Some white Americans still believe blacks have a genetic advantage in athletics, according to U-M survey
NEW ORLEANS th Researchers know there is no scientific evidence for genetic differences between racial groups when it comes to athletic ability, but apparently some of the American public isn't getting the message
(Media-Newswire.com) - Whites’ belief in genetic superiority of black athletes is associated with prejudice and negative stereotypes, U-M study finds
Based on results from a recent University of Michigan study, 74 percent of white men and 65 percent of white women surveyed believe that blacks are at least somewhat genetically and biologically superior to whites when it comes to athletics. The survey also found that whites who believe in genetic differences in athleticism are more likely to express prejudice toward and negative stereotypes about blacks.
Results from the U-M survey of a representative sample of 600 white Americans will be presented Oct. 11 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics taking place in New Orleans.
“The message for geneticists is that we need to be very careful when we discuss genetic differences involving human characteristics and traits,” says Elizabeth M. Petty, M.D., an associate professor of internal medicine and human genetics in the U-M Medical School. “It’s important to keep in mind how genetics can easily be misinterpreted by the media and the public in a way that may perpetuate racial stereotypes.”
Other U-M researchers who developed and conducted the study are Jane P. Sheldon, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan – Dearborn, and Toby Epstein Jayaratne, Ph.D., an assistant research scientist in the U-M School of Public Health.
According to the researchers, genetic explanations for perceived racial differences can become a “legitimizing myth,” which can be used to justify the dominance of one group of individuals over another.
A belief in the genetic superiority of black athletes is like a backhanded compliment, according to the researchers, because while it congratulates blacks for their athletic success, it can also erroneously imply that blacks have less intelligence and don’t have to work as hard to succeed as white athletes do.
“Our society often views intelligence and athleticism as being inversely related,” Petty says. “So, unfortunately, whites are seen by some as having the brains, while blacks have the brawn.” This negative stereotypical view permeates media coverage of athletics and can perpetuate the myth of “natural” black athletic superiority in the minds of the general public.
“Race should never be an issue in media sports coverage,” Petty says. “But in subtle and not-so-subtle ways, reporters don’t miss an opportunity to draw attention to the color of an athlete’s skin, while the importance of other factors like upbringing, education and social environment may not be discussed.”
“Of course, several factors – likely including genetic factors – contribute to athletic success,” Petty adds. “But any genetic differences are variations between individuals, rather than groups. Every human trait is the result of a combination of individual genetic and environmental factors, plus personal choice. A lot of things go into making an outstanding athlete, but the notion of race is not one of them.”
Data presented at the ASHG meeting is part of a larger study investigating the genetic beliefs and attitudes of 600 self-identified white Americans and 600 self-identified black Americans. White participants were selected using random digit dialing methods. Trained professional interviewers conducted 40-minute interviews by telephone. Forty black and forty white respondents were contacted later for more detailed, in-depth interviews.
In addition to asking questions to measure their belief in genetic race differences in athleticism, the interviewers also collected information on respondents’ age, level of education, political orientation, religiosity and region of residence. Additional questions were designed to detect levels of racial prejudice and negative stereotypes.
In addition to a strong belief in a genetic race difference in athleticism, statistical analysis of the survey data showed that older age, southern residence and conservative political orientation were predictive of racial prejudice in white men, while older age, less education and increased religiosity were predictive of prejudice in white women.
The study found no significant difference between how white men’s and white women’s beliefs in a genetic basis for race and athleticism related to prejudice and stereotypes.
“Our data shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that all Americans feel this way,” cautions Petty. “It’s a snapshot in time of the attitudes and beliefs of a small, but representative, sample.
“These preliminary observations are important, however, because they indicate that public perceptions of genetic differences between races can reinforce racial prejudice and stereotyping, which has negative implications for society,” she adds. “It shows that we need to develop better ways to present scientific knowledge about genetics, race and human differences to the public.”
Written by Sally Pobojewski
This story was released on 2006-10-12. Please make sure to visit the official company or organization web site to learn more about the original release date. See our disclaimer for additional information.