Fake Banner
    Let’s Recap The ‘DNA Games’: At The London Olympics, Segregation Returns With A Vengeance (And That's Not So Bad)
    By Jon Entine | August 11th 2012 07:26 PM | 28 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments

    Led by 100-meter world record holder Usain Bolt, Jamaican men swept the sprinting events at the London Olympics. It was a stunning feat for the small Caribbean nation. But as part of a broader trend, it’s hardly surprising. Runners of West African descent are the fastest humans on earth.

    For decades, a bushel of developing countries—Jamaica, Cuba, Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Kitts, Barbados, Grenada, Netherlands Antilles and the Bahamas in the Caribbean and Nigeria, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Namibia in western Africa, as single countries, have each produced more elite male sprinters than all of white Europe and Asia combined. Yet West African descended runners are laggards at the longer races.

    Remarkably, the story of East African runners is the mirror image of the West African success story. While terrible at the sprints, runners Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia, along with a sprinkling of North and Southern Africans, regularly dominate endurance running.

    And if you are an Asian or white runner? Forgetaboutit. 

    Unlike the props and costumes required for, say, fencing, or the intense coaching demanded of gymnastics, running requires only that you lace ‘em up. Ethiopia’s Abebe Bikila proved this quite memorably in the 1960 Rome Olympics, when—shoeless, coachless and inexperienced—he won the marathon.

    Running is a natural laboratory for the science of sports. It’s empirically driven. There are winners and losers. No soft-headed sociological mumbo-jumbo allowed.

    The fact is, over the past fifty years, as the barriers to competition, at least for men, have gradually eroded, and equality of opportunity has steadily spread to vast sections of once poverty-stricken Asia and Africa, one might expect that running results would have become more democratic. The medal podium should look like a rainbow of racial equality, a United Nations of sports. But just the opposite has happened.

    The trends are eye opening: Athletes of African ancestry hold every major male running record, from the 100 meters to the marathon. (Although these same trends hold for female runners, the pattern is more dominant among male runners. This analysis focuses on men because the playing field for them is far more level, as social taboos remain that restrict female access to sports in many parts of the world.)

    Over the last seven Olympic men’s 100-meter races, all 56 finalists have been of West African descent. Only two non-African runners, France’s Christophe Lemaire, who is white, and Australia’s Irish-aboriginal Patrick Johnson, have cracked the top 500 100-meter times. There are no elite Asian sprinters—or, intriguingly, any from East or North Africa. 

    Cultural myths

    What’s going on here? The most frequently heard explanation is that African athletes just work harder at running. It’s one of their few outlets, the story goes, to escape the trap of limited opportunities. There’s a tradition of running that young athletes emulate; they’ve been running to school since kindergarten; they train harder for a chance at the golden ring that athletic success offers; or athletes from other parts of the world have developed a toxic inferiority complex, a fear of ‘black athletes’; blah, blah,blah.

    National Public Radio recently carried just such a speculative piece on Kenya, and CNN had its own version on Jamaica. Never did the word “genetics” find its way into the story. It’s all nurture, they concluded—the long since scientifically discredited tabula rasa theory of human achievement.

    No one outside of the most politically correct circles really believes that. Certainly scientists don’t. The director of the Copenhagen Muscle Research Institute, Bengt Saltin, the world’s premier expert in human performance and race, has concluded that an athlete’s “environment” accounts for no more than 20-25 percent of athletic ability. The rest comes down to the roll of the genetic dice—with each population group having distinct advantages. In other words, running success is “in the genes.”

    Here are the facts. Athletic success, like success of all kind, is a bio-cultural phenomenon. Humans are not blank slates. While culture, environment, individual initiative and just plain luck might heavily influence which individuals succeed nature circumscribes the possibility of even being in the game.

    Genetically linked, highly heritable characteristics such as skeletal structure, the distribution of muscle fiber types (for example, sprinters have more natural fast twitch fibers, while distance runners are naturally endowed with more of the slow twitch variety), reflex capabilities, metabolic efficiency and lung capacity are not evenly distributed among populations. 

    Do we yet know the specific genes that contribute to on the field success? No, but that’s not an argument against the powerful role of genetics in sports. We do not yet know all the factors that determine skin color, but we know that genetics determines it. Slowly, geneticists will link human performance, including sports skills, to our DNA and more specifically to our ancestral roots—populations.

