The Biological Status and Social Worth of the Mulatto

The Biological Status and Social Worth of the Mulatto

The Popular Science Monthly
June 1913
pages 573-582
Source: University of California via The Hathi Trust Digital Library

Harvey Ernest Jordan, Professor of Anatomy and Director of the Anatomical Laboratories
University of Virginia

The United States has something more than a “negro problem”; it has a mulatto problem. Our 10,000,000 coloredd fellow-citizens comprise somewhat less than 8,000,000 full-blooded negroes; approximately 2,000,000 contain varying percentages of “white” blood.  This “white man’s burden” has several cardinal aspects, notably, social, economic and political. The fundamental aspect, however, is the biologic. Does the presence of this vast company of “half-breeds” complicate or facilitate the “problem”? Certain it is that they must be reckoned with. Are they an aid or a hindrance to a permanent satisfactory adjustment of full relationship between the white race and the colored? To one man their presence is a source of black despair, to another of radiant hope. Which is the more rational attitude? It depends upon the scientific facts in the case. The first point concerns the biological status of this mulatto hybrid.

It may help the subsequent discussion to note at this point the fact that Jamaica does not have a “negro problem” as we know it in the United States. And on the face of things it would appear that it might well be present there in even more aggravated form. For in Jamaica there are only about 15,000 whites among a colored population of about 700,000, including about 50,000 mulattoes. It should be noted that in this “Queen of the Greater Antilles” the mulattoes, as a class, are more nearly at the level of the whites, than at that of the pure negroes. The mulattoes contribute the artisans, the teachers, the business and professional men. They are the very backbone of wonderful Jamaica. To be sure, Jamaica has had 30 years more than the United States during which to “solve” her “negro problem.” But perhaps the perfect adjustment between the races in Jamaica and the elimination of any “problem” of this kind finds its explanation in a more rational and more consistent political treatment made possible by the absence of any constitutional prescription. We may well suspect that the inconsistency of according to the negro legal (constitutional) equality and withholding it practically (politically and socially) has had a morally harmful effect upon both black and white. To stultify oneself as between one’s theory and practise is always subversive of high moral tone.   We shall return to this point below. Suffice it to note here that the Honorable Mr. Olivier, governor of Jamaica, recognizes in the presence of the mulatto only a past blessing, a present advantage, and a future promise of great good.

In the beginning we shall need to raise the question once more as to whether the Negro and Caucasian are actually different man-species, as was held by the eminent zoologist, Louis Agassiz, and as is still held by many, as, for example, the noted French psychologist, Le Bon; or whether they simply represent different “races” or varieties of the same species homo, as is more commonly believed. Le Bon quotes with

If the Negro and the Caucasian were snails, all zoologists would affirm unanimously that they constitute excellent species, which could never have descended from the same couple from which they had gradually come to differ.

However, simply external gross appearance is no infallible criterion by which to judge of species. And the more highly developed the organism the wider do the individuals differ within the species. Two human brothers may differ infinitely more than two true snail-species. Zoology can furnish many examples where a larval form, or individuals of opposite sex, or the same form modified by peculiar environmental conditions, have been mistaken for separate species. The real scientific test is that of impossibility of effecting a cross, or of infertility inter se of hybrids of a possible cross. A cross between the horse and the ass produces a mule. But mules are infertile if interbred. Hence horse and ass are separate species. A very valuable cross can also be effected between the cow and the buffalo. But the offspring are barren bred among themselves.  Hence cow and buffalo are at least of different species. The mulatto is the product of a negro-white cross. He is as fecund with his own kind, or when he mates with white or negro, as either pure-breeding negroes or whites are. As a matter of fact, the mulatto is probably more prolific than the normal average of either white or negro. During the past twenty years he has increased at twice the rate of the Negro. The Negro is then simply a black variety of the human species. He is the white man’s brother; and we may both be cousins of the apes.

The second question that presents itself is this: Is the mulatto necessarily degenerate? The idea has been and is very eminently and widely held that the crossing of races is intrinsically bad, biologically harmful; that it inevitably and inexorably works deterioration. Agassiz noted in Brazil a

decadence that results from cross-breeding which goes on in this country to a greater extent than elsewhere. This cross-breeding is fatal to the best qualities whether of the white man, the black, or the Indian, and produces an indescribable type whose physical and mental energy suffers.

Humboldt and Darwin held the same opinion, Hilaire Belloc in “The French Revolution” notes regarding Marat

Some say . . . that a mixture of racial types produced in him a perpetual physical disturbance: his face was certainly distorted and ill-balanced (p. 78).

Schultz claims to have noted an intrinsic deterioration in Gentile-Jew crosses.   Le Bon expresses himself as follows:

To cross two peoples is to change simultaneously both their physical constitution and their mental constitution . . . the first effect of interbreeding between different races is to destroy the soul of the race, and by their soul we mean that congeries of common ideas and sentiments which make the strength of people, and without which there is no such thing as a nation or a fatherland . . . a people may sustain many losses, may be overtaken by many catastrophes, and yet recover from the ordeal, but it has lost everything and is past recovery, when it has lost its soul (pp. 53-55).

Le Bon explains this supposed necessary degeneration in half-breeds as due to the “influence of contrary heredities” which “saps their morality and character.” We shall return to Le Bon’s idea of a loss of “soul” as consequent of inter-racial crosses…

…I admit the general inferiority of black-white offspring. Defective half-breeds are too prevalent and obtruding to permit denying the apparently predetermined result of such crosses. But I emphatically deny that the result is inherent in the simple fact of cross-breeding. There are not a few very striking exceptions among my own acquaintances. Absolutely the best mulatto family I have ever known traces its ancestry back on both the maternal and paternal side to high-grade white grandfathers and pure-type negro grandmothers. The reason for the frequently inferior product of such crosses is that the better elements of both races under ordinary conditions of easy mating with their own type feel an instinctive repugnance to intermarriage. Under these usual circumstances a white man who stoops to mating with a colored woman, or a colored woman who will accept a white man, are already of quite inferior type. One would not expect superior offspring from such parents, if it concerned horses or dogs. Why should we expect the biologically impossible in the case of man? If the parents are of good type, so will be the offspring. And even with the handicap of frequently degraded white ancestry, the mulatto of our country, as in Jamaica, forms the most intelligent and potentially useful element of our colored population.

The fact then is established, beyond all possibility of disproof, it seems to me, that a negro-white cross does not inherently mean degeneracy; and that the mulatto, measured by present-day standards of Caucasian civilization, from economic and civic standpoints, is an advance upon a pure negro. In further support of the potency of even a relatively remote white ancestry may be cited the almost unique instance of the Moses of the colored race, Booker T. Washington. As one mingles day by day with colored people of all grades and shades, one is impressed with the significance of even small admixtures of Caucasian blood. What elements of hope or menace lie hidden in these mulatto millions? How can they help to solve or confuse the “problem”?…

…The mulatto has appeared through the white man’s acts. He will greatly increase in the coming generations, by breeding with both his kind and with pure negroes. A high fertility is increased relative to the negro by a lessening death-rate. It is fortunate that he represents an advance on the negro, and a real national advantage in our efforts to adjust the negro ” problem.”…

…The truth is that the hybrid finds himself alive and human, with all that this signifies in terms of capacity for soul development. The pure-bred has no better initial equipment. In the matter of human fundamentals they come to differ only as a different nurture plays upon a very similar human nature. There surely are no real data for the support of Le Bon’s notion that contrary heredities sap the vitality of hybrids and leave them barren of soul…

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