It Is Not In Our Genes

I often want to blog about real things said/done by real people. By real people I mean those I interact with. By real things I mean those things that some people do or say that are so incredibly stupid/outlandish/bizarre that had I not witnessed it I would struggle to believe it possible.

The only thing that stops me is the fact that I have great difficulty in using my non-anonymous blog to effectively bitch/ridicule/put down those I interact with. This is why I am so grateful to Endemol, the creators of Big Brother UK for providing me with real people. Granted the contestants are not people that I interact with but the very nature of the show means that the contestants are chosen because they represent aspects of society. The things they say or do (especially when not aware of the cameras) are things that real people say or do.

Which leads me on to last week’s Big Brother’s stupid statement, which came from the former teacher and 1996 winner of Most Handsome Man in Italy, Roberto. Roberto began a lengthy monologue on black people’s physiological superiority as reason why they excel in sports. At one point, Science, a black contestant joined the conversation briefly but soon left after Roberto began explaining how Science’s nostrils were perfect for absorbing oxygen while taking part in sports!! Science gave Roberto one look and walked away in silence

For a split second I was mad at Science for not ‘fighting for the cause’ and speaking his mind. Then I thought back to the many times when I had been in similar situations. More than once I have been in the company of at least one white person who has turned to me and commented on how better equipped we are at all things physicals, that we are just natural at boxing, running, jumping. Often it is said in a light hearted manner, in the middle of a light hearted social event. In wanting to keep the atmosphere I have found myself looking away and changing topics. I do this not because I lack the words to speak my mind but because such comments are rooted in racist mythology that has been recited too many times. These myths have become so engrained especially in white western minds that it is now considered fact. Many of those who hold these ideas to be true do not even know the origin of these myths and any attempt to set them straight is usually met with accusations of playing the race card.

Of course I could on so many occasions have easily responded by pointing out that no athlete gets by on physical ability alone. To imply that we as black people rely solely on our genetic make up to see us to the finish line undermines the great deal of mental and psychological preparation that our successful athletes have to endure. I know though, that there is no way I could say all this and let it end there.

If I had it my way I would start by pointing out that the slave masters used the very same “black’s are physiologically superiorâ€? argument as they lined up our ancestors along with the mules and oxen for sale into a life of manual labour in the fields. Then again I know that this response shall be met with, “why can’t you guys just move on from that whole slavery thing, I am not responsible for what my ancestors did“.

In an attempt to draw on more recent experiences I would then try and remind them of the many times that they have told me that my brothers were ‘hung like a horse’ and my sisters were ‘buck wild in bed’. Letting them see that it is this focus on our physiology that has allowed our sexuality to be constructed as animalistic and dangerous. Undoubtedly there shall be more than one white man who will declare that he would love to have women taking about the huge size of his penis. Possibly even one ‘sexually liberated’ white woman who shall ask “…and what is so wrong with being called wild in bed?

Moving away from sex I would highlight the many times that young black students have been pushed away from academics by tutors and career advisors. These same students are encouraged to devote their time to sports, since after all; they shall find it much easier than algebra. Ha! I know that the one person, usually the one with three Oxbridge degrees shall ‘jokingly’ comment that s/he “would love that bling lifestyle that those NBA players live” The word ‘bling’ clearly used to show me that they are down with my lingo.

Getting more pissed off I would have to mention that it is this same crap about our bodies that has led to the production of the Masai Barefoot Technology (sic) shoes. Because, apparently the Maasai physiology is so superior that they never develop back aches and that this trait can be transformed and packaged into an (anti) shoe. This argument shall of course be silenced by happy customers screaming at me “but the shoes work, my back doesn’t hurt anymore!

As a last resort I would be forced to point out that maybe they should spend time reading Frantz Fanon or even Ian F Haney Lopez who put it so well when he said,

There are no genetic characteristics possessed by all Blacks but not by non- Blacks; similarly, there is no gene or cluster of genes common to all Whites but not to non-Whites. [Full text here]

Though I can easily predict that at least one person will accuse me of being elitist because I have chosen to rely on texts that the ‘common man’ does not read and then a few others will tell me that I don’t need to take everything so seriously. Someone will ask, “why does everything have to be about racism?� Someone else, usually the person who made the comment in first place will probably say “Chill out, this is a party and now it’s your turn to by the drinks�

That is why, when Science walked away from Roberto, without uttering a word, I did not get mad. I realised the look he gave Roberto, his silence and most importantly his decision to leave the conversation spoke volumes. He his actions captured everything goes through my head when I am faced statements like the one made by Roberto:

Just because you choose to exercise your right to spout bullshit do not expect me to jump in and attempt to wade through it.


  1. says

    I agree. And if Frantz Fanon isn’t something everyone reads, then gosh darn it should be! As for idiots, I read on a blog recently the correct spelling of the sound of clicking your tongue, but can’t remember it just now. That seems to be the only comment possible before the silent look of contempt and walking away.

