Wednesday, January 25, 2006

As Heard in Class This Week....

In my night class this week (read: non-traditional age students) we were talking about the Jim Crow South. I think we must have been talking about Booker T. Washington and his advocacy of a trade-based education (i.e. put freed slaves to work learning trades and farming). One student raised his hand and asked if, during slavery, slave owners tried to breed the strongest and best slaves. I told him that, yes, some slave owners did express interest in "breeding" (for example, purchasing female slaves known to be good "breeders") and that the horrendous conditions of the Middle Passage and slavery itself might have worked to create something of a "survival of the fittest" dynamic. But no, I didn't know of any systematic approach to "breeding," especially since they didn't understand how and which traits would be passed.

But this student wouldn't drop it. Apparently he wanted me to agree that the "strongest and most muscular" African-Americans had been bred during slavery because it would explain "why they're so good at sports." There are two women in the class who took my US I class last semester and they looked quite amused, wondering how I was going to handle this one! So, in the heat of the moment, I think I did pretty well. I told him that I did not believe that was true. For one, slavery happened many years ago and I'm not sure we can draw any causation from that, even if such "breeding" occurred. But more importantly, I don't think it is true to say that African-Americans are "good at sports" because they may predominate and succeed in certain sports. Why are almost all swimmers, tennis players, and golfers white? (Tiger Woods notwithstanding.) I suggested to the student that perhaps socio-economic factors served to concentrate African-Americans in certain "cheap" sports (tossing around a basketball) rather than sports that require memberships in certain swim or tennis clubs -- which both cost money and have historically excluded African-American members. Sadly, the student didn't seem to buy it, but the rest of the class nodded as if that made sense. As always, with teaching, forward progress can be slow...

Any thoughts?

8 Comments:

At 10:45 AM, Anonymous New Kid on the Hallway said...

Um, that I'm glad I don't teach US history?? ;-)

Seriously, your response sounds great to me, and I doubt ANYTHING is going to reach this student! I think it's good that the other students responded positively - they're probably the only ones who will benefit from the discussion. (sorry to sound cynical!)

 
At 12:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, one of your OSH friends (i'm sure you can figure it out) thinks you gave a great response. You could also point out to the student that training and access to equipment notwithstanding, sports is one of the few arenas where you are measured by your ability. Getting into college, getting a job, getting elected, all other avenues of power involve abilities that can be clouded by class standing and racial privelege. Who can run the fastest 50 yd dash is more purely objective. So early on black athletes shone in boxing (Jack Johnson) and track and field events (Jesse Owens) and other sports that required little more than decent shoes. You are nail-on right that this is why black athletes traditionally have not dominated sports where more equipment and training is desireable, such as, you know, polo. Also, because of the traditional lack of employment for black men, they were more concentrated in sports as one of the few places they could excel. Think of all the white men of privelege who were probably fine athletes and dominated football or rowing or whatever at the Ivy Leagues but opted instead to be a stockbroker or politician. They had choices. For many black kids in poor families, the hoops might be the only ticket out of poverty. The dominance of black athletes has more to do with social and economic conditions throughout history than with genetics. Think of "the cat" and her crowding thesis concerning women. People used to say women were "natural" secretaries because of their nimble fingers and other biological determinist bullshit. But really, it was because women had fewer job choices. People like biological explanations because it takes us as a society off the hook. We don't have to grapple with the legacies of sexism and racism, we just blame Mother Nature. So, we don't need to change our behavior. If however we can see how historical prejudices have created present-day conditions, then we can realize we have the power, nay, the duty, to change them. Yes, I said nay. Anyone have a problem with that?

 
At 7:18 AM, Anonymous dave s said...

couple things: first off, here is a long article by Steve Sailer (widely hated on the left, as I am sure you will quickly figure out) suggesting that there are differences, and they play into relative success rates in athletics:

http://www.isteve.com/blackath.htm

As for the specific notion of breeding programs - ridiculous. Here is your 'teaching moment' from this guy - you could have talked about just how hideous the conditions for black slaves were. They died a lot - they were worked to death, or when they fell ill of something which ought not have killed them, they had bad care and died. They didn't reproduce themselves, across most of the south. This is why the South continued, long past when it was illegal, smuggled in slaves from Africa: there was no natural increase. And you can't breed for a trait if all your stock keeps dying on you. For any kind of breeding program to have been plausible, it would have had to go on for a very long time, with the chosen 'stock' actually being favored. Think about breeding of dogs, or cattle, or chickens: meticulous record keeping, many generations watched, etc. None of that could be in place in a population which could not reproduce itself.

 
At 4:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very nice site!
» »

 
At 12:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent, love it! 2005 subaru legacy gt review Tips improving credit score Compare phentermine tenuate consumer reviews Lot swelling brusing rhinoplasty surgery subaru dealerships What is the shelf life of allegra Complete bodybuilding Lesbians and lingerie Power gate openers fort worth http://www.blonde-hot.info/Hentai-mangas-filme-manga-hentaitentacle.html wholsaleer origami flowers Provigil and street drug 1993 subaru impreza rocker covers http://www.1951-buick-lesabre.info Marina del rey fishing Used+sharper+image+answering+machine

 
At 9:10 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been looking for sites like this for a long time. Thank you! »

 
At 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very cool design! Useful information. Go on! »

 
At 5:59 PM, Blogger doglas markel said...

The monthly payments {is thusmetimes|is usually|is typically} startup in connectedness eight so you will twelve bi-weekly obligations, or presumptively if your home mortgage is determined by your social steadiness earnings, subsequently check cashing in norman ok you will really merely regime your repayments for being caused by three to four month-to-month payments. consistently planned obligations aid to form a lessened scrutinize total that's the larger escort your money.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home