Right now you’re thinking: Is this book racist? No doubt the title is controversial, as are its contents, but I can happily reassure you, as a mixed race individual myself, it’s not racist.
‘Human variation is real, and it’s foolish to ignore it or sweep it under the rug. It’s not something to be ashamed of or to avoid for fear of conflict… Our diversity is a gift, and to keep ourselves separated and compartmentalized would be to waste that gift.’
What do Steve Jobs, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Bob Marley, Nicki Minaj, Bruno Mars, Naomi Campbell, Vin Diesel, Jimi Hendrix, Ne-Yo and Jessica Alba all have in common? You know many more mixed race individuals than you think.
I jump on anything that refers to mixed race individuals as I’m the product of a British born black mother of Barbadian descent and a British born white father. I think I first heard of this book when I watched Channel 4’s Is It Better to Be Mixed Race? presented by a geneticist and mother of a mixed race child, and more recently I watched the BBC’s Mixed Britannia documentary series.
A History Lesson
Historically, we were referred to as “mongrels”, “halfbreeds”, “half-nigger”, and “mulatto” – a reference to mules. Some believed whites and blacks were two separate species and therefore shouldn’t be able to successfully interbreed, like the mule, which is infertile as the offspring of a horse and a donkey. Over in Europe they figured out this wasn’t the case and sought to rectify it:
‘After the First World War… The Nazis thought it was a scandal that White German women had children with Africans from an enemy army and in 1937, 385 of these children were rounded up and sterilised in clinics.’
Miscegenation, the interbreeding of people considered to be of different racial types, was ruled illegal in America. In the early days white slave owners covertly broke the very laws they passed by raping their slaves, and those found out who couldn’t buy their way out of it were banished from the colonies. Ministers performing mixed marriage ceremonies were heavily fined, but from 1924 bride and groom were imprisoned for up to five years. In 1958, having married, Mildred Jeter (black) and Richard Loving (white) were sentenced to one year in prison and a 25-year exile from Virginia. Nine years later, in 1967, the Supreme Court ruled anti-miscegenation laws unconstitutional. This was the year before Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. However, South Carolina in 1998 and Alabama in 2008, 38% and 40%, respectively, still voted to keep their anti-miscegenation laws.
Last week I watched a documentary on the life of Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple. I didn’t realise quite how brave she was in marrying her white husband and having a mixed race daughter while living in a state which outlawed it, the stress of which was magnified after TCP was released. I’m surprised they escaped physically unscathed, if not mentally.
The Essence of the Author’s Argument
A high level of bilateral symmetry, ‘the two halves of something on either side of a particular line being exactly the same’, of the face and body are perceived as more attractive and fertile, smell better and experience greater disease resistance, and is reflected in our DNA. We receive two copies of every type of gene; one from each of our parents. If those copies are different, it’s called heterozygosity. The more symmetrical tend to possess a higher level of heterozygosity and have a more diverse genome, which is beneficial when it comes to disease. If your two copies of genes relating to genetic disease are the same, then you’ll suffer from that disease, yet when they’re different you’ll have a smaller chance of developing it.
Certain racial groups are prone to particular types of disease. Those of black African descent are more likely to suffer from sickle cell anaemia. If they do, having a child with someone outside of that racial group greatly decreases the odds the child will be affected by it and will instead be a carrier of the disease. However, sickle cell anaemia is fairly unique in that carriers living in Africa who contract malaria are less likely to die from it. This is why sickle cell is still present in many Africans. It’s a product of hybrid vigour, ‘the tendency of a cross-bred individual to show qualities superior to those of both parents’. But if that child then goes on to have their own child with another carrier, he or she may suffer the full effects of sickle cell anaemia.
Ziv doesn’t really address this. His focus is on first generation mixing, perhaps for simplification purposes, though I suppose you could extrapolate from his thesis that if each generation mixed with an entirely different racial group there’d be an increasing amount of genetic variation.
On the other hand, hybrid vigour has its limitations as we’ve seen in mules. Two species with varying number of chromosomes will either be unable to create viable living, breathing offspring or they’ll be infertile and may be handicapped in other ways. Those with the same number of chromosomes can produce spectacular results but rarely occur in nature. You’ve probably seen photos of ligers and tigons; lion-tiger crosses.
This is a 900lb, 6ft tall and 12ft long liger named Hercules. His parents were a male lion and a female tiger.
Image: Daily Mail
They grow at an astonishing rate. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s one of the largest mammalian land predators on Earth. Only polar bears could rival them.
Speaking of polar bears, another notable hybrid are pizzly bears; polar bear – grizzly bear crosses.
Image: Daily Mail
Their fur is darker than that of a polar bear but lighter than the brown grizzly bear. Despite being predators, they struggle to survive for their fur is more visible in the snowy Arctic, under the cover of woods, and out in the open near streams as they’re easily spotted by other predators, prey and competitors. Any benefits hybrid vigour offers them are wiped out by the handicap of their conspicuous appearance.
