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Mulatto Elite

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For a couple of years, I’ve been pointing ou t that because African-American culture has become so narrow and inward-looking, it’s now having a harder time producing high achievers outside of Officially Black fields such as basketball, football, and some forms of entertainment. Thus, the black race is increasingly represented at the top of many categories by half-black individuals (typically raised by white mothers or white maternal grandparents). Barack Obama is only the most obvious example of the rise of this New Mulatto Elite. (In contrast, the Old Mulatto Elite, such as Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington, generally had white ancestors in the paternal line.)

Now, Michael Lewis (author of Moneyball on the impact of Bill James-style statistics on baseball) has a New York Times Magazine article, “The No-Stats All-Star,” on Shane Battier, a Houston Rockets NBA player whose contributions to winning only appear in the newest and most sophisticated basketball statistics. In all the old basketball statistics, he just looks like a slow, not very springy player with a white mom. (Here’s a video of Battier singing a country song in a karaoke bar.) But the Rockets brain trust gives him (and nobody else on the team) all their super-sophisticated stats and he digests them before each game to understand how to shut down the opponent’s best player, such as Kobe Bryant of the Lakers.

Lewis’s article is a bit contrived in that he skips over mentioning that Battier is different from most NBA stars in that he spent four years in college, at Duke, learning how to play from Coach K. Also, in college he was a superstar by his senior year, winning all the awards as player of the year, so the new stats weren’t necessary to distinguish his contributions at the college level. As Yogi Berra said, “Sometimes you can observe a lot just by watching.” The question was always whether his lack of athleticism would prevent him from playing an important role in the NBA. That’s where the new stats help.

Lewis writes:

In 1996 a young writer for The Basketball Times named Dan Wetzel thought it might be neat to move into the life of a star high-school basketball ­player and watch up close as big-time basketball colleges recruited him. He picked Shane Battier, and then spent five months trailing him, with growing incredulity. “I’d covered high-school basketball for eight years and talked to hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of kids — really every single prominent high-school basketball player in the country,” Wetzel says. “There’s this public perception that they’re all thugs. But they aren’t. A lot of them are really good guys, and some of them are very, very bright. Kobe’s very bright. LeBron’s very bright. But there’s absolutely never been anything like Shane Battier.”

Wetzel watched this kid, inundated with offers of every kind, take charge of an unprincipled process. Battier narrowed his choices to six schools — Kentucky, Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Michigan and Michigan State — and told everyone else, politely, to leave him be. He then set out to minimize the degree to which the chosen schools could interfere with his studies; he had a 3.96 G.P.A. and was poised to claim Detroit Country Day School’s headmaster’s cup for best all-around student. He granted each head coach a weekly 15-minute window in which to phone him. These men happened to be among the most famous basketball coaches in the world and the most persistent recruiters, but Battier granted no exceptions. When the Kentucky coach Rick Pitino, who had just won a national championship, tried to call Battier outside his assigned time, Battier simply removed Kentucky from his list. …

Battier, even as a teenager, was as shrewd as he was disciplined. The minute he figured out where he was headed, he called a sensational high-school power forward in Peekskill, N.Y., named Elton Brand — and talked him into joining him at Duke. (Brand now plays for the Philadelphia 76ers.) “I thought he’d be the first black president,” Wetzel says. “He was Barack Obama before Barack Obama.”

Last July, as we sat in the library of the Detroit Country Day School [tuition = $24,240], watching, or trying to watch, his March 2008 performance against Kobe Bryant, Battier was much happier instead talking about Obama, both of whose books he had read. (“The first was better than the second,” he said.)

Battier has good literary taste, too.

When he entered Detroit Country Day in seventh grade, he … was also the only kid in school with a black father and a white mother. Oddly enough, the school had just graduated a famous black basketball player, Chris Webber. Webber won three state championships and was named national high-school player of the year. “Chris was a man-child,” says his high school basketball coach, Kurt Keener. “Everyone wanted Shane to be the next Chris Webber, but Shane wasn’t like that.” Battier had never heard of Webber and didn’t understand why, when he took to the Amateur Athletic Union circuit and played with black inner-city kids, he found himself compared unfavorably with Webber: “I kept hearing ‘He’s too soft’ or ‘He’s not an athlete.’ ” His high-school coach was aware of the problems he had when he moved from white high-school games to the black A.A.U. circuit. “I remember trying to add some flair to his game,” Keener says, “but it was like teaching a classical dancer to do hip-hop. I came to the conclusion he didn’t have the ego for it.”

