White Men Can’t Jump

Recreating (and advancing) pk’s censored domains: Macroinformation.org &
Knatz.com / Teaching / Society & Its Pathologies / Social Survival / Culture /
1st @ IonaArc 2005 12 18

The Welsh sing. The Irish fight, and drink. The English have a stiff upper lip. Apaches’ll scalp y’a. We all recognize certain cultural generalizations that go beyond men wearing pants and women wearing dresses. Even with cultural prejudices alerted for and at least a bit discounted, some generalizations remain. The Scots are frugal. Boy, those darkies sure can sing and dance.

Before I identify and delve into my meat for this post, I throw in a pair of personal recollections. In grad school the professor apologized for some poet’s use of the stingy Scot saw. I said, “The Scots don’t see that as an insult; they’re proud of it.” And: one old college friend visited another old college friend in Italy where the latter had moved with his Italian Commie film-maker wife. The former was accompanied by a black grad school associate (Wisconsin, Madison). The Commie wife went into convulsions about how Americans treated blacks. “Sure,” said the “black”: “but how about how the Italians treat the Sicilians?” The Commie wife had another fit. In essence: Americans called the blacks lazy, no good thieves to oppress them, following enslavement with prejudice; whereas the Sicilians really were lazy, no good thieves.

Even after prejudices are a bit discounted, some kernel of truth seems to remain with any number of cultural generalizations. Men are brave; women are pussies. Whites can’t sing, dance, or jump (proof that they are superior and should own all and rule all). Which raises the question which becomes a bit less imponderable with time: nature? or nurture?

White Men Can't Jump
God, ain’t Woody wonderful to look at?
thanx wikipedia

There’s no serious question that nature determines lots of variables: skin color, eye color … Some people can roll their tongue, some can’t digest milk, the women of some tribes have a huge caboose. Pygmies are short. We find it harder to acknowledge cultural differences: and that’s what I want to expatiate on a bit.

A couple of years ago I caught a PBS doc in which a woman with advanced degrees in percussion travelled about seeking folk groups around the world to sit in with, the show off. And by God, sitting in the dirt in India she played the tabla respectably right along with the locals who were in their own idiom! And though she looked a bit like a dog standing on its hind legs, she looked vastly less out of place than would have been possible oh so short an historical time ago.

Back in the 1950s, maybe 1960, in East Harlem I remember seeing eight year old Puerto Rican kids hanging out of the fire escapes and pounding out astonishingly complex rhythms on the bongos. I remember a musicologist visiting Africa back a similar time ago and finding five and six year olds who showed perfect mastery of time combinations the pro himself wouldn’t dare try. He was the beginner; the kids were the experts. And before I go another step further I want to tie in a recollection already mentioned at : my jazz musician friends in college had all been given music lessons since childhood. Their playing an instrument no doubt helped their also excellent school records in getting them into Columbia. But when they started playing professionally, instead of studying harder to get into law school, those same parents went berserk. Music was supposed to be a gentlemanly hobby; not a passion: and certainly not a respectable way to make a living. My own love of jazz got me blackballed among my own “friends.” When I first danced, and the other dancers stopped, formed a circle around me, whooping and yelling, it was cute. Paul moves like Sammy Davis Junior. A couple of years later, when I added hip grinding, well before we’d ever heard of Elvis Presley, the looks of disapproval etched into permanence. (Our servants do all that for us.)

I heard no parents, no neighbors, yanking the young bongo players off of the fire escape to get to their rooms and study Latin.

The girl can’t throw the ball because any efforts she made as a girl got smacked back into a pose for the cotillion.

Gregory Bateson studied Iatmul women nursing their babies. He photo-documented how they tease the babes with the nipple, pulling it away if the infants seemed too eager. Stop trying, and I’ll feed you. Passivity got rewarded the fastest, a far remove from “nature.”

We carefully study what’s fed to children in the schools. We start school around six. Sorry: it’s way too late. What you can and can’t try is fed to you from your first cry. And what you’re fed varies not only according to whether you’re male or female, first born or second born, English or Italian, but also whether your father is a lawyer or a farmer.

Anna Magnani made audiences weep merely reciting the alphabet. She used her whole woman’s body to do it. Oh! Gracious! She gestured with her hands! In my family she would have been smacked silly.

If the society suddenly wanted to produce bongo or tabla players, over time, it could do it. But the players couldn’t come from the crop that had already been smacked sideways if they showed any rhythmic propensities.

PS There. That’s my composition for the moment. But as happens so often, I didn’t weave in the examples that had propelled me to the post in the first place. Too late to weave them now; I’ll just string a couple.

I’ve seen good explanations, very good, of why so many Jews in Europe became usurers. It wasn’t at all all their idea. Now Jews with a choice become doctors: since the med schools started letting a couple of Jews in. (Once more people realize how deadly the medicine game is, to doctors too, but mostly to patients, respectable cultures on the make will stop pushing their kids so hard in that direction.) But how many of us remember how many great athletes the Jews produced a hundred years ago? Jewish boxers? Unthinkable.

Where were the great English gentlemen among great baseball players a few generations ago? Where did all these Pollocks come from? Blink, and “all” the great players are “black.” Blink again and they’re “all” from Central America. Do Dominican’s have better baseball genes than the Irish?

Look at the rosters of the medical schools, the law schools … the Wall Street brokerage houses. Any group that stands out will not also be found dominating the boxing ring: or the dance bands.

We finally let Mick Jagger made a lot of money for imitating Muddy Waters decades after Muddy was past his prime. (That was after decades of smacking little Mick Jaggers who liked the n-word (Bowdlerizing K. 2016 07 31) music.) But had Mick had a chance at becoming CEO of Disney, he could have made more: a lot more.

Don’t restrict your demographics to the playing field; look in the real money holes.

This piece sort of pairs with the blog post which preceded it: Sincerity Pro.

Stuff straddling K. and blogs like IonaArc got censored at K. only, are still up at Iona, InfoAll … But I’m transplanting all here: one version. But I haven’t sterilized them: there’s a bit of editing above, a couple of new lines.


About pk

Seems to me that some modicum of honesty is requisite to intelligence. If we look in the mirror and see not kleptocrats but Christians, we’re still in the same old trouble.
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