The advantages of being black

It’s true the two races are not equal— but some of the inequalities are in the black man’s favor. This is a report on Negro superiority and its reasons

ALAN PHILLIPS October 22 1960

The advantages of being black

It’s true the two races are not equal— but some of the inequalities are in the black man’s favor. This is a report on Negro superiority and its reasons

ALAN PHILLIPS October 22 1960

The advantages of being black

It’s true the two races are not equal— but some of the inequalities are in the black man’s favor. This is a report on Negro superiority and its reasons


THE MOST SELF-DESTRUCTIVE belief of our time is the white man’s conviction that people with pigmented skin are inferior, especially black-skinned people. This assumption looms like a wall between the West and its could-be friends in the Near and Far East, Latin America and Africa. Its legacy of hate has subverted every empire but Russia’s, which not only draws no color line but declared at this year’s Olympics that physically the Negro is superior.

Most white North Americans will label this statement by Grigorii Kukushkin, Russia’s director of athletic training, as propaganda (which doubtless it is) or nonsense. But the question of whether the Negro is or is not the better man has lain implicit and tantalizing for years in the records of sport.

A Vancouver nineteen-year-old, Harry Jerome, is co-holder of the world’s 100-metre record. At 200 metres the fastest human is Ray Norton. At 400 metres it’s Otis Davis. Ralph Boston has jumped farther and John Thomas has jumped higher than anyone else in the world. All are Negroes.

Negroes dominate every professional sport for which they can train and compete with near-equality. In baseball’s National League, which is about twenty percent Negro, they have won the last seven Most Valuable Player awards. At one point in a 1960 All-Star game the National League fielded seven. Negro and two white players. The stars most often named as tops in today's game are Willy Mays, Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and Frank Robinson — all Negroes.

In boxing, where Joe Louis knocked down the last color bar, Negroes hold six of eight championships. In basketball, Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell and Oscar Robertson are indispqtably supreme. Perhaps the finest fullback in football is Cleveland’s Jimmy Brown. The world's best all-round athlete, despite an injured back, is U. S. decathlon star Rafer Johnson, whose deportment typifies novelist John Steinbeck's judgment: Negroes are also superior in sensibility.

Belief in racial superiority is as old as humanity. The northern races, wrote Aristotle, the finest mind of Greece, were “wanting in intelligence

and skill . . . have no political organization and are incapable of ruling others.” He referred, of course, to the British, French and Dutch, greatest colonialists in history.

The Greeks also knew the Negroes. Of all races, said Herodotus, they were most beautiful. Color didn't become a stigma till sixteenth-century Europeans opened the sea routes and conquered, by virtue of firearms, most native races. In the New World, slavery solved the labor shortage and rationalization salved the Christian conscience.

White clergymen quoted St. Paul, “Servants, obey . . . your masters,” pointing out that “servant” in Greek meant slave. Man, they argued, was made in the image of God, and since God was not a Negro, it followed that the Negro was not a man. “The Negro brain.” wrote a British anthropologist, Dr. James Hunt, resembles a “child's brain, and thus approaches the ape . . .” As late as 1900 a Bible house in St. Louis was circulating a book called The Negro A Beast.

Three hundred years of rationalizing has made Negro blood so odious that Virginians with one-sixteenth in their veins are classed as black, and the Red Cross blood bank refused to mix it with white blood in World War II. Even Canadians, who pride themselves on tolerance, show bias by job and social discrimination. Books, radio, films and funnies have strengthened three stereotypes: the contented illiterate servant, descendant of happy slaves; the comic coon, sleepy, dullwitted, lightfingered and shiftless; and the primitive black, oversexed, brutal and bad-smelling.

In broadness of nose and slant of brow the Negro indeed is most primitive. But Ralph Linton states in The Study of Man that it is the white man whose lips are most like the ape's, thin and mobile, whose massive brow ridges, coarse straight hair and abundant body hair are most simian.

U. S. southerners claim that-Negroes smell animal-like, an acrid odor called “Negro funk.” “In the dance called patting juber,” wrote Dr. S. A. Cartwright, a prominent nineteenth-century Louisianian, “the odor emitted from the men ... is often so powerful


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In a test of sweat samples, “the most pleasant and the most unpleasant were both from whites”

as to throw the Negro women into paroxysms of unconsciousness.”

