Sport and the Color Line: Black Athletes and Race Relations in Twentieth-Century America

By Patrick B. Miller; David K. Wiggins | Go to book overview

17

THE ANATOMY OF SCIENTIFIC RACISM

Racialist Responses to Black Athletic Achievement

Patrick B. Miller

IN THE LATE 1940s, a highly regarded critic for the New York Times wrote that the modern dance revolution had opened the way for black Americans to find themselves as "creative artists." The widespread embrace of new choreographic styles had enabled them, John Martin asserted, to "release in communicative essence the uninhibited qualities of the racial heritage, no matter what the immediate subject of any specific dance might be." Martin's survey text (republished in 1963 and in 1970) ranged over a large number of themes. But what stood out, from first version to last, was the chapter "The Negro Dance," with its persistent references to the "intrinsic" and the "innate." One feature of the Negro dancer, Martin insisted, "is his uniquely racial rhythm":

Far more than just a beat, it includes a characteristic phrase, manifested throughout the entire body and originating sometimes so far from its eventual point of outlet as to have won the description of "lazy… Closely allied to this pervasive rhythm is the wide dynamic range of his movement itself, with, at one extreme, vigor and an apparently inexhaustible energy (though, be it noted, a minimum of tension), and at the other extreme, a rich command of relaxation. 1

For all their contributions to jazz and modern dance, Martin declared, African Americans had been "wise" not to take up academic ballet, "for its wholly European outlook, history and technical theory are alien to [them] culturally, temperamentally and anatomically." He went on:

In practice there is a racial constant, so to speak, in the proportions of the limbs and torso and the conformation of the feet, all of which affect body placement; in addition, the deliberately maintained erectness of the European dancer's spine is in marked contrast to the fluidity of the Negro dancer's, and the latter's natural concentration of movement in the pelvic region is similarly at odds with European usage. 2

If other commentators have advanced less meticulous formulations than Martin's, they have unselfconsciously-but no less emphatically-stacked value judgments upon matters

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