Battier was half-white and half-black, but basketball, it seemed, was either black or white. A small library of Ph.D. theses might usefully be devoted to the reasons for this. For instance, is it a coincidence that many of the things a player does in white basketball to prove his character — take a charge, scramble for a loose ball — are more pleasantly done on a polished wooden floor th
an they are on inner-city asphalt? Is it easier to “play for the team” when that team is part of some larger institution? At any rate, the inner-city kids with whom he played on the A.A.U. circuit treated Battier like a suburban kid with a white game, and the suburban kids he played with during the regular season treated him like a visitor from the planet where they kept the black people. “On Martin Luther King Day, everyone in class would look at me like I was supposed to know who he was and why he was important,” Battier said. “When we had an official school picture, every other kid was given a comb. I was the only one given a pick.” He was awkward and shy, or as he put it: “I didn’t present well. But I’m in the eighth grade! I’m just trying to fit in!” And yet here he was shuttling between a black world that treated him as white and a white world that treated him as black. ‘‘Everything I’ve done since then is because of what I went through with this,” he said. “What I did is alienate myself from everybody. I’d eat lunch by myself. I’d study by myself. And I sort of lost myself in the game.”

Losing himself in the game meant fitting into the game, and fitting into the game meant meshing so well that he became hard to see. In high school he was almost always the best player on the court, but even then he didn’t embrace the starring role. “He had a tendency to defer,” Keener says. “He had this incredible ability to make everyone around him better. But I had to tell him to be more assertive. The one game we lost his freshman year, it was because he deferred to the seniors.” Even when he was clearly the best player and could have shot the ball at will, he was more interested in his role in the larger unit. But it is a mistake to see in his detachment from self an absence of ego, or ambition, or even desire for attention. When Battier finished telling me the story of this unpleasant period in his life, he said: “Chris Webber won three state championships, the Mr. Basketball Award and the Naismith Award. I won three state championships, Mr. Basketball and the Naismith Awards. All the things they said I wasn’t able to do, when I was in the eighth grade.”

“Who’s they?” I asked.

“Pretty much everyone,” he said.

“White people?”

“No,” he said. “The street.”

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Mulatto Elite, Race, Sports 
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Awhile back, a British TV talent show was won by a dumpy-looking guy named Paul Potts who wowed the crowd by singing Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” aria from Turandot.

Americans don’t know anything about opera anymore, so they don’t realize how thrilling it can be. (The British viewers were probably vaguely familiar with the aria from the connection between soccer and the Three Tenors, “Nessun Dorma” being more or less Pavarotti’s theme song.) So it was only natural for the American Idol-style show “America’s Got Talent” to have as the anchorman of their season premiere this week an American contestant singing “Nessun Dorma.” Neil E. Boyd, an insurance salesman of Pavarotti-like girth, floored the audience, making him the frontrunner.

I imagine the producers of the show auditioned a lot of part-time opera singers to find the one they were going to anoint as the American Paul Potts. The fellow they came up with, Boyd, is (not too surprisingly) part black, with a white mom with whom he is very close.

A couple of years ago, my wife predicted early in the American Idol season that Jordin Sparks, the daughter of an NFL cornerback and a redhead, would win, since she could sing both black and white.

I think there’s a general lesson emerging: whites like blacks, but black teens these days don’t like much of anything they consider white. They like just hip-hop and basketball (and, okay, football, too). Almost everything else is considered a violation of keeping it real.

Even though blacks may tend to have a natural advantage at creating resonant vocal tones, the very idea of singing opera is totally off their radar. Sure, there were big time black opera singers like Marian Anderson as far back as between the Wars, but black youths aren’t interested in that kind of acting white anymore.

So, the small number of mulattos who grew up with one non-black parent and thus get introduced to a wider range of cultural options beyond rap and hoops are disproportionately taking the plums that people a generation ago assumed blacks in general would be achieving.

Back in 1968, when the top American rock guitarist was Jimi Hendrix and top American tennis player was Arthur Ashe, everybody assumed that integration meant that blacks would continue to show up near the top in an ever wider variety of fields.

Today, though, superstar rock guitarist Tom Morello is the great-nephew of Jomo Kenyatta; and the second best American men’s tennis player James Blake has a black father. But they both have white mothers. Similarly, five different black golfers won 23 PGA tournaments between 1961 and 1986, but since then Tiger Woods is the only player of any visible fraction of African ancestry to win a tournament.