Since slaves were allowed only half an hour a week for the family wash, this is not surprising. Even today many Negro homes in the South have no bathrooms. But in their ancestral homeland of West Africa, where Negroes are daily and ardent users of Unilever products, J. C. Furnas, author and traveler, notes that Negro funk is unknown.

It is true that Negroes, like white women, have more sweat glands than white men. They “serve to reduce the temperature of the body,” says anthropologist Ashley Montagu, and “maintain a salty film of moisture over the skin which assists to keep it cool.” No tests have been made to find out whether women smell worse than men, but anthropologist Otto Klineberg, of Columbia University, tells of a study by a colleague “who collected in test tubes a little of the perspiration of white and colored students . . . These test tubes were then given to a number of white subjects with instructions to rank them in order of pleasantness . . . The most pleasant and . . . the most unpleasant were both taken from whites.”

As proof of the Negro’s animal nature whites cite his sexuality. "Love seems with them to be more an eager desire than a delicate mixture of sentiment and sensation,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, third U. S. president, who had at least one slave mistress.

The Negro rape rate seems to support this thesis. A study by Marshall Clinard, professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin, shows that in 1957 “of those executed for rape over the past 23 years, 89.7 percent were Negroes.”

Clinard, however, agrees with the Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal who, after a study for the Carnegie Foundation, said "Like other Negro crime rates, the Negro rape rate is fallaciously high; white women may try to extricate them-

selves from the consequences of sexual delinquency by blaming or framing Negro men; a white woman who has a Negro lover can get rid of him ... by accusing him of rape; neurotic women may hysterically interpret an innocent action as an ‘attack’ by a Negro.”

Sociologists concede that Negroes are more promiscuous than whites. The U. S, Negro slave, says anthropologist Margaret Mead, “was bred like a stud bull and his children were sold away from him.” Promiscuity was encouraged to keep every slave girl of breeding age pregnant. A man's woman could be taken by the master or the overseer — and seldom with tears, for sex bought her status and favors. Since Negroes had no legal rights, marriage meant little. One Kentucky minister used to say at a slave ceremony, “Till death or distance do you part.”

With this background the average Negro today comes home from long hard labor to a crowded home in a segregated slum. Barred from the white man’s world across much of the United States, he hangs out in cabaret dancehalls called Free and Easys, where, says Professor Mabel Elliott of the Pennsylvania College for Women, “the commercialization of sex ... is recreation at its worst.” But, with a trade and an education, Margaret Mead observes, “the American Negro father ... is perhaps almost overly responsible.”

The white man’s true estimate of the Negro as a sexual rival is painfully clear, Writing in the Twenties, when an average of 3 1 U. S. Negroes a year were dragged behind cars, burned alive, castrated and lynched for such offenses as talking back, discussing the vote or looking at a white woman, psychoanalyst A. R. BerkeleyHill concluded that it “can only be explained by supposing that the idea of intercourse between his woman kind and a Negro stirs up in the depths of the white man’s mind a fury ... of sexual

jealousy.” The white man's "fear of ins own sexual inadequacy,” says Dr. Marie iahoda, "creates anxiety that the white woman might experience greater satisfaction with a Negro man.”

Such a deep-buried sense of inferiority seems inadequately explained by any purely physical fact. Dr. Helen McLean of Chicago's Institute for Psychoanalysis thinks that white people, "feeling devoid of the capacity for the expression of genuine warmth, unconsciously feel that the Negro has what they lack." The books of Wiiliam Faulkner, finest writer of the South, portray Negroes as more life-loving, more love-giving, more stable. Their suicide rate in the U. S. is only a third that of whites. A Royal Canadian Air Force study shows them as less accident-prone. which suggests less inhibition. less repression of how they feel.

From the depth of Negro emotion has come nearly all of America's folk culture: the Negro spiritual, its greatest

body of folksong; the Uncle Remus stories, its hugest reservoir of folklore; jazz, the minstrel show, ragtime, the softshoe dance. the foxtrot, cakewalk. Charleston. black bottom. trucking. Lindy hop. jitterbug; and. in Latin America, the rhumba and the conga.

