Political correctness in 1900 and 2000

By Razib Khan | October 6, 2011 7:59 am

In my post yesterday I made the comment that it seems that British media in particular seems to have a fascination with “different race twins.” The generalization derives from the fact that people who email me these stories tend to point to British sources, but I decided to Google it. I think I’ll stick by my assertion. These stories aren’t exclusively British, but they’re clearly driven by the British media.

But in the process of looking at stories on this topic I ran into a story in The Guardian on a pair of fraternal twins of different complexions who are now adults. These two are different more than in just physical appearance. One is gay and the other is straight. This section dovetails with something else I mentioned yesterday:

Alyson got used to the comments and the stares, the sniggers about their parentage and the “stupid things people said” when her boys were babies; but then, when Daniel and James went to nursery aged three, the twins’ skin colour plunged the family into controversy. “They were at this very politically correct nursery, and the staff told us that when Daniel drew a picture of himself, he had to make himself look black – because he was mixed-race,” says Alyson. “And I said, that’s ridiculous. Why does Daniel have to draw himself as black, when a white face looks back at him in the mirror?”

After a row with the nursery staff, she gave interviews to her local paper and TV. “I kicked up a fuss, because it really bothered me,” she says. “Daniel had one white parent and one black, so why couldn’t he call himself white? Why does a child who is half-white and half-black have to be black? Especially when his skin colour is quite clearly white! In some ways it made me feel irrelevant – as though my colour didn’t matter. There seemed to be no right for him to be like me.”

It’s a social convention that people of mixed black-white ancestry are black, especially in the United States. In fact in the USA black Americans themselves espouse this viewpoint, as is evident in the case of Barack Obama. But it does seem ridiculous that a mixed person whose physical appearance is more European would be forced to draw a self-portrait which was more African. Especially a child who has probably not internalized the various ideologies which adults take for granted in our societies. Madison Grant though would agree heartily with this decision:

Grant advocated restricted immigration to the United States through limiting immigration from Eastern Europe and Southern Europe, as well as the complete end of immigration from East Asia. He also advocated efforts to purify the American population through selective breeding. He served as the vice president of the Immigration Restriction League from 1922 to his death. Acting as an expert on world racial data, Grant also provided statistics for the Immigration Act of 1924 to set the quotas on immigrants from certain European countries…Even after passing the statute, Grant continued to be irked that even a smattering of non-Nordics were allowed to immigrate to the country each year. He also assisted in the passing and prosecution of several anti-miscegenation laws, notably the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 in the state of Virginia, where he sought to codify his particular version of the “one-drop rule” into law.

From Wikipedia:

The Racial Integrity Act required that a racial description of every person be recorded at birth and divided society into only two classifications: white and colored (all other, essentially, which included numerous American Indians). It defined race by the “one-drop rule”, defining as colored persons with any African or Indian ancestry.

Obviously today’s high priests of political correctness do not share the aims of someone like Madison Grant. But for the purposes of maintaining racial and cultural integrity (in this case, that of non-whites!) they have perpetuated a framework which came into being at a specific period of time in the 19th century, when white superiority was taken for granted, and the division between whites and non-whites was seen to be most useful. But in a genuinely multi-polar world this mentality is very outmoded. But ideologies often outlast their utility. Ask the Confucian Mandarins in 1900.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture
  • Charles Nydorf

    In nursury school a girl in my class drew a sky with a blue cloud. I complained that clouds are white. The teacher maintained that some clouds are blue but I stuck to my position saying that they only looked blue but were really white. Later I came to the conclusion that the girl and the teacher were right.

  • AndrewV

    As long as we are on the subject :

    Baby tale not black and white:
    A white baby girl with a mop of blonde hair and blue eyes has been born to black parents living in London. How is this possible?

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-10697682

    In the case of Nmachi, there are three possible explanations of why she looks so very different from her older brother and sister, who are both black: dormant white genes which entered both of her parents’ families long ago, a genetic mutation unique to her, or albinism.