There’s somebody who’s an even better example of this rise of the new mulatto elite, but I can’t quite think of his name at the moment.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Mulatto Elite, Race 
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The starting catcher for the National League All-Star team tonight is my new favorite baseball player, Russell Martin of the Dodgers. He’s an example of a phenomenon I’ve been noticing. As African-American culture becomes more narrowly focused on a few areas, such as football and basketball but not baseball, that leaves big openings for part-black people raised in white culture. Martin’s father was an African-American and his mother a white Quebecois. He spent a few years of his childhood living in Paris.

Catching is a highly technical skill, unlike playing the outfield where sheer footspeed matters most. So, as African Americans have lost interest in baseball, the number of African Americans catchers has dropped particularly sharply. In Bill James’ second version of his Baseball Historical Abstract covering 1875-2000, there are only four African American catchers among the top 100 catchers, and those from fairly early after integration (Ray Campanella, who had an Italian father, Elston Howard, John Roseboro, and Earl Battey). In contrast there are 27 African American centerfielders (the position demanding the most speed) among the top 100.

So, it’s not surprising that a star catcher with some black descent will have grown up in a largely white cultural milieu.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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For about ten weeks, my wife has been predicting that the winner of the TV singing contest will be 17-year-old Jordin Sparks, the cheerful daughter of a black retired NFL player and a redhead, because she can sing both black and white. In contrast, 29-year-old Melinda Doolittle, who conducted a master class each week in how to sing like the great black women of the past — Aretha, Tina, etc. — finished only third.

We’ll find out Wednesday night when the show drags out the announcement of the winner for two hours. (In contrast, the shorter Tuesday night shows when the actual competition singing is done are a lot snappier. The very 1950s thing about this show that’s key to its success is that the contestants never ever get to lip-sync, so it combines entertainment with the tension of sports.)

If, as expected, Jordin does win, it will be another data point for my theory of the Rise of the Mulatto Elite — white people like minority entertainers and politicians, but they don’t like them too minority, and minority cultures in the U.S. tend to be somewhat dysfunctional environments for raising children, so the best combination for becoming famous these days is to have a minority dad and a white mom.

Rage Against the Machine, the most important left wing rock band since the Clash, is a classic example with both the guitarist and singer being of mixed race. Prodigious guitarist Tom Morello is the great-nephew of Jomo Kenyatta (!), founder of modern Kenya. His father was a Mau-Mau rebel and then Kenya’s first ambassador to the UN. His mom was an Irish-Italian girl from Illinois who traveled the world and married his father in Kenya. She left her husband before the baby was born. Morello was raised in Libertyville, IL, a nice all-white suburb 40 miles north of Chicago, near the Pine Meadow Golf Course, which I used to drive out from the city to play.

Similarly, the band’s annoying lead singer, Zack de la Rocha, has a Latino father, who went nuts when he was 13, and so he was raised by his white mother in posh Irvine, CA. Like a certain Presidential candidate’s adolescence, this pleasant white upbringing led de la Rocha to identify more strongly with his minority side.

If Blake wins American Idol, however, well never mind …

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Mulatto Elite, Music 
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continues to dominate television ratings with a product that just isn’t terribly deplorable. The success of the contest at finding unexploited commercial singing talent, especially female talent, shows up the inefficiency and corruption of the traditional music industry, which fails to maximize profits because too many male executives prefer to exploit their power to promote pretty but untalented girls who will sleep with them rather than to find the best singers. Further, the contest format gives nice, unassertive people like this year’s standout, Melinda Doolittle (a 29-year-old professional back-up singer with a near Gladys Knight-quality voice but a shy, unassuming personality), a chance to shine in a business where pushiness is normally a prerequisite.

One striking difference between American Idol and the spate of lesser reality TV shows is that, surprisingly, it doesn’t reward diva attitudes and bitchiness on the part of the contestants (the judges provide more than enough of that). The show has consistently resisted the temptation to put cameras in wherever it is that the contestants are lodged. It would be easy to encourage the contestants to engage in backstage backbiting and undermining each other on camera, like on Big Brother and all its imitators, but the show doesn’t do that. One reason is that American Idol isn’t American Idle — the contestants who make it past the early auditions to Hollywood are working hard in rehearsal all week to get ready to put on two shows a week, and thus don’t have as much time to connive against each other.

