Nothing wrong with racial stereotypes

Matthew Sayed is a fine sports writer. But ‘sports’ is an indispensable modifier.

Alas, these days popularised expertise in one field is automatically accepted as a qualification in any other in which the expert chooses to express himself. Yet anyone immune to the gravitational pull of celebrity realises that, outside their own bailiwick, such intrepid chaps are usually found out.

Mr Sayed’s article in today’s Times is a case in point. He starts with sports and then strikes out into concepts he doesn’t properly understand.

“Why Romelu Lukaku Chant is Simply Offensive,” is the peg on which Mr Sayed hangs his holier-than-thou vestments of a paid-up bien pensant. The chant in question refers to the size of the black footballer’s genitals, which offends the author.

It’s indeed offensive, regardless of the truth of the underlying assumption. But vulgar banter in the stands doesn’t really merit serious discussion, never mind an attempt at inductive analysis leading to far-reaching conclusions.

Yet this is precisely what Mr Sayed attempts. He argues that, since the chanters probably have been unable to ascertain personally the size of Mr Lukaku’s manhood, they proceed from a stereotypical assumption.

True, but another stereotype he decries, disproportionate representation of blacks in many sports, is rather more empirically provable. That doesn’t bother Mr Sayed. Essentially he denies the existence of any racial characteristics, other than the undeniable chromatic ones. Just look at long-distance runners, he suggests.

It’s easy to form the misapprehension that blacks are better at it than whites. Yet a closer examination reveals that most of those Olympians aren’t any old blacks. They come specifically from Kenya – and not just from Kenya but a small part of it, “a tiny pinprick on the map of Africa.”

If I were Ethiopian, I’d be offended. What about Abebe Bikila who won two Olympic marathons? And other great Olympic champions from the same parts?

Also, looking at other sports, what about the NBA and the NFL in America, both dominated by black athletes? What about the preponderance of black footballers in England, France, Holland and elsewhere? What about the NBA cliché “white men can’t jump”, an observation that also applies to most jumping events in athletics?

“The logical fallacy is not hard to detect,” writes Mr Sayed. “When we see black people with a particular trait, it is easy to assume that this trait is shared by all people with black skin.”

Only for an idiot. And the logical fallacy is all Mr Sayed’s. No trait, other than the German propensity for lavatorial humour, is shared by all or even most people in the same group. Group characteristics of any kind reflect not totalities but averages.

As such, they’re meaningless when applied to every single person, but – if statistically valid – meaningful when talking about general tendencies. Yet Mr Sayed will have none of that.

“[Assumption of racial differences] underpinned slavery, miscegenation, aspects of Nazism, certain forms of eugenics and many other more subtle ways of organising human society along racial lines. It underpinned Jim Crow segregation until 1964 and the prohibition on interracial marriage in the southern states of America until 1967. It also formed the basis of apartheid South Africa, which lasted until 1991.”

All true – but none of this means that no racial differences exist. It only means that evil people may use good statistics and accurate observations to draw bad conclusions, namely that some races should be oppressed. If I were Mr Sayed, I wouldn’t mention logical fallacies.

But of course he proceeds not from sound reason but from a corrupt ideological premise, which he goes on to prove: “One of the great objectives of the Enlightenment was treating people as individuals.”

At first glance this doesn’t quite tally with mass murder by category, which is such an endearing feature of post-Enlightenment modernity. Neither does it tally with the class view of society, which is again a product of Enlightenment thought. Nor does it explain how the USA, the first nation constituted strictly on the Enlightenment principles, saw for the next two centuries no contradiction between them and the practices that rile Mr Sayed so.

The distinction that escapes Mr Sayed – to be fair, he isn’t the only one – is one between persons and individuals. The first is quintessentially Judaeo-Christian; the second, modern.

Our civilisation is founded on the understanding that all persons are created in the image and likeness of God. This is the basis of the only true equality, that before God. All men are brothers because they all have the same father – this truth created a natural kinship that dwarfed the petty inequalities of earthly existence.

