Harrison, L., Azzarito, L. and Burden, J. (2004) 'Perceptions of athletics superiority: a view from the other side', in Race Ethnicity and Education, 7 (2): 149 -- 66.
Schools offer a hidden curriculum as well as an explicit one -- 'informal unintentional learning' (149). This affects the learning of sports and physical activity as well, and includes perceptions of the effects of 'race'. These perceptions can influence participation, on the part of white and black people [this is an American study, but I'm using the British terms]. Perceptions are best understood through social constructivism, an approach which stresses the role of context in developing individual meanings: 'unwritten ways of understanding and their actions contribute to forming dominant cultural knowledge and values' (150). Race is one of these powerful stereotypical constructs.
Dominant cultural values are found in the hidden curriculum of physical education and serve 'to maintain positions of privilege and enforce discrimination' (151), in the specific form of attributing physical superiority and concomitant intellectual inferiority to African-Americans. Black people can get channelled into athletic careers instead of academic ones, and vice versa for white people. It becomes necessary to critically understand the effects including the unconscious dimensions, of race rather than ignoring them. Race here refers to not just the physical characteristics of people 'but the shared experiences and background that bind those with similar features' (152). [I still feel uneasy about even using the term 'race', at least without single quotes around it].
It is apparent that black people are over-represented in particular sports. This helps promote 'unspoken stereotypes'. There have been attempts to explore the effects of race in terms of physiological, psychological, and anthropometric approaches. However, 'it has been pointed out that the differences are relatively small and do not account for the immense disparity observed' (153). Sports sociologists stress instead the effects of social environments and social forces. [There is a hint here of the criticism by St Louis that superficial differences are seen as causals in the same way that simple positivism misunderstands the world]. Sports performers and athletes are likely to be common sources of stereotyping.
There has been much work on the usually negative effect of stereotypes on academic performance in schools. However, black people's dominance in sport is an unusual case where stereotypes explain superiority.
To explore this further, the authors have decided to look at the unusual topic of negative impacts on white youth and their sporting aspirations. There is anecdotal evidence that white kids see themselves at a great disadvantage compared with black kids when competing for places in teams. Several white former high school athletes were interviewed in order to find out if they had been steered away from participating and if so why.
25 students were chosen, they were interviewed by carefully trained interviewers and would give an open-ended questions about their perceptions of racial discrimination and its possible effects (154 -- 6). Two themes emerged -- that participants were steered away, and that racial stereotypes were influential. The activities of coaches parents and themselves seemed crucial.
'In most cases'coaches discouraged their participation (157), and this was commonly felt to be because white kids were at a disadvantage in selection. [lots of examples from the data ensue, 157f]. Coaches sometimes seemed intimidated by black players. Discrimination was both overt and implied. Coaches even tended to 'racialise players' positions on the teams in which certain positions were often given to African-Americans' (157). Since coaches are also often PE teachers, attitudes can transfer to PE classes.
Parents also tended to stress academic areas rather than sports careers, reflecting a common mind - body dichotomy 'in which the mind is superior and the body is inferior' (158). One way of steering children away was to emphasise their limited physical skills. Again racial stereotypes maybe implicit. This is so even where participants themselves apparently decided there own sports skills were inadequate, since 'the white students'self ability concept in athletics is [possibly] influenced by Eurocentric culture in American sports' (159).
Certainly the participants themselves did seem to have 'pervasive racial stereotypes' (159) [some examples follow] -- for example, top professional athletes were considered to be usually African-American. These stereotypes were sometimes masked, but appeared, for example in commenting on the college basketball game. It was often simply assumed that sport was a route for black people. Again, this conforms with common-sense perceptions. Some respondents seemed to offer 'natural' , biological or genetic explanations however. [an actual count showed 'responses that included socio-economic (15), genetics (16), culture (19), intelligence (5), psychological (17) and media influences (8)' (161) -- nb there were 25 in all]. Some respondents used multiple categories. [examples page 161f].
The mechanisms at work may involve self-fulfilling prophecies. 'The true self-fulfilling prophecies are those in which the person's expectation invokes the very behaviour that was anticipated'-- so those white kids expecting black athletes to be superior somehow convey this and black people perform with more confidence. 'Seemingly - fulfilled' prophecies arise when people avoid experiences that will disprove their expectations -- for example by not playing against black athletes at all.
If stereotypes are strongly perpetuated in schools, some of these subjective experiences should be addressed openly. P E teachers must discuss racial stereotypes, and racial myths and stereotypes should be dispelled, as in sex education.
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