    This is uncontroversial and incontrovertible science even to anti-hereditarian ideologues. British biologist Steven Rose, one of the world’s most famous critics of biological determinism, recently wrote, “There are…probably genetic as well as environmental reasons why Ethiopians make good marathon runners whereas Nigerians on the whole do not.”Jon Entine's "Taboo" first addressed the controversy of genetically-based 'racial' differences in sports

    Yet the subject remains a prickly one to many journalists and the ‘liberal’ chattering classes. Michael Johnson stirred quite a controversy last month in London when the 400-meter world record holder postulated that black sprinters benefit from the outsized presence of ACTN3. The “speed gene” as it’s been dubbed, makes fast twitch muscles twitch fast. Lacking the ACTN3 protein does not seem to have any harmful health effects, but does affect running ability. Scientists conclude that it is almost impossible for someone who lacks the ACTN3 protein to become an elite sprinter. Those of African ancestry have the lowest incidence of the mutation that prevents the muscles from firing.

    Is this running’s “smoking gun” gene? No. Sports ability, like IQ, is the product of many genes with environmental triggers influencing the “expression” of our base DNA. But its isolation does underscore that when it comes to performance, genes matter.

    Why touch this third rail of race? After all, as UCLA’s Jared Diamond has noted, “Even today, few scientists dare to study racial origins, lest they be branded racists just for being interested in the subject.”

    Athletic achievement has long been a Catch-22 for blacks in general and African Americans in particular. In the early part of the 20th century, when blacks first got a chance to compete in sports, every defeat encouraged simplistic, racist beliefs that blacks were an inferior “race,” too frail to handle extreme physical challenges and not smart enough to plan a race strategy.

    Even winning didn’t shatter the stereotype; racist whites just created a new one. When Jesse Owens won four gold medals at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, shocking the Nazi hosts, a diametrically opposed but equally noxious myth became cemented: black athletes succeed because of their “natural” athleticism. As for the potential for black coaches or managers to succeed? Well...ask Al Campanis about that.

    Black success in sports in every aspect of sports has shattered that stereotype. But the pendulum has swung to hard the other way, from pure determinism to pure sociological speculation. Success in sports is now primarily attributed almost solely to hard work and cultural factors. In the light of what we know about genetics, that very American, egalitarian belief meme is too glib, simplistic and maybe even dangerous.

    The hard truth is that we cannot avoid confronting the fact of our patterned human biodiversity. Over the past decade, human genome research has moved from a study of human similarities to a focus on population-based differences. Such research offers clues to solving the mystery of disease, the Holy Grail of genetics. So why do we readily accept that evolution has turned out Jews with a genetic predisposition to Tay-Sachs, Southeast Asians with a higher proclivity for beta-thalassemia and blacks who are susceptible to colorectal cancer and sickle cell disease, yet find it racist to suggest that Usain Bolt can thank his West African ancestry for the most critical part of his success—his biological possibility?

    “Differences among athletes of elite caliber are so small,” said Robert Malina, a retired Michigan State University anthropologist and former editor of the Journal of Human Genetics, “that if you have a physique or the ability to fire muscle fibers more efficiently that might be genetically based ... it might be very, very significant. The fraction of a second is the difference between the gold medal and fourth place.”

    Bio-cultural athletic hotspots

    Indeed, the empirical evidence makes hash of the myth that culture is most responsible for making the athlete. Look at Kenya: with but 43 million people, this comparatively tiny country holds more than one third of top times in distance races. What explains this phenomenon? It’s in their culture, say many social scientists. Kenyans dominate distance races because they “naturally trained” as children—by running back and forth to school, for example.

    “That’s just silly,” Kenyan-born Wilson Kipketer told me. Kipketer currently holds 8 of the 17 all-time fastest 800-meter times, a middle distance track event. “I lived right next door to school,” he laughed, dismissing cookie-cutter explanations. “I walked, nice and slow.” What motivated him to pursue running? Like most young Kenyans, while growing up Kipketer hoped that he migh catch the eye of a coach who combs the countryside to find the next generation of budding stars. He had dreams of being cheered as he entered the National Stadium in Nairobi.

