St Louis, B. (2004) 'Sport and common sense racial science', in Leisure Studies, Vol 23, No 1: 31 - 46 [NB this is a special edition on sport and race].
There are observable differences in performance by the different 'racial' groups. Sport is sometimes seen as a laboratory which can clearly reveal racial differences: it offers apparently equal-opportunity to compete, but also quite patterned results. This can be interpreted via an 'uncomplicated realism and objectivism... [leading to]... a biological basis for racial athleticism' (32). Here, racial differences are apparently described objectively in terms of apparent physical variations of body type (musculature and skeleton), and these apparently objective differences can even be supported by work such as that on 'fast twitch' musculature, which is apparently unusually predominant in West African populations. However, in order to turn these observations and views into racial ones, a 'web of commonsense approaches and sentiments' (32) is also required. Similarly, combating racialised views requires more than totally rejecting biological or natural differences, and substituting social ones instead.
The notion of common-sense here is drawn from Gramsci's work. It is necessarily fragmentary, incoherent, and conforms to the social and cultural position of various classes and class fractions. It operates at a non-discursive level, and therefore can easily absorb different discourses. It can appear to be autonomous and voluntary, although it often conforms to dominant views. It is not easily changed by intellectual argument, because it operates at the level of form as well as content. As in myths in pre-industrial societies, it can be used to explain and organise empirical observations of differences: it can absorb pseudo-scientific and racialised discourses. Common-sense is affected by the formation of hegemonic blocs. One important one in contemporary societies is based on economic changes and the way they have collapsed the distinction between jobs and homes, the public and private, and quantitative and qualitative measures. This has led to 'a pervasive common-sense culture' ultimately derived from business. These collapsed distinctions are clearly at work in the new racism too. In this sense, popular racist discourses, which classically contrast self and other, and equate race with culture, can draw support from corporate culture too. [Interesting but I am not quite clear how this works].
Scientific elements appear to be present in racial athleticism, and racialised claims can appear to be testable and objective, arising from scientific exploration programmes and so on. However, they depend on naive realist and objectivist assumptions, as well as a flawed form of inductivism [somebody should say this about the highly fashionable work on brains, magnetic resonance, and the claims to be able to develop a technology to facilitate learning]. The scientific claims are in fact held very uncritically and without an awareness of the problems of generalisation. For example, the opening paragraph indicates how racist conclusions can be drawn from observing specific victories of specific black athletes. But this is highly problematic -- the conclusions can be erroneous [ in the usual way -- some unexpkained third term might be at work etc], and contaminated by social, cultural and personal values. To take the obvious points, black success may not continue, unsuccessful black people are systematically overlooked, observers are untrained. Attempts to connect observations of people's bodies with internal states are also highly dubious [especially if racial categories are defined as variations in skin colour?]. Instead of assuming that aggression or patience delivers results in sport, a more critical question would be how did those factors get to be important for sporting success? It is simply naive to see this as a natural progression [since sports themselves are far from natural]. The whole argument is saturated with common-sense and intuition. [I think St Louis would find it much more helpful to switch his theorists here, from Gramsci to Critical Theory. The latter has an awful lot of excellent work about how critical insights in science or philosophy are often combined with the most directly commonsensical views: the general case is often called 'identity thinking', where scientific concepts are just naively equated with an uncriticised social reality].
Common-sense versions of multiculturalism can compound the errors and, ironically, support racism. Multiculturalism is usually associated with much more liberal policies about the toleration of difference -- but this can leave the crucial area of race relations unmanaged [not thoroughly investigated?]. Above all, multiculturalism still lies within the domain of corporate common-sense, and repeats its logical errors. For example, the subjectively perceived differences between the cultures are turned into solid cultural categories, despite the shift towards more qualitative terms [I think the argument is that this sort of qualitative judgement is no longer capable of resisting quantitaive logic -- corporate culture has long ago reconciled the two? Reminds me of Marcuse and One-Dimensional Man]. Multiculturalism is still riddled with dubious generalisations, for example it 'essentialises universalism' (39) -- all human groups alike are treated as reducible to matters of ethnicity and cultural difference [so power differences are being ignored? And genuine cultural differences too?]. Multiculturalism can easily be made compatible with racism, and used to justify unequal treatment. The celebration of difference in particular can leave a way to smuggle back in arguments for the biological bases of difference [the usual form of rejection of these by multiculturalists can be seen as ignorant of and prejudiced against recent biology]. Multiculturalists can be seen as compromised in their refusal to even research 'race' in case it reifies the category [Gilroy is seen as in this camp]. The only actual policy that emerges is to celebrate difference, and this is vulnerable to reinterpretation by the 'discursive dexterity'of common-sense [not to mention the effects of real intolerant political power -- see Fraser] (41).
In particular, it is easy to argue reasonably in response that racial differences must be a combination of biological and environmental forces -- the 'biocultural' form of racial athleticism, which explains, for example the success of Kenyan distance runners in terms of both their physiology and their cultural qualities of stoicism, enjoyment of competition and the rest. Here, racial categories still exist, but biological reductionism seems to have been avoided. A pure culturalism by contrast seems naive and dualist. [St Louis also details another manoeuvre to sidestep and sterilise the controversy over IQ -- 'biocultural' analyses would argue for a fashionable unity between mind and body in response].
As a result of the political disputes between the two sides, there is really no focused debate [St Louis says an ideal speech situation is badly-needed but unlikely]. The usual view that emerges is that race must be both biological and social [bit of both innit?]. This compromise merely permits common-sense to articulate the two [as in common-sense racism]. The ethical and logical points are never raised or recognised. As an aside, social theory itself is not very good at acknowledging the biological dimension to human existence, although St Louis quite likes Berger and Luckmann, who see social forces as overcoming the other wise unregulated biological aspects of human life [via Durkheim.]. As various turns to the body have argued, the corporeal can no longer simply be denied.
In conclusion, sport is an especially symbolic area for views about racial differences, because it is seen as unusually equal in the first place, and also somehow as 'natural', saying something particularly privileged about people's bodies. Racial athleticism therefore seems particularly in easy to confirm, and particularly easy to measure, in terms of the results obtained by the various groups. Finally, sport seems too trivial to analyse that carefully, or to insist on some ethical debate or dimension [it can also delight liberals by appearing to be one of the few areas where black people do well].
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