Psychological tests in Jamaica by Morris Steggerda and C. B. Davenport indicate "a superiority of the Negroes over the North Europeans in sensory equipment. or. at least, in ability to make sensory discriminations, especially in music." They found no difference in harmony or tonal memory, but "the blacks showed themselves superior . . . most strikingly in capacity for discriminating intensity and rhythm ..." Tests by musicologist Dorothy Mtizzey of Southern Illinois State Teachers College confirmed that "colored children of each grade are superior to white children in motor rhythm, both at the beginning and the end of the learning period."

In the higher arts, as in the professions, Negro achievement falls far below whites. Julian Huxley, no racist and a great geneticist, thought it "wholly probable that true Negroes have a slightly lower intelligence than the whites or the yellows" — a widespread opinion. The Negro’s "emotional gifts." says E. Franklin Frazier, dean of Negro sociologists, "have been exalted by the white liberal while his intellectual inferiority has been accepted as true."

The first large-scale mental testing took place in World War I with U. S. servicemen. and the low Negro score was quoted as proof of inferiority. Later, reviewing these figures, psychologists pointed out that northern Negroes scored higher than southern whites. Otto Klineberg, in a study of 12-year-old Negro children in New York, showed that their score rose with every year of residence in the city.

"Since practically all IQ tests have been made by Europeans," anthropologist Ralph Linton says, "the Europeans have uniformly emerged triumphant. It seems improbable that it would have been so if Arabs or Hindus or Chinese had been the first to get the idea." The JQ tests on Negroes, social scientists now agree, mainly show differences in schooling. As slaves Negroes w'ere forbidden to learn to read or write. In 1832. just after the third bloody slave uprising, legislator Henry Berry told Virginia's House of Delegates. "We have, so far as possible, closed every avenue by which light may enter the slaves' minds. If we could extinguish the capacity to see the light, outwork would be complete; they would tuen be on a level with the beasts of the field and we should be safe."

This attitude has changed slowly. The average white American male over the

age of 25 has had 10.7 years’ schooling compared with the Negro’s 7.3. Even what the Negro does get is substandard. In Georgia, says the Speaker of its House of Representatives. "What the Negro child gets in the sixth grade the white child gets in the third." He has little incentive to train because few skilled jobs are open to him. and employers open few skilled jobs because, they complain, he has no training. "It's a vicious circle." says the Rev. William Oliver, a Halifax Negro.

Only a few sports allow the Negro to

prove nis capabilities. In these lie is so outstanding that some scientists side with the Russians in concluding that his edge is biological.

The biological principle of survival of the fittest was unquestionably at work during slavery. In the slave ships Negroes lay in their filth, body stacked upon body, as long as six weeks. The toll of African life has been estimated at five corpses for every one of the millions of slaves delivered. Only "those better endowed physically must have survived," says Frazier.

In America, the best-endowed Negro women were chosen as mistresses by the white ruling caste and some slave-owning Indian chiefs — a clear-cut case of selective breeding. Anthropologist Melville Herskovits. finding three out of four U.S. Negroes with some white or a little Indian blood, concludes, “From as diverse racial stocks as it is humanly possible to assemble . . . has come ... a veritable New Negro . . . distinctive among human beings."

The new Negro, on the average, is an inch shorter than the white man — this

is confirmed by at least ten studies. His neck is thicker, his flesh less fat, his bones heavier. His shoulders, elbows, feet and chest arc wider. He has narrower hips and longer arms, legs, hands and feet.

He inherits, says Lt.-Col. F. A. M. Webster, a British athletic coach, in The Science of Athletics, “an amazing aptitude" for sprinting and jumping. Webster recalls that in Africa he saw “any number of untutored bare-footed natives who could jump anything between 6 feet and

6 feet 5 inches with the greatest ease.” (The world’s record, held by a Negro, is

7 feet 3Va inches. The Watussi tribe, jumping from a three - or four - inch mound, “clear as much as 8 feet 2Va inches," Webster says, “with a sort of natural layout of their own invention.”

