Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Wanker of the Day

Jeff Greenfield.

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST (voice-over): If you don't notice that the great majority of NBA players are black, you almost surely have a vision problem. More than 75 percent of the players are African American.

You might also notice that in general, in general, black ballplayers play a different style of game than their white counterparts. The dribbles, the drives, the slam dunks just don't seem the same.

But does this tell us anything about genetic hard-wired distinctions? That's at best an Olympic-sized leap. And, speaking of the Olympics, ever since 1968, the marathon run at the Olympics and just about everywhere else has been dominated by the Kenyans, specifically Kenyans who come from the Calingen (ph) tribe.

Altitude, diet, tradition, socioeconomic factors explain much but an article in a scientific journal last fall says that such success also points to a possible genetic component. Now, does that make you a bit uncomfortable?

Or, what about the fact that as biologist David Page (ph) has written, the genetic difference between males and females absolutely dwarfs all other differences in the human genome and that one of the most obvious differences is that the average man is substantially stronger than the average woman. (on camera): We're uneasy about such assertions because we know our past when so-called experts blithely asserted complete falsehoods about racial, gender and ethnic differences designed to perpetuate, even encourage blatant discrimination.

Jews were not as smart as gentiles. Blacks were genetically linked to primates. Women were incapable of rational thought. They were also said, by the way, to be incapable of sexual enjoyment.

(voice-over): So, no wonder Harvard President Larry Sommers got into hot water for suggesting that innate differences might explain the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) of women among professional scientists or engineers. The problem lies in the fear that acknowledging these differences could lead to certain social policies.

For instance, if most women are weaker than most men, it tells you absolutely nothing about allowing women to be firefighters but it may mean there will be a lot fewer women in the ranks. In New York City where women have been taking the same test as men for more than a decade, there are 28 females in a force of more than 11,000.

By contrast, the U.S. Army holds men and women to distinctly different standards. A 21-year-old man must to at least 40 pushups, for women it's 19, gender-norming critics call this. No women in combat units, the brass reminds them, so maybe the tests don't have to be exactly the same.

But this discussion gets even more intense in matters of race. Why do black students tend to under perform in academic settings even when those students come from affluent, stable families?

Peer pressure not to achieve, the legacy of discrimination, low expectations from their teachers that could undermine their own self- confidence? And, if we acknowledge this, does that somehow imply that everything from affirmative action to outreach programs are doomed to failure?

We live in a time when we're fully prepared to acknowledge, even laugh about differences in how we walk and talk and mate and pray and raise our kids but the whole conversation is so loaded with our knowledge of past ugliness it's no wonder we approach the topic as though we were walking through a minefield.

Jeff Greenfield, CNN, New York.