Selective breeding has been taking place since before Charles Darwin‘s 1859 publication of The Origin of Species. He specifically references agriculturalist Robert Bakewell for using evolution by natural selection with sheep, cattle and horses. Unfortunate side effects have been found in turkeys bred for food, though. The breasts of males have become so large they can no longer mate with the females creating the need for artificial insemination. Cavendish bananas (the most popular variety) are clones which produce no seeds, leaving them vulnerable to a particularly deadly fungus.
One thing Ziv doesn’t believe in is absolutes as he closes with a caveat. Using Gattaca as an example, Ziv says, ‘Genes aren’t everything… Discipline, dedication and near obsessive training… [and] proper nourishment, free from toxins, with regular exercise’ contribute to a healthier disposition. Basically, genetics are a foundation on which your health is based but environment can enhance or undermine it.
If you’ve never studied biology, don’t fear; Ziv eases you in with a laid back style of writing using language a layperson will understand, plenty of examples and non-cheesy jokes. If you look up the studies he cites, be prepared for confusing terminology. A little scientific accuracy is sacrificed for simplicity’s sake, though quotes like ‘Asexual people are like slow Cheetahs – they die out’ grated a bit. Asexual people exist. Admittedly they account for only a small percentage of the population (1% meaning The Asexual Visibility & Education Network is potentially representing 70 million people – that’s the population of the UK), and of course before the advent of test tube babies procreation was a more uncomfortable experience.
Then there’s ‘A handsome man is a handsome man, whatever your culture.’ Not so much. What’s considered attractive varies according to culture. Long necks, stretched lips, scars, obesity, and facial tattoos are just a few of the characteristics people find attractive in different parts of the world.
And: ‘We have evolved to avoid incest; incestuous individuals had inferior offspring and died out.’ They didn’t die out. Well, I suppose they would if he was referring to multi-generational incestuous bloodlines. Later, Ziv details the Westermarck Effect – a disinterest in sexual relationships with the people you grew up with around you, and also mentions how in the Middle East and parts of Africa first cousin marriage is common to reduce familial conflict, especially where money and other assets are concerned. Incest is something we’ve been both fascinated and horrified by as early as 429 BC in Sophocles’s Oedipus Rex and we still are judging by how popular the Song of Fire and Ice series is and subsequent TV adaptation Game of Thrones.
‘We’re attracted to people with faces similar to our own.’ We’re more likely to be attracted to our first cousins than those unrelated, people of the same race as our parents, and those who smell like our parents.
“If you want to have intercourse with that girl, find out what kind of cologne her father wore.”
– The Big Bang Theory
I’m going to assume that there’s little research on BBtL’s subject matter because some of the studies referenced are pitifully small. 86 couples volunteered for the study that found symmetrical men were more likely to bring a female partner to orgasm. Ziv occasionally admits all he has is anecdotal evidence, and at other times he neglects to mention how small and unrepresentative a study may be, especially Jay Phelan’s as yet unpublished study on which the author places huge emphasis; 99 participants and no mention of the selection process leaves me sceptical, increasingly so since the researcher wrote the foreword to BBtL.
As always with non-fiction, bias is always an issue. BBtL is very Western and very American. Whenever I encounter this, I always look up Britain for comparison. I’m proud to say we never had anti-miscegenation laws.
‘By 2000, the UK had the highest number of inter-racial couples in the world and the following year the UK added ‘mixed race’ to the census – 1.4% of the population respond. Birth records for the UK show that at least 3.5% of newborn babies are mixed race and today mixed race is the fastest growing demographic predicted to become Britain’s largest ethnic group by 2020. (Source)’
Unfortunately there is one way in which interracial children are disadvantaged: bone marrow transplants. To find a close match, the donor would ideally be of the same blood type and ethnicity as the recipient. The more mixed you are decreases the chances of finding a match in what is a tiny pool of willing registered donors. But then Ziv’s theory, excluding environmental factors, means you’re less likely to suffer serious health issues in the first place.
Although physical health is addressed, mental health is neglected despite its well known effect on physical health. There are identity issues, the effects of discrimination on their parents filtering down, and the possibility of being rejected by all the ethnic communities your genes represent. Mixed race children are the least likely to be adopted, partly due to the, perhaps misguided, fear that the adoptive parents won’t understand cultural and racial differences that may negtively affect the personal identity of the child.
According to the 2010-1 British Crime Survey, ‘the risk of being a victim of personal crime was higher for adults from a Mixed background than for other ethnic groups.’ They’re also far more likely to be arrested or stopped and searched than cautioned. Mixed ethnicity prisoners represented 3%–4% of the British national prison population’ – a higher percentage than the total population of the UK.
According to the 2009-10 Citizenship Survey: Race, Religion and Equalities Topic Report, 29% of mixed race individuals are atheist – the second highest atheist population after the Chinese at 49%. 55% of mixed race people said they were Christian while 10% were Muslim. Of the mixed race who were harassed 62% was due to skin colour, 41% ethnic origin and only 6% due to religion which is the lowest figure of all ethnicities for religion.
