This is a letter I wanted to send out to the BBC by post but decided to keep things as fast paced as possible and so I used the internet to complain. I was only allowed 1500 characters to write my complaint so I had to condense everything (thanks Twitter for that useful skill).
I have decided to post this letter. I didn’t want to let it go to waste (even though the BBC is not going to see this).
The segment on Survival of the Fittest shown on Thursday 9th of August (during the evening London 2012 ahtletics programming) was offensive. The segment suggested that black athletes do not work hard enough for their success, but rather rely on their genes to succeed at the sport. This is completely false and dismisses their achievements.
The segment provided no balanced view, but a rather one-sided scientific (and eugenicist) view on black athletes and their achievements.
Michael Johnson, the former ‘world’s fastest man’, was one of the only commentators who provided another point of view, which the BBC as a respectable media entity, should have provided in the first place. The sporting culture of Jamaica and other Caribbean countries should have been touched on before, during or after the segment.
As stated by Michael Johnson, track and field (particularly sprinting) is a big part of Jamaican culture. It is the national sport of Jamaica. Children grow up seeing sprinters who look like them and who come from the same neighbourhood as them. People start this sport young and play this sport with their family members and friends. The facilities for track and field are well-invested in and also widely available.
Michael Johnson went on to say that while a genetic predisposition may provide some benefit, it does not necessarily mean you will be successful at said sport. The segment was right in mentioning that ‘we are nowhere near saying that a child with X gene will achieve tremendously at said sport’. However, the segment failed to mention the many other different factors (mainly environmental factors), that also account for the success of black athletes.
The second commentator, Colin Jackson (who took part in the BBC’s The Making Of Me) shared that he has super fast twitch muscles which was then cross referenced with Caribbean and USA athletes. It was found that about 90%+ had the same and that 80% of white European athletes had the same super fast twitch muscle as well. Sprinting ability was then said to be ‘more nurture than nature’. His findings alone makes the claims made in the BBC segment inaccurate.
It appears that when it comes to black athletes, a lot of emphasis is placed on their heritage. Not a day went by (when I watched athletics, which was almost daily) when no mention was made of the Caribbean athletes’ West African heritage. Even during one of the athletics programming of London 2012, West African versus East African athletic abilities was mentioned.
The segment was a let down, as the two segments before that (regarding the infamous 1968 Mexico Olympics black power salute) were powerful and compelling. I do commend the BBC for showing that.
How can we be certain that people of the Caribbean are better than people of West Africa when it comes to track and field? Do they not have better investment and sports culture when it comes to track and field? How can we be certain that West Africans don’t have the same athletic ability?
The segment I’m concerned with, started at Survival of the Fittest and then ended with slavery and how that got rid of the ‘weak genes’ in the black population. I felt that the horrors of slavery was being downplayed because the claims made will give people the impression that without slavery, black athletes wouldn’t have excelled at track and field sports.
These claims are dangerous and insensitive; the horrors of slavery can never be dismissed nor belittled. It was disappointing to see a an almost subtle positive spin being placed on slavery. Furthermore, I found it insulting (the segment and the claims made) as it was suggested that our success is not due to our strong work ethic (which is part of many black peoples nature).
The segment is also offensive to other races. This is because it suggests that people of other races can’t possibly achieve tremendous results when doing track and field. This can result in less people exploring track and field sports, even when they have the means to succeed at it. Talent will be lost because people will think they’re at the mercy of their genes.
Why should the achievement and domination of sprinting events by black people and only one fast French man be questioned? Since sprinting has been a popular sport for many black people for many decades, why is it no surprise that many black people play this sport and do well at it?
Why is the success of white athletes in particular sports such as swimming, cycling and sailing not questioned? Surely it would be balanced if the BBC had segments on why white athletes achieve wonderfully at these sports?
To conclude, a scientific point of view in sports takes away from the athletes achievement because any achievement made, will be down to their genetics. Athletes’ hard work, passion and perhaps talent is being downplayed and not seen as a major factor in their achievement.
The segment presented a dangerous claim; a claim that could open the door to many genetic studies which can include a search for the ‘intelligence gene’ and the prevalence of it between different races. This will create a further divide between other races and some races will be deemed more superior than others.
The claims mentioned in the segment will also create an elitism about the sport; only the people with the desired genes will be encouraged to compete; leaving no room for athletes who work hard enough and who also deserve a spot at the Olympics.
The segment is biased; it promoted a eugenicist and Darwinist point of view and had no balance. No mention of other factors which may affect an athletes’ athletic ability was made. We had to rely on the commentators for the other point of views.
The segment was ignorant; there was no mention of how hard black athletes have to work. No mention of any work ethic, diet, sporting facilities etc., was made. This double standard is quite clear because the Chinese athletes are always presented as hard working individuals (as seen in previous BBC documentaries/segments about Chinese athletes). Black people have a strong work ethic as well.
The claims made have not been researched as of yet. No published studies confirms any of the claims. However, the segment was right to say that it was just a ‘suggestion’ and that it has to be approached with some ‘skepticism’.
Why do black athletes always require scientific backing behind their success? Why does the BBC endorse this? It appears that our success as black people is always being dismissed and downplayed. As a black woman, this offends me.