When Nature makes a leaping animal such as the kangaroo, says Negro anthropologist W. Montague Cobb, she lengthens the leg but shortens the thigh in relation to the shin. These are the Negro’s proportions. The long shin, says anthropologist Eleanor Methcny of the State University of Ohio, “can develop greater velocity . . . and serves also as a longer lever ... He is 'split higher up’ and so can raise his leg higher . . . The longer, heavier arm can develop greater momentum ...”

After studying Howard Drew, first Negro sprinting champion and inventor of the “bullet start,” Dr. R. G. Stroud concluded tnat the tilt of the Negro's thigh on his pelvic bone (forward rather than outward) gave him a half-inch advantage in hitting in boxing, and a fourinch advantage in each sprinting stride. (It is the outward angular pitch of the pelvis, says Stroud, that causes women to run awkwardly.)

Lloyd Percival, head of Toronto's Sports College, thinks the Negro does best in those sports that require most emotional control. "In the sprint a bad start can cost you the race — it's a tremendous emotional load. One touch on the hurdles and you're out. The coach usually hides under the stand till it’s over. Colored athletes react well to high competitive pressure. They suffer less from what we call the choke.”

In tests for tension — holding out the arm, tightening the hand, and keeping the rest of the muscles loose — Negroes do better than whites. Coaches claim they are more relaxed. If so, criminologist Marshall Clinard thinks, it’s psychological; their daily life contains so much tension “that crises are less likely to produce disastrous results.”

Percival, in coaching 150 colored athletes. found them easier to train in rhythm, which sharpens timing and conserves energy. "People say they’re lazy. It’s not true. Gordie Howe is negroid in

movement, loose and easy. People say, if he’d only skate. But look at the skaters who are trying to catch him. The more even the expenditure of energy, the better the results. Ups and downs are the most enervating.”

In cricket, half the ten best bowlers of all time have been colored. Here “rhythm, timing, even strides, are most important,” says Percival. “In boxing, the greatest combination punchers have been Negrees — Henry Armstrong, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, who over the years is probably the best of them all.” The finest baseball pitcher ever born is Satchel Paige who, at 37. pitched 29 games in 30 days, losing one; and who jumped the color line for his first bigleague game at 48.

In endurance events the Negro’s record is curiously second rate. The exceptions prove the rule — Earl Johnson, the U. S. five-mile champion (1921 to 1923) and Canada’s Phil Edwards, 1929 half-mile champ. Rafer Johnson, who broke the Olympic decathlon record in August, turned in his worst performance in endurance, the 1,500-metre run — which, typically, he dislikes.

Col. Webster, who thinks the Negro "is so formed that he will always be the best sprinting machine,” claims that in distance running “his extra forward pitch . . . makes his stride always long enough to tire him ...” Eleanor Metheny’s studies show that his chest is shallower than the white man’s. His “markedly lower breathing capacity (15 to 20 percent less),” she says, "is a handicap in events of long duration.”

“Negroes do best at dynamic sports,” says Percival, “games of reflexes like boxing and baseball. They test faster than whites in reflex time.” Crediting this to their jungle background. Webster writes, “V/hat really remains, it, is thought, from the Negro’s former state of savagery is the spring ... a certain explosive force that man must have if he would preserve his life in his uncivilized state."

From his studies of children, psychologist Arnold Gesell reports that the Negro's “finer co - operation in block manipulation . . . might indicate motor development above average.” Anthropologist Montague Cobb notes that "the nerve fibres of the Negro are larger in cross-section than those of the white. As with electric conductors, the larger the nerve the easier and quicker tire passage of the impulse, [which] would imply better muscular co-ordination in the Negro."

But Cobb, himself a Negro and a former sprinting star, thinks it absurd to account for the split-second victories of Negro champions by comparing racial differences of average men. The great

Negro sprinters, he says, have been longlegged and short-legged, fast starters and slow starters, effortless runners and

powerhouses. Cobb measured Jesse

Owens, Negro winner of four Olympic

medals, and found that Owens was closer to the white than the black archetype. Superiority in athletics, he says, grows out of superior incentive.