    Picture of the parents & baby here:
    http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/3060907/Black-parents-give-birth-to-white-baby.html

    Blue eyes? I wonder if the eyes have changed colour yet or if they are still “blue”?

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    i have seen that story. probably some sort of albinism. it’s not uncommon in parts of africa. some non-albino northern europeans verge on albinism anyway.

  • Insightful

    Some non-albino northern europeans verge on albinism anyway.

    That reminds me of this Norwegian dude who is a non-albino but pretty much verges on albinism. I think this is what you mean, Razib:

    http://www.vg.no/nyheter/utrolige-historier/artikkel.php?artid=573953

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan
  • Roger Bigod

    The fMRI of miscegenation would be interesting. A reasonable prediction would be that it lights up the anterior insula, site of disgust. A tip-off is the concern with absolute purity. For traditional white Southern racism, one black ancestor 8 generations back still counts as a “touch of the tarbrush”. And the groups with the most obsessive dietary laws have the strictest rules about intermarriage.

    The reductio ad absurdum was Mrs. Woodrow Wilson’s legislative stunt. She was descended from Pocahontas, which is generally considered a plus for genealogists. But there was enough remaining stigma in the early 20th Cent that she and some relatives had the Virginia Legislature pass a declaration at Pocahontas was non-non-white and her descendants were to be considered full-blooded whites. It doesn’t change anybody’s DNA, but it does say something about her worries about being a “half-breed” 200 years later.

    Then there’s the issue about whether descendants of Sally Hemings are eligible for membership in the association for descendants of Thomas Jefferson.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp Razib Khan

    #6, the fact that many of the ‘first families’ of virginia are descended from her caused a major problem with the ‘racial integrity act.’ grant thought it was funny, but went along with an exception for people with sufficiently distant native american ancestry.

    re: sally hemmings, at this point we can probably use autosomal genotyping to figure out if they tend to have sequences identical by descent with attested jefferson descendants. though 8 generations or so is a while….

  • Roger Bigod

    The whole issue is totally wacko. The history is that a guy named Bolling married Pocahontas’ only surviving descendant. The descendants of that marriage were known as “Red Bollings”. After the death of his first wife he remarried and the descendants of that marriage are “White Bollings”. Much later a genealogist came up with a third marriage, but the dates and places of birth were off and it was hard to reconcile the chronology with the known marriages and children. Genealogists refer to them as the “Blue Bollings”, because they came out of the blue.

    There’s a colonial VA family named Fleming with a connection to an English title. That should be distinction enough, but one of them married a Red Bolling and genealogists screwed up the records trying to connect them all to Pocahontas. Which looks striving and trashy, defeating the whole snobbish purpose of the effort.

    I think they got Jefferson’s Y markers from a lock of hair. A full genome ought to be possible. But you’d have to find a descendant with a piece of his genome showing some rare markers. Assuming no crossing over, it’s making 23 draws of flipping a coin 8 times = 1/256. So maybe a sample of about 10 individuals. Possible, and one one of these days, cheap.

    More interesting is the question of Jefferson’s Aspergerish traits. The verbal output, compulsive record-keeping, stubborn pursuit of idiosyncratic rules. The characteristic story is that he collected 200,000 words from Native American languages, written on little pieces of paper he planned to organize. But in the move back to Monticello from DC, they were lost.

  • http://www.isteve.blogspot Steve Sailer

    American newspapers are respectably dull because they mostly sell by subscription and there is not much competition. In Chicago, for instance, you decide whether you are a Tribune or Sun-Times kind of person and then you take what you are given. Fleet Street newspapers, in contrast, are mostly sold at newstands and they are all centered in London and they compete fiercely with each other, doing all sorts of stuff like hacking into voice mails. So, there are more biracial twin stories in British newspapers because that kind of stuff is fascinating, but not very fashionable.

  • http://www.isteve.blogspot Steve Sailer

    Madison Grant, who was one of the leading environmentalist of his age, would today be really into halting housing developments to preserve the San Fernando Valley spineflower even though there is no shortage of San Gabriel Valley spineflowers.

