Back in my college days, I dabbled in anthropology. In physical anthropology we had to do something called "racing and sexing" of skulls. That entailed looking at a skull and determining whether it was once a man or a woman -- and which race. Yes, Virginia, the races are physically different.
And that, sort of, is what Jimmy the Greek said. A little bit out of his field, the Greek got about a thousand things wrong about race and genetics, but what he said seemed self-evident to most whites and a good many blacks as well: blacks in general are more athletically gifted than whites.
Now, this may not be the case. No one is absolutely sure. For instance, anthropologist Ashley Montagu, author of five books on genetics, says physical differences may account for the fact that blacks dominate basketball and are disproportionately represented in football and baseball. However, he also says cultural factors may be the reason. For poor black youths, professional sports may be the only way out of the ghetto.
In his own klutzy way, Snyder said something like that. He lauded blacks for practicing harder and with diligence. But then he dived into racist gook by attributing the presumed physical difference between the races to a slavery-era breeding program: "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."
What Snyder thinks happened with blacks is barely possible with chickens. For human beings it would take eons for such a breeding program to become a success, and it would have to be conducted under the most rigorous circumstances. Nothing like that happened in pre-emancipation America. In fact, as Montagu points out, white men were forever mucking up Snyder's nonexistent breeding program: many American blacks carry white genes.
There's no excusing what Jimmy the Greek said. But it can be explained and, indeed, it ought to be. After all, we all know Snyder was fired not so much for what he said as for what he did not. He spoke of racial differences, and that is an American taboo. Never mind that there are such things. Never mind that they are demonstrable. The fear is that once you recognize anatomical racial differences, you have assumed intellectual ones as well.
But intellectual differences among the races don't exist. They are mythic creations of racists and loonies. Physical differences, on the other hand, do exist. By denying that -- but refuting what seems self-evident -- you lend credence to the canard that mental differences exist also.
To the average white person, if not the average black, it seems as if the whole subject has been swept under the rug -- the truth and the falsehood together. CBS only exacerbated that perception by firing Snyder.
As is sometimes the case, Jesse Jackson tried to salvage a bad situation. He granted Snyder an audience and announced the Greek had enlisted in the effort to get more blacks into coaching and managerial positions. Good. But once again no attempt was made to explain where and how Snyder was so woefully wrong.
Intellectual thought, like clothing, has its fashions. One of them is the literal application of the phrase, "All men are created equal." For a time, this was applied to the sexes -- to mean that the differences between them were strictly cultural. We are beginning to rethink that proposition. The same applies to race. There are physical differences, and probably they're of little or no consequence, especially when culture and economics are taken into account. While little should be made of them (especially when it comes to judging individuals), they do exist.
Now Jimmy the Greek will write a letter of apology to every black football player and work to get blacks into sports management. But that is not enough. Instead of giving him the hook, CBS should have provided him with one more show -- one in which Snyder could have explained how wrong he was. Maybe all men are not created equal, but surely the truth still makes us free.