  2. says

    Great stuff once again MJY. I may be wrong, but I seem to think I heard (wasnt even in the room, so I stand corrected (Sunday on BBLB) Mary being asked about the gals in the house. And she said something to the effect “Makosi is ……..but scary”, – I think my brain switched off at that specific moment. I too get angry when a “non-black” person tries explaining black to me.

  3. says

    What I hate most about teaching is having to wade through the racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic bullshit that is repeated to my face time after time. It’s exhausting, frustrating, saddening, and at the end it’s scary to think about how easily this sort of nonsense rolls off their tongue…

  4. Msanii_XL says

    Powerful post….the whole using linog to show how they are down is the worst of it…i worked with his chic who was nice but she used to try too hard..the “just playing” and the “just kidding” got too much for me.

    p.s. I like how you highlighted the obvious responses you get when such stuff comes up

  5. says

    fantastic post. usually its just best to walk away from such daftness, cos you either “take yourself too seriously” or “have some residual racism” from god knows where. and i like the last comment about the bullshit people still have despite their alleged intelligence. again, great blog

  6. Ms K says

    Great post MJY. And I’m with Science on that one. The sad thing is these stereotypes/crap are perpetuated for almost every social grouping. Kikuyus like money, Maasai’s are well hung. Its curious how people will always come up with some sort of crap about people who are different from them.

    Great post. Will read Frantz Fanon ASAP

  7. says

    @ Ms K – I havent heard of that one of ‘Maasai’s are well hung’ LOL- My dad is half Maasai, so if I was a dude…. *walking away before MJY starts throwing stones*

  8. says

    Sometimes is best to silence them with your silence.

    Most times it’s not worth it to start a heated discussion about racism with a person that says ‘I’m not a racist, I do have black (or white) friends’. (clearly a racist statement)

  9. says

    Much as I agree with on the need to take the ‘silence speaks volumes’ stance at times, kui, it is also necessary to tell a person off. Some people are just too dim to understand and you would need to spell it out for them.

  10. Shobali says

    Auuuuuuwiiii! lovely post MJY,
    You have ignited a fire in my bones!
    Having watched “Journey of Man” by Dr Spencer Wells (google it if you want more info) who genetically proved that all human beings are of African descent , I now consider people that make racist comments to be either arrogant, ignorant or both.
    I’ve had to confront some people who didn’t seem to take a hint whenever I “took the silence speaks volume” approach.
    anyway, good post -2 thumbs up and 10 toes up too on this one!

  11. chepkemboi says

    Great post Kui, i really understand what you’re saying. But, I’m also with Mshairi on this one. Some of these people really need to be put in their place and set right, because the subtleties of a look and silence will most certainly be lost on them.

    These days I don’t hesitate to spoil a nice social atmosphere to set some ignorant person right. It’s not always easy and it’s not fun, and one comes out as beeing too sensitive/serious (in Switzerland, if you mention racism you’ll be accused of being too sensitive….whatever that means), but like I said above, I simply don’t care anymore.

    Before I blog on your blog, let me go.

  12. says

    1.actually at times sayin nothing speaks volumes
    2.Many people who have thousands of excuses of why we are better are trying to hide their inadequacies by cheap comments…no one likes to admit that someone is successful or better (physically or materially)because of hardwork…they’ll always be a cheap shot be it racist, or “their dad has money” or “they are stealing”

    as easy as it is for u to get pissed-i always ignore such comments…surely what does someone’s nostrils have to do with anything.for cryin out loud O2 is not absorbed in the nose!

    let them sterotype-ignorance is bliss

    3.As for the hung like a mule(giggle giggle)
    all quote a cheap line from White Chicks

    “once u go black, ur gonna need a wheel chair!!”

  13. says

    Those genetic arguments are not only fundamentally flawed but they’ve been dangerous to us; like you said the flipside of the same coin (of the athletic black stereotype or the singing/ dancing “in the genes” stereotype) is the stereotype that intellectual stuff is “not for us.” Btw I love Fanon too, he’s a must-read for anyone and everyone, and the way the jamaa wrote was just mwaa; siku moja when I jua French totally I’ll read his books as he wrote.

  14. says

    Awesome post…….@guess, lol! Maasai have taken the cake, as have in general westeners…! And if u were a dude….. lets just leave that issue alone…. lol

  15. says

    I kept nodding as I read your post many times wished it had appeared in the NY Post or the Washington Post, but well, how many people bother to read newspapers these days? I guess blogs are becoming the new print media:)

    On several occasions I’ve felt no shame in responding to the “…get over it” comment by putting up a straight face & saying “my people will get over it the day our Jewish brethren get over the Holocaust”. If they want anyone to believe that Africans or pple of African descent are physically/genetically advantaged at some tasks then we all better the old nasty joke about blondes being daft beyond imagination.
    Thanks for sharing yet another thought-provoking post Kui.
    It’s the 21st Century, didn’t some people get the memo…?