  • Roger Bigod

    Thanks for mentioning Madison Grant. I’d never heard of him.

    He sounds a lot like Jeremy Bentham. Both social do-gooders who pushed it too far and wound up not being considered um sound. In Bentham’s case the evil idea was the Panopticon, which inspired the backlash of “1984” and “Brave New World”. Both precocious intellects who never married.

    They sound a little Aspergerish, and McGilcrist would say they’re examples of dominant hemisphere control freaks. Social engineers who ignore the fact that people don’t like to be engineered.

  • Jacob Roberson

    Steve Sailer: Hilarious. You worked the spineflower into this story. Once your teeth are in that jaw doesn’t unlock does it?

  • Jacob Roberson

    Razib is missing what everybody misses in these mixed-race stories: What do we look like? Looks. Appearance. How do we feel about ourselves? Manner of speech. Small habits. Looks and feelings about race are a banned subject, but forget genealogies or science or pop gene for a second. (Hard to do on a sci blog.)

    As Razib notes American black people tend to feel black about themselves, although they (universally?) have some white in there. OTOH white injuns look pretty white after a few generations (especially if, like me, your colors are all north Europe). We aren’t as talky as full whites but there are plenty of quiet whites. Shrug. Arabs have red hair but not like the celts. Swedes have black hair but at stats lower than Japanese. Etc.

    So no surprise Obama looks like American black people, while white/indian mixes passed as whites off The Rez despite the laws against it. Now for Obama’s reserved intellectualism… was his mother a little red? ;)

  • leviticus

    Frank Sweet’s “Legal History of the Color Line” is a good read on this topic. One of Sweet’s arguments is that black leaders, particularly Northeastern leaders, had a seminal role in the creation of an artificial, fiat-defined African American ethnos.

    I think Sweet stresses the centrality of black leaders too much. They were more in a reactive, rather than proactive position vis-a-vis white racial codes and attitudes. But, still, a worthwhile read and this is not his central point.

    The one drop rule wasn’t enforced effectively because the Jim Crow system was not totalitarian, the funds for an effectively intrusive bureucracy weren’t there. I think people are finally discussing the many ways it was ignored in practice. I had relatives who were remembered as “white colored men” in newspapers, and in one government document from the 1930s was described as “white” with some black ancestry. In other words, these are people who were legally and socially white, they voted, their kids went to white schools, and they married, but local memory knew that they had some African ancestry. My father told me that as a child it was the equivalent of having a crazy aunt in the family.

    I read an old article from the Richmond Times Dispatch, by Walter Plecker, a colleague of Grant’s, and the VA state registrar of vital statistics. In the article Plecker was complaining about Greene County, and some other counties, I believe, midwives listing mixed ancestry children as Mexican. On the face of it, Plecker was correct, the kids obviously weren’t Mexican. But it shows how Plecker was relatively powerless in the face of local ad hoc decisions on who was non-black and who wasn’t. Unlike the Nazis, he was not operating in a totalitarian system. I’ve never seen these Mexican birth certificates, they are still closed per state laws. Plecker also made an infamous list of surnames, you can find it online, of mixed-race families.

NEW ON DISCOVER
OPEN
CITIZEN SCIENCE
ADVERTISEMENT

Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!

Gene Expression

This blog is about evolution, genetics, genomics and their interstices. Please beware that comments are aggressively moderated. Uncivil or churlish comments will likely get you banned immediately, so make any contribution count!

About Razib Khan

I have degrees in biology and biochemistry, a passion for genetics, history, and philosophy, and shrimp is my favorite food. In relation to nationality I'm a American Northwesterner, in politics I'm a reactionary, and as for religion I have none (I'm an atheist). If you want to know more, see the links at http://www.razib.com

ADVERTISEMENT

See More

ADVERTISEMENT

RSS Razib’s Pinboard

Edifying books

Collapse bottom bar
+

Login to your Account

X
E-mail address:
Password:
Remember me
Forgot your password?
No problem. Click here to have it e-mailed to you.

Not Registered Yet?

Register now for FREE. Registration only takes a few minutes to complete. Register now »