    Only one problem: the national sport, the hero worship, the adoring fans, the social channeling—that all speaks to Kenya's enduring love affair with soccer, not running. But Kipketer, like most Kenyans, was not very good at soccer; Kenyans and East Africans in general tend to be short and slender with large natural lung capacity and a preponderance of slow twitch muscles. It’s a perfect biomechanical package for long distance running, but a disaster for sports that require anaerobic bursts, like sprinting or soccer. Indeed, Kenya’s fastest 100-meter time, 10.26, is a half second slower than Bolt’s world record. There are more than 5,000 times ranked higher than Kenya’s best.

    Although people in every population come in all shapes and sizes, body types and physiological characteristics follow a Gaussian distribution curve as a result of evolutionary adaptations by our ancestors to extremely varied environmental challenges. Elite sports showcase these differences. Asians, on average, tend to be smaller with shorter extremities and long torsos—evolutionary adaptations to harsh climes encountered by Homo sapiens who migrated to Northeast Asia 40,000 years ago. China, for example, excels in many Olympic sports, for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons, according to geneticists, is that they are more flexible on average—a potential advantage in diving, gymnastics (hence the term “Chinese splits”) and figure skating.

    Whites of Eurasian ancestry are mesomorphic: they have larger and relatively more muscular bodies with comparatively short limbs and thick torsos. No prototypical sprinter or marathoner here. These proportions are advantageous in sports in which strength rather than speed is at a premium. Predictably, Eurasians dominate weightlifting, wrestling and most field events, such as the shot put and hammer. At the London Olympics, with the exception of North Korea, the top lifters come from a band of Eurasian countries: China, Kazakhstan, Iran, Poland, Russia and the Ukraine. Despite the image of the sculpted African body, no African nation won an Olympic lifting medal.

    What about West Africans and North American, Caribbean and European blacks who trace their ancestry to the Middle Passage? They generally have: bigger, more developed overall musculature;narrower hips, lighter calves; higher levels of plasma testosterone; faster patellar tendon reflex in the knee; and a higher percentage of fast-twitch muscles and more anaerobic enzymes, which can translate into more explosive energy. Blacks in general have heavier skeletons and less body fat—key genetic hindrances when it comes to such sports as competitive swimming

    “Evolution has shaped body types and in part athletic possibilities,” Joseph Graves, Jr. told me. Graves, who is African American, is an evolutionary biologist at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and UNC Greensboro. “Don’t expect an Eskimo to show up on an NBA court or a Watusi to win the world weight lifting championship. Differences don’t necessarily correlate with skin color, but rather with geography and climate. Endurance runners are more likely to come from East Africa and sprinters from West Africa. That’s a fact. Genes play a major role in this.”

    Resurrecting racism?

    Are we resurrecting racism by talking about sports in such stark black and white terms? Not at all. It’s the exaggeration, not the factual core of truth that human “populations” exist that stirs fear and ire. The difficulty, of course, is sorting out how much of a trait is genetically inbred, how much may be shaped by culture and opportunity and what is just plain poppycock.

    Limiting the rhetorical use of folk categories such as race, an admirable goal, is not going to make the patterned biological variation on which they are based disappear. The question is no longer whether these inquiries will continue but in what manner and to what end.

    Using sports to reflect on human biodiversity offers some unique advantages to the fair minded amongst us. Despite considerable off-the-field disparities, professional athletics remains one of the most racially and ethnically diverse professions in the world. It is the ultimate level playing field, albeit with its share of bumps and gullies. Individual athletes earn respect on the field, not by the privilege of their birth. Sports offer a unique definitiveness: there is only one high scorer, one swimmer who touches first or one runner who breaks the tape.

    There’s no need to make consideration of race in sports a taboo. In fact, sports provide the most rigid laboratory control possible—the level playing field—to guide us through the thicket of ideological correctness. So, bask in the real story behind The DNA Olympics.

    Jon Entine, author of Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It and Abraham’s Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of the Chosen People, is founding director of the Genetic Literacy Project at the Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) at George Mason University.

    Comments

    A well-written article. I have been saying the same thing since the 1970s both in Britain and from the 1990s onwards in the politically-correct USA. Why should human beings be any different from other animals and not show differences in characteristics? There are shire horses for work and there are those who study racing horse form and horse breeders who try and produce winners from the correct selection of stallion and mare. The differences between groups of humans are likely there as well. Modern technology and genetics now allow the quantifiable measurement and monitoring of physiological occurances at the tissue and cellular level. What some people don't like the concept that people are not the same means that people may be born with different capabilities. If these differences that are there may be discovered is that it is also likely to eventually find out why so. That would on the one hand destroy any notion of "natural" equality and many of the arguments of socialism. Secondly, should treatments (e.g. gene doping) then become available to raise the game of any charateristic be it IQ, running speed, strength, etc would confer further advantage on those that could afford that. Is society ready for that?

