Our Unique Constellations

The rise of forefront racial sentiments about innate superiority also saw the rise of perceptions of athletes of different races being stronger and more accustomed, simply by the nature of their race. In 2020, the National Basketball Association — known professionally as the NBA — revealed that 74.2 percent of their basketball athletes were black players (Gough, 2021). At first glance, it’s a surprisingly skewed statistic, however, after closer examination and consideration of what sports Black individuals had access to, it’s understandable how cultural preferences can discourage other races from attempting “black dominant” sports. Sportswriter, Reagon Griffin Jr., highlights how the financial barriers to access are an aspect that many people overlook. “Baseball equipment, golf clubs, and soccer camps aren’t cheap. Given the collective economic state of the African American community, football and basketball are more realistic extracurricular options for many Black families and their children” (Griffin Jr., 2021). Hence, these socioeconomic perceptions shape our social construct and stereotypes leading black kids to grow up believing that “their means of real upward ascension are significantly narrower than that of white kids” (Griffin Jr., 2021).

“The greatest sprinters and basketball players are predominantly black” (Marks, 2000). Notably, this is a common statement many of my colleagues and family have stated, feeding into stereotypes of the racial distribution of abilities. Opinions writer Jonathan Marks examines this public discernment through a handful of steps to infer a genetic basis for differences among races. His solution is to collect genetic data and discover how our society is dependable on physical features and accomplishments in thinking that they’re genetically based (Marks, 2000). In fact, he observes “subtle differences in the conditions of growth and life can affect it [different races] profoundly,” therefore proving how observation isn’t a justifiable solution and that there is no evidence a Black athlete is genetically stronger and faster than a White athlete (Marks, 2000). Marks teaches us that there is greater genetic variation within racial groups than between them and emphasizes how race is a social construction of how there isn’t a genetic basis for race, disproving the socially accepted myth (Marks, 2000).

Moreover, Marks also highlights the book, “Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It”, and critiques the author’s “old-fashioned American anti-intellectualism” perspective on how blacks dominate sports because of their genes. He refutes that there aren’t any genes that have been selected positively to support that athletic performance is influenced by genes and selected among the slave descendent populations to support the myth. Another prominent example is “white men can’t jump” assumed under the high demographics of black athletes in basketball. However, when compared to white individuals in swimming and volleyball — which require the same leg muscles as basketball — blacks aren’t as dominant. This is due to the cultural limitations on access to swimming pools or volleyball courts, evident that there isn’t any genetic advantage that’s common to an entire group for one particular sport. Rather, the skills and muscles are similar among these sports.

In conclusion, the innate illusion sport places onto different races is significantly influenced by cultural preferences and limitations which can discourage races from attempting specific sports. From the perspectives of many anthropologists and critics, it’s evident that race is a social construction of how there isn’t a genetic basis for race. In my opinion, I disagree that natural biological variation amongst races can be used to validate claims of innate racial superiority in athletic competition. Furthermore, I believe it’s unfair to take away the accomplishments of black countries, by stating how success is a genetic effect instead of acknowledging their hard work and skills. Every individual has their unique constellation — or collection of traits — and shouldn’t be undermined by their physical features in thinking that they’re genetically based. As the next Olympic Games approach, I wonder what cultural preferences would be encouraged for specific sports.

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Student @ucsdbiosciences @ucsd_ghp ’22 | Fencer & Referee @usafencing | Researcher @sqatucsd @stanfordmed | #MedEd

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Nathan Jeon

Nathan Jeon

Student @ucsdbiosciences @ucsd_ghp ’22 | Fencer & Referee @usafencing | Researcher @sqatucsd @stanfordmed | #MedEd

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