  16. says

    OMG!!! KUI!!! You have to read my post from today. LOL You won’t believe what it’s about. Hilarious.

    Girl you “know” me… so you know this type of shit makes me SICK!!! But I’ve learned that sometimes, it’s best to be quiet and let the other person prove themselves to be a fool… I think I would especially feel that way if my words were going to be broadcast nationally and were held at an editor’s mercy. *shaking head* And ironically… I’ve been seeing the same quote pop up on several bloggers’ sites and it seems apropos with regard to Science’s inertia when that subject came up… the indomitable Jay-Z (LOL) said, “don’t argue with fools… cuz from a distance people can’t tell who is who.” I know that’s right. So I almost kinda respect Science for bowing out of getting into an argument over ignorance.

    But you are sooooooo right on all counts woman… I need to steal some of these for my LIST!!! DAMN I didn’t think of these!!! LOL

    Love ya!!! =) *hugs*

  17. says

    From what you are saying, athletes of all races are equal. Therefore, the reason that black sportsmen are so successful in western countries in particular – where they make up far less than 10% of the male population – can only be due to their relative overacheivement. What then would you suggest as the cause of the massive disparities in athletic acheivement between races?

    Check out the 100m record holders since Jesse Owens (culminating with Asafa Powell) and suggest a theory to explain the obvious athletic dominance of western black folk in a simple, short sprint. Or the dominance of Eastern African black men in middle/long distance running.

    I’m not suggesting that Roberto was completely right (The nostril thing was disproved long ago) but that your reluctance to wade through his opinion, doesn’t summarily make it bullshit.

    Black people were slaves for 400+ yrs. During this time they were selectively force-bred (like racehorses). Do you really believe that there were no discernible consequences to this unnatural selection process?

  18. says

    (Oops…should’ve checked before i posted.) In the last paragraph, i don’t literally mean all black people. I was just being lazy – i hope you got my gist. It actually annoys me when ‘we’ are all bunched into undescriptive terms like that.

  19. anon. says

    nosa, i know where u got ur argument from and i would just like to point out that Chris Rock is a comedian.. he makes stupid racist jokes for a living!

  20. says

    It is easier to be critical than to be correct.

    What is stupid or racist about saying that black males and females were enslaved and forcibly-bred for over 400 years? What is stupid or racist about suggesting that selective breeding has biological consequences?
    You don’t know what you think you know…my argument has far more to do with Charles Darwin than with Chris Rock (although i liked the stand-up show you were refering to!).

    Seeing as you dislike stupidity and racism…I really wonder what your answer would be to this question i asked before: “What then would you suggest as the cause of the massive disparities in athletic acheivement between races?”

  21. uaridi says

    In a uni I went to, the phys. ed teacher simply hated me because I LOATH running and all that keep fit junk and could not be bothered to take part in more than the basic minimum. He had three Kenyan runners and had hoped to find a woman runner!!!.

    Most Kenyan runners excell because of their environment. They grow up in high altitudes and thus develop larger lung capacities and are able to hold more air (or some such biochemical stuff)

  22. Mirie says

    Really good post. I am a Kenyan living in the U.S and I run across a lot of the same thinking. Believing in Black physicial superiority and sexual superiority one side of the coin with believing in black intellectual inferiority being the other. This is why those idiots who wrote the Bell Curve could claim that the average IQ in Africa is 75 and be taken seriously in the U.S (80 is borderline retarded!). There are people who I meet and on finding out that I am Kenyan the first thing is “you must be a good runner.” my retort is usually “You must be a good cowboy” if their American and I am in a good mood. Most times, I just ignore them.

    The one thing that is always left out of the argument is economic opportunities. In the mid 1920’s in America, the dominant basketball teams were Jewish/immigrant. What changed since then? Societal groups that have little opportunities in mainstream society (as Jews had in an incredibly ant-semitic 1920’s US) will adapt their strategies to take advantage of the little opportunity that is given to them and for most African Americans the only way out of the ghetto is sports. In addition, the subsequent over representation of the ones who have made it then encourages other minority kids to pour all their energies into said sports.

    Also, as an ‘elitist’ (I have been called that for arguing the whole issue by referring people to books), I always refer people to a number of books (In addition to “Wretched of the Earth” and “Black Skins, white masks’) dealing with the issue.

    Darwin’s Athletes : How Sport Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race – John Hoberman

    The Mismeasure of Man – Stephen Jay Gould

    The Bell Curve Wars: Race, Intelligence, and the Future of America – Steve Fraser

    We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity – Bell Hooks

    I know it is now in September a few months after this blog entry but the whole hurrican Katrina thing and how the media here has potrayed the African Americans in New Orleans (lazy, on welfare and too dumb to get out when told to) got me thinking. Nothing comes for free in this world, and the adulation that African American sports athletes get is but the bait in the trap that closes off other opportunities to them.