    Gerhard Adam
    So, is this a discussion about genetics in sports or about how blacks win races because of their genes?

    That's what I find a bit disturbing, because for decades there was little doubt that Arnold Schwarzenegger dominated body-building because of his genetics.  In that realm, genetics is always a topic up for consideration.  Similarly though, where's the genetic discussions about power-lifters and swimmers?

    It should be obvious to everyone that genetics plays a role in any superior athlete, so the question that comes up ... why the interest in black athletes?  If its' simply to make the point that genetics is a factor ... consider it made ... it's not particularly exciting, but OK ... there it is.

    However, let's also be clear that among elite athletes, the differences are truly tiny and are fundamentally irrelevant when extending such views to entire races or groups of individuals.  There's nothing wrong with examining differences between people, nor in examining the role of genetics or other factors.  However, let's also be clear that these topics don't have a particularly sterling history, since the input/results they actually provide is trivial, while the damage their abuse can do is significant. 

    I will bet that it won't take long before someone [if they post comments] makes the genetic argument about IQ.   We just saw the same thing in a series of posts on another blog.  I hope I'm wrong.
    Mundus vult decipi
    Saying good things about blacks = ANTI-RACIST
    Saying good things about whites = RACIST

    Saying negative things about whites = ANTI-RACIST
    Saying negative things about non-whites = RACIST

    Anti-Racist is a code word for Anti-White

    Gerhard Adam
    Well, that didn't take long.
    Mundus vult decipi
    JonEntine
    Well, Mr. Adam, the crank, is back. Believe what you want, but there are selective evolutionary pressures in circumscribed environments (eg: geographically or religiously or culturally circumscribed communities) that have led to patterned characteristics across every aspect of human development and behavior. I seriously doubt your ability to grasp cognitively complex information, but if you so choose to embark on that intellectual adventure, you can start with my two books on population genetics--"Taboo" and "Abraham's Children."
    Hank
    My mother actually brought up some of your work (related to Ashkenazi Jews) during a phone call yesterday.  

    I said, "I had lunch a few weeks ago with the guy who..." and she cut me off because she wanted to talk about predispositions about breast cancer and not my lunch.  ha ha

    I think in a hyper-sensitive progressive movement, race will be avoided. 
    The most frequently heard explanation is that African athletes just work harder at running. It’s one of their few outlets, the story goes, to escape the trap of limited opportunities. 
    NPR and the other outlets engaging in this patronization say just the opposite when it comes to representation in America - it's all oppression.  Except when it comes to politics, then the left is super-smart so they clear the tables in the humanities or the right wing doesn't choose to be there.

    They have a right to be skittish.  They were the ones hardest on Jimmy the Greek when he said some of this - though his comments were Lamarckian at the time they could be considered epigenetics now - so embracing the science now means they were basically wrong for decades.

    Heck, I am skittish too.  All I did last week was ridicule a goofy psychology study designed to claim that white people are racist even if they are not racist and my piece was overrun with skinheads taking it and doing bad things with it.
    rholley
    ridicule a goofy psychology study
    Where is the article, please?

    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Hank
    Here you go: Implicit Association Test: Are You Secretly Racist? (Hint: You Are) - I meant to write 'the piece' rather than 'my piece', since it was a press release.
    rholley
    Illustrating the point:


    http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2012/aug/12/mo-farah-mobot-gesture

    Referring particularly to the distances run, you could say that’s the long and the short of it.


    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Omar Chedda
    " The question is no longer whether these inquiries will continue but in what manner and to what end."

    Unfortunately, in a world where might is right the manner and end might not be pleasant.

