blacks lived than died than in the Old World of Africa. Instead of a 'weeding out' process, there was a 'feeding in' process. In Africa, many died from starvation, wild animals, disease, and etc. But relatively speaking, many more survived in the US because living conditions even under slavery were far more humane than in Africa. So, if anything, many blacks who would have died in the Old World lived on the US. Of course, not all New World colonies were the same, and not all forms of slaveries were as humane--relatively speaking--as the one in the American south.

Anonymous said...

"Jeremy Wariner was a contender, but I don't think, at 28, he's got enuf in his tank to beat LaShawn Merritt in the individual 400 meter dash."

Wariner was consistently better than Merritt. Both were very slender. Then Merritt got massively jacked all of a sudden and became better than Wariner. Then he got caught and suspended for PEDs. Now his suspension is over and he's still massively jacked. He's also still better than Wariner. He must have better masking agents now.

Anonymous said...

Is it naive of me (a non-scientist) to think that some of these hypotheses about African black genes vs. American black genes could be tested pretty easily with modern research techniques, if someone were willing to fund such research and do it?

- A Solid Citizen

Anonymous said...

"And Chinese elites routinely used 'corvee labor' to force Chinese masses to labor on stuff like building the Great Wall of China where 100,000s or even millions perished. So, the weak must have gotten weeded out. But Chinese are a bunch of geeks."

Korean War. Chinese masses sent US military back across the line. That was tough.

look again said...

"in Louisiana, at least, almost a quarter of the slaves were owned by other blacks."

white slave-owners in the past and youfs today. Generalizing about how not to generalize racially also be raciss."

I know someone who traced their ancestry in the gulf area. A female ancestor, five greats back, was black (not mulatto, black), and inherited slaves from her common law, white "husband." She lived into her 90s. Many of her descendents owned slaves right up to the civil war, which bankrupted them. Mulattos owned the biggest slaughterhouse in Mobile, Alabama, as well as much of the hotel property.