“Is it wrong to note 100m winners are always black?”
I start by saying that this is not my phrase, but the headline question of Matthew Syed, former UK professional table tennis player and now BBC journalist who also writes in The Times. Perhaps before reading the blog, I ask you to spend a few minutes reading Mr Syed’s excellent article (just follow this link).
He presents facts to answer the question which are undeniable, but like all statistics need to be analysed a little more closely before a conclusion can be reached. The figures state that with the exception of one athlete, all the finalists in the last ten 100 metre World Championships have been black – compelling evidence indeed that might lead us to believe that black people make faster sprinters. Furthermore, he goes on to say that Kenyan athletes have won 63 medals at the Olympic Games in middle and long distance racing (with 21 gold) since 1968, suggesting further evidence about black people and running. I can add that, during the same period, Ethiopian runners have also amassed 36 medals for similar races.
Hopefully, by now you will have read the article, because it goes on to disprove the hypothesis. It warns us from jumping to the apparently obvious conclusion and proposes that this is a symptom of the ongoing racism that still exists in our society. Perhaps here I should quote the article
“Imagine a similar argument using the Central African Bambuti, a black tribe more commonly known as Pygmies. With an average height of 4ft we could assert that the Bambuti are naturally better at walking under low doors. Would it be legitimate to extrapolate that black people in general have a natural advantage at walking under low doors?
“Our tendency to generalise rests on a deeper fallacy – the idea that “black” refers to a genetic type. We put people of dark skin in a box labelled black and assume that a trait shared by some is shared by all.
“The truth is rather different. There is far more genetic variation within racial groups (around 85%) than there is between racial groups (just 15%). Indeed, surface appearance is often a highly misleading way of assessing the genetic distance between populations”.
Even though evidence is there to suggest that black athletes make faster runners, we must be watchful about making an assumption that black people (all) are faster runners than white people (all). If we do that, we expose ourselves to the risk of making other incorrect assumptions about genetic and racial characteristics. By so doing, we certainly will be reinforcing the stereotypes that plague our societies and often lead to prejudice, discrimination and the potential of self-fulfilling prophesies.
So I go back to the question – is it wrong to note that 100 metre athletes are black? No, it is natural to note the fact, but we must be aware of making a judgement from it. Too often we make simple judgements from the facts as we see them, or presume them to be, when they are often to be proven incorrect in the long run. Then, we expose ourselves to our inner prejudice and bias.
It is the acknowledgement of our own prejudices and how we function with them that represents a major part of the “Working with Difference” model that Equality Edge delivers through workshops and coaching. Knowing ourselves and the impact our personal differences and individuality have on our behaviour is the starting point of improving our communication with others.
When the “Working with Difference model is introduced into the workplace our relationships with managers, colleagues and customers improve.