At any rate, babies born today are far luckier than I was in the 1980s. As a child, I was a minority perhaps only meeting maybe four other mixed race children of a similar age, all of which were West Indian father / white British mother. And that’s including the three years I spent in a big bad city inhabited by over half a million people.
When attributing Ziv’s theory to myself, I found that I possess the ‘sexiest’ waist-to-hip ratio with my waist measurement being 70% of my hips. I’d estimate that my half-sister (with a Jamaican mother) doesn’t have the ratio but she does possess a more symmetrical face and, well, much bigger breasts. We both inherited our father’s hayfever and paler skin that others often mistake for Mediterranean. I have a peanut allergy, mild myopia, and I recently developed chronic migraines and insomnia. My sister suffers from polycystic ovary syndrome which reduces fertility. There’s a very real possibility that we both possess Scottish genes on both sides of our family trees since many an exiled Scotsman landed in the Caribbean where our African ancestors were likely slaves, therefore decreasing our levels of heterzygosity. In view of this, I’m left wondering why Ziv doesn’t account for multi-generational mixing and the naturally random selection of genes taken from our parents. We currently do have rudimentary artificial genetic selection to avoid a handful of hereditary diseases.
Is miscegenation the solution to racism?
In the early 1960s Norman Podhoretz believed mixing and interbreeding would improve race relations. From the movie “Bulworth”:
“All we need is a voluntary, free-spirited, open-ended program of procreative racial deconstruction,” He goes on to explain: “Everybody’s just got to keep fucking everybody ’til they’re all the same color.”
Reminds me of Across the Universe which involves a generation starship where everyone has been interbreeding over the course of three hundred years until everyone’s non-white with a thoroughly mixed heritage.
I have to agree with Ziv:
‘The idea of eliminating race entirely is a little naive. Prejudice is a foregone conclusion. Some people want to feel superior to others; the criteria that they use to accomplish that, be it skin color, level of education, income, or upbringing, are secondary.’
I’d like to know the ethnicity figures for South Africa and Zimbabwe. Surely with apartheid and whites driven out or killed, the figures would show segregation and fewer interracial individuals. I certainly wouldn’t want to live there.
Reluctance to Intermarry
Ziv also brings up some valid points under the heading ‘Some of my best friends are white people… (But I wouldn’t want my daughter to marry one.)’ His parents are Jewish and many Jews want to preserve their heritage any way they can, especially the older generation, and there’s the very real fear that intermarriage will ‘lead to a dilution of culture and a loss of tradition.’ He asks a very powerful and controversial question:
‘Did the Jews survive the Holocaust only to be eliminated through assimilation?’
Another point of note: some religions specifically forbid intermarriage.
Despite the 2000 U.S. census forms being confusing when defining race and nationality and therefore accuracy of the resulting data being compromised, the bottom ten most interracial states are all in the East whereas the top ten are all in the West, apart from New York. But the fastest growing cities are also in the West, which also happens to border two other countries; therefore immigrants may be settling close to where they originate.
Segregation follows the same pattern; the least segregated cities are in the West. California is the most integrated and interracial state. However, white-Asian segregation is much less pronounced compared to white-black segregation. I’d argue this is skewed due to the world population of Asians being far higher than the black population.
✺ 6% of American marriages are mixed
✺ 2.4% of Americans are interracial.
✺ 14% of Asians are interracial compared with 5% of blacks.
Where there’s integration there’s more intermarriage; in cities. Emigrating and settling in ‘ethnic conclaves’ is a barrier to mixing, as seen in animals: ‘…goslings raised in a mixed flock had no color preference.’ Although we tend to choose to marry someone of a similar background. Race and religion correlate 90% of the time while intelligence and personality only 40% of the time.
Asian women marry white men more than vice versa, and white women dating black men is three times more common than vice versa.
Q ‘How many races are there?’
AThere’s no definable number. It’s a continuum or spectrum.
Q ‘Are certain races better at certain things?’
A This is a scary and divisive question. We can’t say for sure, but the fastest sprinters and long-distance runners appear to be of African descent.
Q ‘Which is the best combination of races?’
A Ziv says Bantu (southern Africa) + Eskimo. This reminds me of the unfortunate pizzly bear situation, so I’d hesitate to agree.
An interracial future is inevitable. Ziv is not commanding us to have interracial babies, he’s just informing us that the old adage is correct: variety is the spice of life. We have the right to choose who we have children with and that we shouldn’t be weighed down with the baggage of racism holding us back socially and scientifically. Race exists and is genetically identifiable with the help of DNA tests.
Lastly, I don’t like to see authors commenting on reviews, let alone negative ones, but I have to concede that he makes some very valid points in his one and only comment, and if you read his book, you know that he is far from a stiff upper-lipped serious professor type. However, the reviewer does make a few, albeit mostly small, scientifically accurate… corrections, which have plainly been changed to make for easier digestion for those without a biology degree.