Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports And Why We’re Afraid To Talk About It

Book review by Deane Barker tags: sports, race

This book explains (it doesn’t “claim,” it just explains) that Black humans are generally better athletes than White humans. It goes deep into the different regions of Africa, and shows how significant portions of athletics are simply dominated by athletes from those regions.

In particular, the author concentrates on:

  • West African dominance of sports that require speed, strength, and quickness (basketball, sprinting)

  • East African dominance of sports that require endurance (marathons)

The point is not really disputable. Assuming his stats are valid – which they should be because these are all public records – White people just aren’t going to win a marathon when a Kenyan is also competing, especially one from the Rift Valley. That’s just the way it is.

The larger point is: why does it make us uncomfortable to talk about this? And why does relating someone’s skill at sports back to their genotype make some people angry?

Here’s why –

Because if we say someone is “naturally gifted at athletics,” there are other points we don’t say, but which people extrapolate:

  • You didn’t work hard for your success, you were just born into it

  • You can’t have both physical and intellectual prowess, so clearly you’re dumb

  • You would rather spend time on physical/sensual pursuits and gratification than you would on more scholarly pursuits

Again, we don’t say these things, but many people think them.

This is likely wrapped up in long-standing racism. Historically, Whites have feared Black physical superiority. Plantation owners lived in fear of slave revolts. White men have felt emasculated by the legend or reality of Black male sexual skill and endowment.

Because of this, did White people subconsciously derive all the above points just to make ourselves feel better? Is this sour grapes because so few basketball players, sprinters, and distance runners are White?

It’s an interesting book, and provokes some interesting questions. Along the way, the author details the history of racism in sports (Jackie Robinson, Jesse Owens, Jack Johnson, the 1968 Olympic protest), and the history of White people saying things that got them in trouble about how well Black people compete.

If you enjoy sports history, there’s a lot for you here.

Update: a few days after finishing this book, the 50th New York City marathon was run. The winners were Albert Korir (male) and Peres Jepchirchir (female). Both are from Kenya.

Book Info

Jon Entine
  • I have read this book. According to my records, I completed it on .
  • A softcover copy of this book is currently in my home library.

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