Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Why America Will Continue to Beat China in Olympic Gold

 Gabby Douglas Hugs her Chinese Coach
The US team bagged 104 medals compared to China’s 88. The Chinese government press, disappointed that their athletes had not achieved a first-ever blowout for China, blamed their second place finish on the differences in physique between Chinese and Americans. The Chinese People’s Daily newspaper, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party grumbled:

The Chinese shouldn’t compete with the United States because Westerners have bigger chests and heads.

 I  was about to dismiss this comment as pure sore-grapes-silliness, when something else occurred to me.  The Chinese may indeed be right, but not in the way they think. 
China has a population of  1.3 billion  compared to the United States’s 311 million.   As the standard of living rises throughout China, their athletes will perform at higher and higher levels.  But America has a unique, historical advantage that no other society can beat, despite the overwhelming population that a country like China enjoys.   It is the genetic benefits that nature bestows on admixed, that is, multi-racial populations.    

Over the years, a lot of racist trash has been piled on the shoulders of  African-American athletes, as though they should feel ashamed of their successes in sports.  However, in a conversation years ago, biogeneticist Joseph Graves got me to thinking.  He suggested that it was not the West African genetic inheritance that has helped blacks excel in athletics.  It is rather the genetic boost created by the melding of two geographically distant populations:  West Africans & Europeans.  After all, genetic studies now show that at least 70 percent and that number may rise as high as 85 percent of black Americans have some degree of European ancestry, regardless of whether their physical appearance suggests the racial mix.   

But what is remarkable about this concept of racial/ethnic admixture, genetic distance and vigorous healthiness in America is that it also pertains to whites marrying whites and blacks marrying blacks.  The reason is this.  Before the advent of slavery in America, dozens of so-called races existed in this country.  People of Irish ancestry intermarried with other people belonging to the "Irish race."  The same can be said for the English, French, Germans, and so forth.  But the institutionalization of slavery created a fundamental social need to distinguish who could and could not be enslaved.  Thus emerged a new, simpler way of categorizing Americans -- white and blacks.   Unlike the ethnically homogeneous populations of European nations, the term "white" in  America meant that the role of specific European ancestry was diminished, so long as whites married whites.  But this signified that the European ethnicities were intermingling and marrying for the first time in their history. The same dynamic worked for so-called "blacks" as well.  Before slavery, a person of African ancestry would tend to define herself as an Ibo, or Mandinka, or Yoruba.  However, slavery changed all that.  It was now socially acceptable for slaves from different African ethnic groups to intermarry.  It was in fact encouraged as a means of reducing the possibility of ethnic cohesion causing slave rebellions. 

But what does this have to do with sports?  All societies have incest taboos because even cave men figured out what biologists  have now clarified with scientific terminology.  Genetic closeness as occurs with mating within families,  allows for the expression of a greater number of harmful recessive genes.   Genetic distance, which often equates with geographic distance, allows for their suppression.  When an  African and a European, or an Asian and African, or European and Asian bear children, it is less likely that the most damaging recessive genes coming from either side of their inheritance will be expressed.   This rather obvious fact of genetics is often overlooked because economic opportunities and social advantages create inequities, which trump the purely-biological benefits created by genetic distance in admixed populations. 

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