Film: Black Olympians Dominate Because They’re Descendants of Slaves

African-American social scientists have argued that the 'superior black athletic gene' theory is offensive because it encourages 'black brawn vs. white brains' stereotyping.

By Jorge Rivas Jul 06, 2012

It’s been over thirty years since the last white male won the Olympic 100-meter sprint so the UK’s Channel 4 decided to make a documentary that argues black Americans and Caribbeans do well at the Olympics because they are descendants of slaves who were bred well.

The documentary titled "Michael Johnson: Survival of the Fastest," follows four-time Olympic gold medalist sprinter Michael Johnson who says it is a fact that slavery has benefited descendants like himself. The documentary premiered in the UK Thursday night and the pitch to viewers takes cues from the Henry Louis Gates, Jr’s. PBS series "Finding Your Roots" that explores race, culture, and identity through genealogy.

Below is Channel 4’s description of the documentary:

Why is it that all the athletes that lined up for the men’s 100m final at the Beijing Olympics could trace their ancestry back to the trans-Atlantic slave trade?

In this landmark documentary, Olympian Michael Johnson embarks on a personal genealogical and scientific journey in a bid to understand if he and other world-class African American and Caribbean athletes are successful as a result of slavery.

Michael Johnson is a four-time Olympic gold medallist and the finest sprint athlete of his generation. In this remarkable authored film he discovers some disturbing truths about the lives of his enslaved ancestors.

From the mass murder of those on the slave ships to the nightmarish breeding programmes of the plantation owners, Johnson confronts this appalling history.

He speaks to leading voices in the world of sport and science to examine the link between the trans-Atlantic slave trade and genetic selection.

He investigates the role slavery may have played in altering the genomes of their descendants. He speaks to experts whose research has led them to conclude this has contributed to the success of African American and Caribbean sprinters.

"All my life I believed I became an athlete through my own determination, but it’s impossible to think that being descended from slaves hasn’t left an imprint through the generations," Johnson told British newspaper the Daily Mail after he learned a DNA test confirmed he is of West African descent. "Difficult as it was to hear, slavery has benefited descendants like me — I believe there is a superior athletic gene in us."

‘It’s a fact that hasn’t been discussed openly before. It’s a taboo subject in the States but it is what it is. Why shouldn’t we discuss it?’ Johnson is quoted saying in the Daily Mail.

The real fact is discussions and the study of the "black superior athletic gene" are nothing new.