TV Review: Michael Johnson Survival Of The Fastest

How Slavery 'Made The Black Man Fast'!

I already watch very little TV, in an attempt to spare myself getting annoyed and disappointed. So you can imagine my annoyance when watching, what I thought might be interesting TV, Channel 4's Michael Johnson Survival of the Fastest. Really I should have known from the title that the programme was going to be either a hit or miss - it was a big miss!

Shown on Thursday, the programme saw American sprinter Michael Johnson journey to Jamaica in the pursuit to find out why our top male sprinters are black and of slave descent. I could only commit to watching the programme loosely as its argument was weak, the direction poor and its conclusion a load of rubbish. The programme focused on the ol' theory that black people from the Caribbean and America are faster runners because of the conditions of slavery. Because of this the programme limited itself to athletes of American and Caribbean (Jamaican) descent.

While it may sound plausible that those of slave descent maybe stronger, since only the strongest of Africans survived being captured, enduring the middle passage journey and the harsh conditions of plantation life. It’s also breeds ignorant thinking that the African Caribbean and American population are some sort of 'super blacks' and superior to the Africans that remained in Africa.

My issue with the programme wasn't just its attempt to perpetuate the 'super black' theory, but that the programme lacked any clear sense of direction or objective. The 'super black' theory is a theory and not fact, therefore the use of this theory as the basis of the programmes argument meant it should have been far more subjective then it was. For a start it offended me that the programme only discussed male sprinters, this to me undermineded its use of the 'super black' theory in its argument, since the same should need to be proven that it applies to female athletes from these countries too.
Also nowhere in the programme do I recall the discussion of black athletes of Caribbean and American origin, that live and represent other countries such as the UK. Many of Britain’s top runners, past and present, have been of Caribbean descent, take Linford Christie, Colin Jackson and Denise Lewis. How does their performance rate in comparison to athletes that stayed in their home counties, and how does this tie in with the 'super black' theory?!

Personally I think using the 'super black' theory to explain black people’s presents in sports is generally a weak argument, since the practise of sports can be very subjective. In Jamaica running is the country’s most popular sport and is most encouraged, just like how football is most popular in the UK and American football for the US (it maybe important to note that many of the top players for these sports are black). Though if black people of Caribbean and American origin are genetically predisposed to being better at these sports, then why is it that the American and Jamaican football teams are not as good as European teams? Or why is it that black British or other European sprinters (of Caribbean or American descent) are not considered in the same league as Jamaican & Amerian sprinters?

The programme should have left the theorising to qualified theorists and sociologist; instead offering up a historical narrative of black male sprinters (I would have definately preferred this). While they could have still mentioned the ’super black' theory, it should have been a subtle correlation between the fact that most of the world’s best professional sprinters are of slave descent and left it like that.


Watch the programme here:
Michael Johnson survival of the fastest, channel4.com/4od

Post of interest:
Event: Is Race Really the Dominant Factor in Sprinting Prowess? 

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