Superior by Angela Saini review – how science enables racism - 2019-07-03
More than 90% of the top 20 performances in middle- and long-distance running are by black people of African heritage. Are they simply biologically better at it? That is precisely the kind of casual assumption that, as science writer Angela Saini shows in Superior, has kept "scientific racism" alive for centuries. In fact, more than half of those performances are by Kenyans, coming mostly from eight small tribes. One theory is that, having lived at high altitude for millennia, they have adapted to make more efficient use of oxygen when running. But studies have found no physiological advantage, and it's possible that the answer is instead sociological. One thing is sure: having dark skin pigmentation is as irrelevant here as speaking a Kenyan language. The idea of "race" has nothing to contribute to the debate.
If you're a typical Guardian reader, you might feel fine about, or flattered by, the notion that black people are better runners – it sounds positively antiracist, right? Yet this is the sort of reasoning that feeds racism: that there are meaningful biological distinctions between groups of humans (often on the basis of visible, literally superficial characteristics) that allow them to be categorised into distinct "races", from which we can meaningfully predict traits.
The problem with scientists, Saini says, is that they too often assume they are above racism