Another reason is because singing is a more objective undertaking than just being a media personality. Radio psychiatrist Dr. Drew Pinsky gave the standard Narcissistic Personality Inventory test to scores of minor celebrities that came on the “Loveline” radio show he hosted with Adam Carolla and found that the most narcissistic were the least talented — the female reality TV stars of the moment were the most narcissistic, while the most talented, the musicians, were the least. If you are an excellent musician, you are always aware that there are truly great musicians out there. Melinda Doolittle knows that as good as she is, she’s not as good as, say, Whitney Houston was in her (brief) prime.

Indeed, one of the rare pleasures of American Idol is the initial open audition shows when the talentless egomaniacs are sent home with curt, but valuable, advice to find a different career. In an America that constantly propagandizes about how everyone can achieve their goals if only they never forget their dreams, yada yada, Simon Cowell offers some useful English realism.

One thing that surprised Cowell a half decade ago was how little the American public cared about singers’ looks. Being beautiful, like last year’s runner-up Katherine McPhee, or cute, like the previous year’s winner Carrie Underwood, helps, of course, but being fat (e.g., winner Rueben Stoddard), funny-looking (winner Fantasia and popular runner-up Clay Aiken), or gray-haired (winner Taylor Hicks) doesn’t hurt as much as it would in Britain.

My wife has been guessing for some time that the winner this year will be 17-year-old Jordin Sparks, the cheerful mulatto daughter of a retired NFL cornerback and a blonde. Sparks, who has done some plus-sized modeling, is cute but not sexy, which is becoming in somebody so young. Sparks is a fine singer but not as strong as Doolittle or, when she’s on her game, big LaKisha Jones. But the complex interaction of race and musical style just might favor young Sparks.

This year, the male singers have been below average, and without a strong white female country singer like Underwood or first winner Kelly Clarkson, the black women have dominated. Although they always put a cute white rocker chick in the top dozen, American Idol isn’t conducive to singing electric guitar rock, for which you need your own small band, so that leaves country as the only genre where experienced white women have an advantage over black women on the show. The other good genres for the show are either black, such as Motown, or old-fashioned, such as show tunes, where the black advantage in raw vocal talent gives black women the advantage.

But there have been so many good black women this year, and they never have that all big a voting bloc among the public (the modal voter — an adolescent white girl would prefer, all else being equal, to vote for somebody she identifies with), so they’ve cut into each other’s vote, with LaKisha almost being sent home this week. (Howard Stern’s novelty candidate Sanjaya was sent packing instead). The same thing happened in the third year, when Fantasia, who is black, won. Another tremendous black singer, Jennifer Hudson, the new Oscar-winner for “Dreamgirls,” finished seventh, despite a lot of praise from the judges. Without Fantasia in the running, Hudson might well have won, but there wasn’t enough support from the public for black women for both of them to make it to the last night.

Because she can sing black or white, Jordin Sparks thus looks well-poised to win the vote this year.

If she does well, that would be more evidence for a phenomenon I’ve been vaguely noticing for some time — the rise of a Mulatto Elite in public life, to some extent displacing African-Americans raised in a conventionally black background. Perhaps it’s just that there are more people with one black parent and one white parent today. But I suspect it’s also that traditional African-Americans, in general, are getting ever more into their own narrow black groove and thus slowly losing touch with the rest of the country. For example, Levitt and Dubner wrote:

“The California data establish just how dissimilarly black and white parents have named their children over the past 25 years or so—a remnant, it seems, of the Black Power movement. The typical baby girl born in a black neighborhood in 1970 was given a name that was twice as common among blacks than whites. By 1980, she received a name that was 20 times more common among blacks. (Boys’ names moved in the same direction but less aggressively—likely because parents of all races are less adventurous with boys’ names than girls’.) Today, more than 40 percent of the black girls born in California in a given year receive a name that not one of the roughly 100,000 baby white girls received that year.”

Giving your baby one of these stereotypically black names exposes your child to discrimination on the job market (as resume tests have shown). But blacks seem to be willing to have their children pay that price in the name of racial solidarity. Giving your baby a name like LaKisha is a way of branding her permanently with black culture so that she is less able to step away from it if she chooses.

As conventional blacks increasingly concentrate in only a handful of fields (e.g., just basketball and football in sports) and make a fetish of keepin’ it real, of not “acting white,” they are losing touch with the interests of the white majority, even as whites become ever more positive toward black talents. In their place, those individuals who are part black genetically, but had at least a partly white upbringing are able to flourish among whites by providing black skills without as much self-defeating black attitude. (Any connection between this trend and the popularity among whites of a certain Senator from Illinois is of course utterly coincidental.)

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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