I have long had a problem with projections of the racial makeup of the USA which implicitly neglect the complexities inherent in the identity of someone of mixed origin. A new study analyzing Census data on interracial marriages between 1980 and 2008 highlights some of the subtleties:
The study also examined trends in biracial and cohabiting Americans.
The study found that people who classified themselves as white-Asian or white-American Indian were more likely to marry whites than Asians or American Indians.
“The rise in America’s multiracial population blurs racial boundaries,” Lichter said.
However, black-white biracial people are still more likely to marry blacks than whites.
First, the simplest way to state the implications of these data is that whites are becoming more Asian and American Indian, while blacks are becoming whiter. At least in terms of ancestry if not identity.
Consider the case of the actor Dean Cain, born Dean Tanaka. His paternal grandfather was of Japanese ancestry. He has a son with ex-girlfriend Samantha Torres. She happens to be a blonde and blue-eyed Spanish model. By the cultural norms of hypodescent Christopher Dean Cain is not a non-Hispanic white. If you have too many people who “look white” but have non-European ancestry hypodescent is not feasible. That was not the case for the United States of America for most of its history. But by 2050 the situation may be very different, and the cultural landscape of race and ethnicity may be very different.* I suspect that many of the assumptions we make about the world of 2050 by naively projecting out growth rates and the cultural mores of 2010 are going to fall into the “not even wrong” category.
* In many Latin American nations it is obviously not the case that mestizos make common cause with indigenous people against white elites as “people of color.”
A Cape Coloured family
I’ve mentioned the Cape Coloureds of South Africa on this weblog before. Culturally they’re Afrikaans in language and Dutch Reformed in religion (the possibly related Cape Malay group is Muslim, though also Afrikaans speaking traditionally). But racially they’re a very diverse lot. In this way they can be analogized to black Americans, who are about ~75% West African and ~25% Northern European, with the variance in ancestral proportions being such that ~10% are ~50% or more European in ancestry. The Cape Coloureds though are much more complex. Some of their ancestry is almost certainly Bantu African. This element is related to the West African affinities of black Americans. And, they have a Northern European element, which likely came in via the Dutch, German, and Huguenot settlers (mostly males). But the Cape Coloureds also have other contributions to their genetic heritage. Firstly, they have Khoisan ancestry, whether from Bushmen or Khoi. This is well known in their oral memory. The the hinterlands of the Cape of Good Hope are beyond the ecological range of the Bantu agricultural toolkit, so the region was still dominated by the Khoisan when the Europeans arrived. But there are also other suggestions of ancestry from Asia. The existence of the Cape Malays, whose adherence to Islam derives from the Muslims slaves brought by the Dutch, hints at likely relationships to the populations of maritime Southeast Asia. Finally, there are the Indians. This element is not too well recalled in cultural memory. But the Dutch brought many slaves from India as well as Southeast Asia. The Dutch first governor of the Cape Colony had a maternal grandmother who was an Indian slave, by various accounts Goan or Bengali (the town of Stellensbosch is named for him). No doubt it was far more likely that the usual lot of the descendants of Indian slaves during the Dutch era would be to be absorbed into the melange of the Coloured population than assimilated into what later became the Afrikaners.
Why is this aspect of Cape Coloured ancestry forgotten? I think part of the reason is that there is a large South African Indian community present today, but that community post-dates the Dutch period, and arrived with the British. When South Africans think of Indians they think of these people. Interestingly when the new genetic studies confirming Indian ancestry came on the scene I was “corrected” several times by Indians themselves when reporting this part of the Coloured heritage. They were under the impression I must be mistaken, as no one was familiar with the Cape Coloureds having Indian ancestry. Unfortunately pointing to PCA and STRUCTURE plots did not clear up the confusion.
In any case, thanks to the African Ancestry Project I now have three unrelated Coloured samples (I have more, but they are related). Since AAP is Afrocentric I thought it would be appropriate to run the Coloured samples separate first. So that’s what I did.
A few months ago I was thinking a fair amount about the Neandertals. One issue which became more stark to me due to that particular finding, that a few percent of the human genome seems to have derived from Neandertal populations, is the reality that genetic distinctiveness can persist long after cultural coherency is no longer a reality. That made me reconsider one of the facts of contemporary scholarship, that the Amerindian populations of the two most populous nations of the New World, the United States of America and Brazil, have disappeared or been totally marginalized demographically.
I’ve observed before it looks like that about 15-20% of the ancestry of the Argentine population is Amerindian, despite the nation’s proud identity as a European settler offshoot (i.e., more like the United States or Australia, than Mexico, which has an explicit hybrid identity). But I realized that Brazil was perhaps the bigger catch.
Only 0.4% of Brazilians identify as Amerindian. That’s about 700,000 people. But we know that a substantial number of white, brown and black Brazilians have Amerindian ancestry. Assuming for argument’s sake that the 700,000 Amerindians have undiluted indigenous ancestry, how much of the distinctive Amerindian genome in modern Brazil is to be found in this segment of the population?
There was a paper which came out in an obscure Brazilian journal last year which can help answer this question, DNA tests probe the genomic ancestry of Brazilians. For the purposes of the paper they needed to find a small number of ancestrally informative markers which would allow them to partition the ancestries of the individuals in their data set into European, African, and Amerindian, segments. Luckily these are three very distinctive populations. They cross-checked the utility of their markers against the HGDP data set. In other words the precision and accuracy of the 40 markers they selected should be assessed by how well they can distinguish these three “pure” populations. Their Brazilian subjects consisted of self-identified whites from various regions, as well as black men from Sao Paulo. Brazil’s racial taxonomy has a brown (pardo) category which is large, but judging from the very high proportion of African ancestry among the blacks in their sample I don’t think they included self-identified mixed-race people in that group (some scholars lump mixed and black Brazilians together into the black category).