    I could easily use your methodolgy to arrive at conclusions that are not so favourable as many have done and will no doubt do.
    JonEntine
    Flesh this out a bit...what are you suggesting?
    Omar Chedda
    Advocating a racialist view of humanity might create more problems than it solves in a world of inequality and power imbalances. As history has shown, power imbalances usually result in what we consider atrocities, which are made easier to commit with a racialist view of the world in terms of who is superior and inferior. I'll leave you with this video of a debate bewteen James Flynn and Charles Murray: http://app2.capitalreach.com/esp1204/servlet/tc?cn=aei&c=10162&s=20271&e...
    JonEntine
    Except that this is not "promoting" a racialist view. It's merely recognizing the obvious in sports--and pointing out that patterned differences, including by population, just happens to be the central focus of medical genetics today. So as for your "feeling" that the study of population genetics "might" create more problems than it solves, medical needs have spoken: your wrong. The only question is--can we talk about the obvious constructively; Well, not if you run away from it.
    Omar Chedda
    "The only question is--can we talk about the obvious constructively; Well, not if you run away from it."

    No one is running away from these discussions.  In the video I linked, Charles Murray clearly lays out his scientific evidence that there is a genetic basis for the IQ difference between blacks and whites which no amount of environmental conditioning will ever correct.  So, according to Murray's scientific evidence, Blacks are genetically inferior to Whites in terms of IQ levels.

    Now, you argue that some black guys can run faster based on genes.  So what?  I'd rather have the higher IQ any day, except if I can be paid millions per year for running fast.
    JonEntine
    You kind of miss the point. The reason geneticists are focused on this issue is to address health disparities and come up with new treatment protocols not to satisfy parlor game musings.
    Omar Chedda
    Mr. Entine, it is you who is missing the point that I am making.  Science does not exist in a vacuum.  Scientists might have the best intentions in the world for their research.  However, the power structure in which we live uses scientific research in ways that the scientist did not originally foresee, for example, nuclear and biological weapons.

    Race is a very political issue, so there is no doubt that research into genetic differences will be used for Eugenics purposes. This is not to say that we should stop scientific research but let us all not be so naive about the world in which we live.
    Gerhard Adam
    Omar

    You're absolutely correct, and the fact is that race is a uniformly bad/crude form of classification that is all but useless in a medical context.  Geographic origins are the basis for tracking such conditions, and are the basis for the HAPMAP which is intended to provide that kind of detail.

    http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v36/n11s/pdf/ng1435.pdf
    "...knowledge of individual ancestry will be important for biomedical studies.  Identifiers based on race will often be insufficient."
    http://www.nature.com/ng/journal/v36/n11s/pdf/ng1438.pdf

    Even those that wish to advocate "race" as a criteria, there is this interesting discussion on the topic which illustrates how complicated such taxonomic classifications actually are.
    http://robertlindsay.wordpress.com/2009/03/02/the-major-and-minor-races-of-mankind/

    Especially after reading this last piece, it becomes more clear why broad categorizations along 3-4 major racial lines is little better than determining medical practice based on lines of latitude or longitude.  You'll likely hit as often as you miss.
    Mundus vult decipi
    JonEntine
    Uhmmm..that's the very point of this essay. East Africans have different physical and physiological characteristics than do West Africans because they are different populations. That said, both are sub-Saharan Africans, and sub-Saharan Africans do share some similarities in body type, etc., such as long limbs relative to their torsos...which helps in all kinds of running. But other population level differences, such as lung capacity and muscle fiber type are shaped by other factors, such as altitude, which are not unique to sub-Saharan Africa. "Race" is a crude marker, akin to trying to wrestle an octopus into a box...there will always be tentacles hanging out and squiggling around. But it's not a useless marker, as its inexpensive and quick to utilize, which in some medical situations, for example, could prove critical.
    Gerhard Adam
    ...that's the very point of this essay.
    Is it?  So black and white refer to geographic population distributions?  So you would argue that there is no difference in blacks between East and West Africa with regards to the distribution of the sickle-cell trait? 

    Do we actually know Usain Bolt's ancestry?  or is it merely assumed because of his sprinting? 

    The point is that no one thinks geographic distributions are racist, nor taboo.  Perhaps, given enough time, eventually someone will make those population distinctions "racist", but we do know that "race" conveys as much incorrect information as it does correct information.

    What's the point in an assessment being inexpensive if it is wrong?  It would be entirely proper to suggest that a black individual has a likely ancestry originating out of Africa, just like many whites would likely originate out of Europe.  However, that tells us next to nothing without more information, so how does this help resolve a "critical" situation?

    How does this help whites that may have the sickle cell trait, but won't have it considered because the "crude" indicators don't suggest it? 