“The Negro knows he has to work

harder to get there.” says Jackie Robinson, former baseball star. The San Francisco Giants’ Negro scout, Alex Pompez, tells his players, “If you want to stay in organized baseball, you got to do things a little bit better. And they do. Every year we got the leading hitter, most valuable player, the big home-run hitter.”

Sport, says Richard Bardolph in his survey of achievement, The Negro Vanguard, is for many Negroes “the shortest and most exciting road to riches and applause.” It offers the poor Negro boy

— and only half of one per cent of Negroes make as much as $5,000 a year

— almost his only chance for an education. It offers a chance to prove himself, and to some, Bardolph says, “the prospect of close personal combat with the white man, of giving him a thorough drubbing and then shaking his hand in a generous gesture of conciliation, affords a heady ecstasy.”

In The Psychoanalytic Review, Dr. Laynard Holloman suggests that some of the Negro’s drive is desire for revenge. Among themselves Negroes refer to whites as “the enemy” and a white person is an “ofay” — pig Latin for foe. “There is much suppressed antagonism because of daily frustration.” sociologist Franklin Frazier agrees.

“There’s resentment but not hate,” says Jackie Robinson. Joe Louis says t ie only time he fought the white man with hate in his heart was the night he knocked out Max Schmeling, Hitler’s viceroy of white supremacy. Robert Lucas, a Negro writer, says Negroes' attitudes vary “as widely as their skin colors.”

“Take me,” says Jackie Robinson. “I used to burn inside when I was told I couldn’t go here or there. But all I did was vow I’d speak up against discrimination whenever I had the opportunity.”

In 1946 “The Brain” of baseball, the Brooklyn Dodgers’ president Branch Rickey, picked Robinson to break the color line. Rickey sat at his desk and heaved insults at him (Dinge! Smoke! Dirty nigger!) and catalogued his reaction. “I had to get a man,” says Rickey, “to carry the badge of martyrdom.”

Pitchers hit Robinson seven times in two months with bean balls. Players made him the butt of jokes. Fans loosed black cats on the field, yelling, “Here’s your brother!” But he fought off a nervous breakdown, and in 1949 was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player. “One of the all-time greats,” wrote Milton Gross in the New York Post. Frustration can also strengthen resolution.

Success means much more to the Negro than to the white athlete. “Many Negro professional men and women . . . follow religiously the scores of the various teams and the achievements of all the players,” Frazier says. When baseball star Don Newcombe came into the cafeteria at Howard, a Negro university in Washington, every professor stood up, with the exception of one anthropologist, who afterwards exclaimed, “Imagine professors standing up for a ballplayer!”

The Negro ballplayers are symbols of achievement, Frazier says. “Unable to compete freely as individuals, the Negro masses take intense vicarious pleasure in watching race heroes vindicate them in the eyes of the white world,” Horace

Cayton and St. Clair Drake wrote in Black Metropolis.

The night Joe Louis won the heavyweight crown, Harlem erupted. Negroes danced in the street, sang and bragged until early morning. “Louis lifted an entire race out of the slough of inferiority and gave them a sense of self-importance,” a Negro newspaper, the Pittsburgh Courier, declared.

Joe was well aware that he was a racial symbol. More than once he said. “If I do anything to disgrace my people, I hope I die.” He cultivated a deadpan look so

he couldn’t be photographed (like Jack Johnson) standing triumphant over fallen white opponents, but he defended his championship oftener than anyone since or before, and held it for a record twelve years.

Such achievements, Negroes feel, are breaking down prejudice. As baseball star Luke Easter said when his trainer warned him some fans might not like him because of his color, “Mr. Starr, everybody likes me when I hit that ball.” Americans love a success story. Even in the South, says Jackie Robinson, many

baseball fans are more concerned with winning than with prejudice.

Writing in Survey Graphic, Will Alexander quotes a Southerner: “For generations, many of us have been looking at an image of what we have called the American Negro — a scarecrow of our own creation. Now, in the strong light which the World War II has cast upon all our assumptions about people, we find that he is not this at all. He is something quite different and infinitely better. He is a human being — and a first-rate human being at that.” -fc