Letter to the editor

I am writing in response to the article in the November 15th issue of Trojan Matters, titled “Ethnicity Does Not Always Equal Athletic Ability.”  This article sadly continues the long tradition of attributing certain aptitudes to different groups based on a faulty understanding of genetics. This tradition has often been used as a way to justify racist institutions.
In the first paragraph, the author states that “Kenyans are amazing runners, Chinese are superior divers, and African-Americans are skilled at basketball.”  The term”ethnicity” is used to justify these generalities.  Although the Chinese and Kenyan national teams have been very successful in these events, these are nations, made up of many different groups of people.  It is difficult to understand what is meant by ”ethnicity” in this context.
In addition, the term “African-American” is entirely a social construct.  The stereotype of “African-Americans” being better athletes has its roots in the justification of slavery during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.  The argument that people with a darker skin tone are physically superior was used to justify forcing them into physical labor.  The insidious corollary of this, of course, is that lighter skinned people are more mentally capable, and therefore should be in power.  While I am sure the author would recognize the latter as lacking any scientific justification, somehow the former argument, although just as faulty and dangerous, has persisted.
Unfortunately, as in the example of the Kenyan runners, some are still using bad science to justify these racist intentions.  Just as skull size was used during the 1920’s eugenics movement to justify discriminatory practices, some are still attempting to find “genetic” differences that lead to abilities, be it leg size or lung capacity.  Angela Saini, a scientist and journalist recently wrote in Nature Magazine, “Racist ‘science’ must be seen for what it is: a way of rationalizing long-standing prejudices, to prop up a particular vision of society as racists would like it to be. It is about power. This is why, historically, work claiming to show deep racial differences has been of dismal quality.”  Nature 571, 474-475 (2019)
Perhaps the most troubling line in the Trojan Matters article was in the part about a track runner at Strake Jesuit College Prep in Houston.  The author states, “Without knowing his ethnicity, people might assume he is African-American, but actually he is white.”  One should never assume to know the color of a person’s skin based on any kind of ability.  The idea that skin color can be predictive of any competence, either physical or cognitive, is the underpinning of all racist belief. Kelly Williams-Ihlendorf

Editor’s note: It was never our intention to intimate any racism behind this article. We discussed doing the exact opposite. As a student-written publication, we try to put out the best publication we can each month. We appreciate your expression in this letter to the editor.