    Like it or not, incomplete information is incomplete information.  It cannot tell us anything more useful, regardless of what it may suggest.  At its absolute best, it may provide a useful starting point, from which we may have a higher probability that it pays off.  But it is hardly indicative. 
    Mundus vult decipi
    JonEntine
    I guess different people would define "next to nothing" differently. If I'm a doctor, and I'm dealing with literally thousands of patients, and need to make subjective decisions such as who to test for a disease proclivity, it helps to know if someone is of Jewish ancestry or of African ancestry--whether you are a Jew or a black. Is it air tight? No. Is it helpful. Yes? But this is not relevant to the very simple point made in the piece that ancestry matters when it comes to medicine and behavior, and that sports is a great metaphor to talk about it.
    Gerhard Adam
    ...the very simple point made in the piece that ancestry matters when it comes to medicine and behavior, and that sports is a great metaphor to talk about it.
    Yes, but that's precisely the problem I have with it.  Ancestry and behavior? 

    However, even according to your own article, sports is NOT a great metaphor because other than running too much of it is dependent on coaches, equipment, access to facilities, etc.  So, it's not indicative of much of anything. 

    So, again, if the entire argument reduces to running ... OK ... there appears to be a connection to people of a certain geographic origin.  
    Mundus vult decipi
    JonEntine
    This is tiresome and silly. You are the kind of person who lives for nits. If you generally are interested in this issue, read either of my two books on population genetics. Read Goldstein's or Oster's book. We all lay out, from our own perspectives, with caution, the various issues and concerns. Engage this on a serious level and you will get, from me and others on this list, a serious discussion. Or you can just continue to ply your meager wears. Your choice.
    Gerhard Adam
    Oh ... you mean this Goldstein?
    It takes large, expensive trials with hundreds of patients in different countries to find even common variants behind a disease. Rare variants lie beyond present reach. “It’s an astounding thing,” Dr. Goldstein said, “that we have cracked open the human genome and can look at the entire complement of common genetic variants, and what do we find? Almost nothing. That is absolutely beyond belief.”
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/16/science/16prof.html?pagewanted=all
    Mundus vult decipi
    JonEntine
    Gee, thanks for educating me about the "power structure." If you are interested in understanding the context of how the race issue has been historically used and misused, both Taboo and Abraham's Children have long sections on it. Today, population genetics is a medical issue.
    rholley
    This is how one author saw the matter, nearly 100 years ago:

    «... there has lately been in America an exhibition not unanalogous to a conflict in the arena, and one for which a real negro actually was procured by the management. The negro happened to beat the white man, and both before and after this event people went about wildly talking of “the White Man’s champion” and “the representative of the Black Race.” All black men were supposed to have triumphed over all white men in a sort of mysterious Armageddon because one specialist met another specialist and tapped his claret or punched him in the bread-basket.

    Now the fact is, of course, that these two prize-fighters were so specially picked and trained — the business of producing such men is so elaborate, artificial, and expensive — that the result proves nothing whatever about the general condition of white men or black.»

    From “The Uses of Diversity” by G.K.Chesterton (1920)

    http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/The_Uses_of_Diversity.html
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    Hank
    Chesterton was a beacon of rational hope at the height of the progressive/social authoritarian/eugenics/social darwinism movement. 
    JonEntine
    It's an interesting quote, but the point? I review the entire history of 'black physicality" and the "race notion" in Taboo, fyi.
    rholley
    The point?

    Simply a pointer to how people tend to think, and a bit of light entertainment from a “brilliant and elegant” author.

    As for the original point pf the essay from which I took this, that was quite different:
    This bombastic literalism is at least very much the fashion in our modern theatricals. Mr. Vincent Crummles considered it a splendid piece of thoroughness on the part of an actor that he should black himself all over to perform Othello. But Mr. Crummles’s ideal falls far short of the theoretic thoroughness of the late Sir Herbert Tree; who would consider blacking oneself all over as comparatively a mere sham, compromise, and veneer. Sir Herbert Tree would, I suppose, send for a real negro to act Othello; and perhaps for a real Jew to act Shylock — though that, in the present condition of the English stage, might possibly be easier. ...

    For the principle in itself admits of no limit. If once it be allowed that what looks like silver behind the footlights is better also for really being silver, there seems no reason why the wildest developments should not ensue. ...

    We might re-establish the goriness as well as the gorgeousness of the amphitheatre. If real wine-cups, why not real wine? If real wine, why not real blood?
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England