The Enlightenment, a misnomer if I’ve ever heard one, represented a frontal assault on Christendom, an attempt to destroy most of its premises and pervert others. One such perversion was replacing the true equality of persons with the demonstrably bogus equality of individuals.

For individuals aren’t, nor can ever be, equal. Contrary to the Enlightenment fallacy in The Declaration of Independence, all men are created unequal physically, intellectually, morally, socially. The quotidian world is propped up by hierarchies of both individuals and groups – a ladder in which some occupy higher rungs than others.

This is a natural state of affairs, and it can only be changed by unnatural, coercive means. Hence every regime inscribing equality of individuals on its banners ends up killing a lot of individuals – even the US doesn’t escape this observation if we add up the casualty counts of two acts in the same play, the Revolution and the Civil War.

Someone with the lifeblood of our civilisation coursing through his spiritual veins would notice the obvious differences among various races, and he may even find them mildly interesting. But ultimately he’d dismiss them as irrelevant, adding nothing to his understanding of the world or his judgement of the people in it.

But for someone who, like Mr Sayed, is thoroughly indoctrinated with Enlightenment nonsense, such differences constitute an affront to his whole worldview. That’s why he’s prepared to deny the obvious, bending both facts and logic out of shape as he goes along.

If you can stand a piece of avuncular advice, Matthew, stick to sports. You’re bloody brilliant there.

7 thoughts on “Nothing wrong with racial stereotypes”

  1. To quote John Steinbeck in his classic novel “The Grapes of Wrath”:

    There I spied a figure with a trigger that was bigger
    Than an elephant’s proboscis
    Or the whanger of a whale.

    Except he didn’t write “figure”, which would not have truly rhymed, anyway.

    And to quote another alleged American ‘bard’ – ” … the times they are a-changing”.

  2. Some good points there, Mr. Boot, but I can’t help thinking that you miss the obvious point. Whereas Mr. Syed, being of Pakistani/Welsh heritage, is probably used to dealing with racial stereotypes, this particular stereotype regarding Mr. Lukaku does not apply to Pakistanis or Welshmen. This is a simple case of envy finding an outlet in political posturing.

  3. Whenever I hear the word ‘stereotype’, I think of my 8th grade Power Shop 101 instructor, Mr. Walter – Korean War vet, expert electrician, and master mechanic for the internal combustion engine and its transmission.
    Eighth grade for me was 1984 (no pun intended), yet even then, the American public school system forced us to set aside our work smocks and welding visors for, oh, I forget what it was called then. Certainly not sensitivity training.
    When asked what a stereotype is, I answerd Sony. Or, Onkyo, if you had a few extra hundred dollars to hear Madonna warble on about what a “virgin” she was “like” in much sharper audio clarity.

    The glib in me is dying to say that sterotypes come about largely because they’re true. My father’s name is O’Rourke and my mother’s name is Passarello: I must be Catholic, right? DING DING DING – Correct!
    BONUS POINTS for the contestant who guessed my parents remained together. There’s that old Catholic stuff again.
    But I always looked at being assumed axiomatically as Catholic as a badge of honor. Anyway…

    EXCELLENT insights as usual, AB. I confess that my daily e-mail ring brightens the moment with giddy expectation of your wisdom.

    1. Thank you yet again – and long live stereotypes. Yet come to think of it, they don’t always apply. For example, though I’m from Russia I neither beat my wife nor launder my money before putting it into the bank.

      1. Until the Russian boxers turned professional the adage among the betting crowd was: “don’t ever bet on the white guy.” Times they-are-a-changing. YES!

  4. This “Also, looking at other sports, what about the NBA and the NFL in America, both dominated by black athletes? What about the preponderance of black footballers in England, France, Holland and elsewhere?”
    However that could change over time. Look at cricket dominated by the west indies (black) in the 1970s – early 1990s but now they are useless.
    A racial difference could be a statistical blip.

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