Reggie and Racial Stereotypes

During the Olympics, when it comes to the 100-meter race, that's when I relax and say to myself, "The brothers got this one." Nearly 100 percent of the time, I am right. In short distance races, blacks run circles around whites. If women ever competed against men in the Olympic's 100-meter race, I'd be willing to bet any amount of money that men would win, especially if they were black men.

One doesn't have to be a racist or sexist to make generalizations like these based on race and sex. You just have to be a Bayesian (named after Sir Thomas Bayes, the father of statistics). In other words, physical characteristics, including race and sex, convey information, though not always perfectly reliable.

In Reggie White's speech to the Wisconsin legislature, that caused quite a stir, he said Japanese can "turn a television into a watch." From all the evidence, I see Japan has led the world in miniaturization e.g., Sony's Walkman and dictating machines. Reggie also made the generalization that blacks are "gifted at worship and celebration." That's true. You won't hear better gospel music sung than that of black gospel singers like Mahalia Jackson and Aretha Franklin. As for music and dancing, most of the world listens, dances to, and imitates the jazz, bebop and soul music that have their origins with black Americans.

Back in 1975, I was on sabbatical for a year at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. I weighed 240 pounds and was badly out of shape. So I decided to play basketball instead of eating lunch. At the gym where I played, there were only white guys and they were pretty good. They argued with each other to have me on their team. During the game, I could hardly run to the other end of the court much less do much when I got there. The guys on my team actually got peeved with me. I surmised that they thought, "How dare you be black, tall and lousy at basketball!" They were making a generalization based on race.

Occasionally, I'm in downtown Washington late and hail a taxi. Quite often the taxi passes me up and picks up a white customer down the street. And, quite often, the driver is black. Is he a racist? I doubt it. A better explanation is he fears for his safety. He doesn't know me and he uses customer race as a proxy for his chances of being robbed or assaulted, and he's right - not in my case - but in general. More cabbies are robbed and assaulted by blacks in Washington than by whites. Even Brother Jesse Jackson commented on how, if he's walking at night and approached by a bunch of youngsters, relieved he is when he sees that they are white. Jesse is being a Bayesian - putting a higher probability of danger when approached by black youngsters rather than white youngsters.

People are also upset about Reggie saying that homosexuality, along with lying and adultery, is a sin condemned by the Bible. He's right; the Bible does condemn sodomy, lying and adultery as sinful. Toleration of a particular behavior and approval of it are two different things. There is no question that homosexuals should enjoy the constitutional protections that any other American enjoys. But because we must respect the human rights of homosexuals doesn't mean we must accept their lifestyle as morally equivalent to heterosexuality.

We Americans ought to lighten up, think and get off Reggie White's back.

Walter E. Williams

C18-98

3/27/98

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