North Carolina Agricultural and Technical (A&T) State University was incorrectly identified in a column in yesterday's Metro section. (Published 1/22/88)
Because the controversies and debates over comments made by Jimmy the Greek Snyder show little sign of abating, I've been wondering what forces are still stoking the fires of anger and reaction. After all, CBS has fired Snyder and there's general agreement that his remarks were largely racist superstitions. I can only conclude that people are still upset not only because of what he said, but also because of what he didn't say.
In other words, many people are now reacting to implications and unstated assumptions that lie behind the Greek's statements because they feel them to be the logical flip side of what he did say.
Indeed, as I listened to radio talk shows, my own telephone callers, and countless conversations at receptions and public events during the Martin Luther King holiday weekend, it was black people's knowledge of their own history that had many still smoldering over what they felt was Snyder's implication that black athletes are physically talented, but are intellectually stupid. Or to put it in the same blundering racial context as Snyder did, if blacks are physically more athletically gifted than whites, then whites are more intellectually gifted than blacks.
Now, let me make it clear that Snyder did not say this. In fact, his whole argument seemed to be a kind of affirmative action pitch for whites -- that if whites didn't have coaching and managerial jobs in sports, there would be nothing left for them to do. But to the extent that what Snyder said about blacks' greater athletic prowess may appear to be true for whatever reasons, many felt the flip side implication was that a superior black athlete often can't prevail intellectually.
Of course, some implications of Snyder's comments reflect a certain ignorance about black athletes. There are great black athletes such as Wilt Chamberlain with his record of 100 points in a single NBA game; Mike Tyson, the youngest fighter to win the world heavyweight title; Lou Brock, who broke Ty Cobb's record of 892 stolen bases; Wilma Rudolph, the first woman to win three Olympic gold medals.
But there are also great black scholar-athletes such as the late Paul Robeson, who was named all America twice during his Rutgers days, and also a Phi Beta Kappa and class valedictorian before finishing law school at Columbia University. He went on to become an actor, world-renowned singer and political activist, easily earning the appellation, "renaissance man."
Dr. Charles R. Drew was an outstanding athlete at Amherst College and McGill University, and it was upon his early discoveries of blood plasma during World War II that much of modern medicine is built. Indeed, Jesse L. Jackson could not even enter the better-equipped white library in his home town, yet he won an athletic scholarship at the University of Illinois. He left when he was denied the position of quarterback and returned to North Carolina AT&T, a black school. You could see his spiritual agility in the constructive and creative way he dealt with Snyder when he was under greatest fire.
And of course black contributions to America's heritage -- from Daniel Hale Williams' performance of the first successful heart operation to Garret A. Morgan's invention of the first electric stoplight signal to Elijah (The Real McCoy) McCoy's patents -- are just a few black intellectual accomplishments that have enriched the whole society.
It's ironic that it was on Martin Luther King's birthday that the Greek put forth his anthropological/genetic analysis ("This goes all the way to the Civil War when during the slave trading . . . the owner, the slave owner would breed his big black to his big woman so he could have a big black kid, you see").
These are the kind of irresponsible utterances usually relegated to community barbershops and beauty salons, and blacks have their share of racist superstitions as well. To his credit, Snyder expressed regret for his remarks.
While many people feel there are physical differences between the races, many knowledgeable observers shy away from even calling for an examination of differences because they believe that to do so could open a door that could lead to abuse. Thus until scientists can conclusively prove what differences exist and how they operate, speculation is specious and ignorance is harmful. In the meantime, people simply cannot prattle their racist superstitions before television cameras to the American public as if they were speaking gospel.
For we live in a world made small by technology, and we can all hear and feel the bad things we say and think about each other. But we all must learn more about each other to be more sensitive to each other.