Racial Myths

Racial Myths

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
UNESCO Publication 891
51 pages

Juan Comas (1900-1979), Professor of Anthropology
Mexican School of Anthropology


  • I. General observations on racial prejudices and myths
  • II. The myth of blood and of the inferiority of cross-breeds
  • III. Colour prejudice: the Negro myth
  • IV. The Jewish myth
  • V. The myth of «Aryan» or «Nordic» superiority Origin of the Aryans
    • Doctrine of Aryanism and Teutonism .
    • Anthroposociology and social selection
    • The «Aryan» thesis of contemporary nazism and fascism
    • The alleged «Anglo-Saxon» type
    • «Celticism»
    • Criticism and refutation of these theories
  • VI. Conclusion
  • Bibliography


Human miscegenation has been and is the subject of infinite debate. Opinions on the subject are conditioned by the views of the disputants on race and racial differences, the opponents of miscegenation starting from the assumption of racial inequality, whereas its defenders take the view that the differences between human groups are not such as to constitute an objection to cross-breeding between them. Hence the first thing needed in the study of the problems raised by human inter-breeding is a clear definition of what is meant by race and the selection of criteria for deciding whether or not any pure races exist.

Even under the loosest definition, race implies the existence of groups presenting certain similarities in somatic characteristics which are perpetuated according to the laws of biological inheritance, allowing for a margin of individual variation.

The peoples of Europe are of such mongrel origin that any attempt at classification according to only two characteristics (colour of eyes and hair) would exclude two-thirds of the population in any region studied; the addition of a third characteristic (cranial formation) would leave us with a still smaller fraction of the population presenting the required combination of all three characteristics; and with the inclusion of stature and nasal index, the proportion of «pure» types would become infinitesimal.

We may take it then that there are no pure human races; at the very most it would be possible to define a pure race in terms of the incidence of one selected somatic characteristic, but never in terms of all or even of the majority of hereditary traits. Nevertheless there is a widespread belief that there was a time in antiquity when racial types were pure, that miscegenation is of relatively recent date, and that it threatens humanity with a general degeneration and retrogression. This belief lacks the slightest support from science. The mixing of races has been going on since the very beginning of human life on earth, though obviously the improvement of communications and the general increase in population has stimulated it in the last two centuries. Migration is as old as the human race, and automatically implies cross-breeding between groups. It is quite possible that the Cro-Magnon type of the upper Paleolithic interbred with Neanderthal man, as seems to be indicated by the discovery of remains displaying intermediate characteristics. Moreover the existence of Negroid and Mongoloid races in prehistoric Europe is a further proof that cross-breeding is not a recent phenomenon, and that the oldest populations of Europe are no more than the product of such miscegenation over thousands of years. Yet they show neither the disharmony nor the degeneration which many writers believe to result from racial interbreeding.

History shows us that all the areas in which a high culture has developed have been the scene of the conquest of an indigenous race by foreign nomadic groups, followed by the breaking down of caste divisions and the creation of new amalgams; these, though regarded as racially homogeneous nations, were in fact no more than new  nationalities comprising different races.

Those who, like Jon A. Mjöen, consider miscegenation dangerous for the future of mankind, assert that it is a source of physical degeneracy and that immunity against certain diseases diminishes. They allege that prostitutes and vagrants are commoner among half-bred than among purebred races, while an increased incidence of tuberculosis and other diseases is observable among the former group, with a diminution of mental balance of vigour and, an increase in criminal tendencies (Harmonic and Disharmonic Race Crossing and Harmonic and Unharmonic Crossings, 1922). These data are not valid because the writer does not specify the types of individuals studied nor the general characteristics of the races which have interbred; he ought also to prove that the specific families whose interbreeding produced the half-breeds examined were physically and mentally healthy and free of any sign of degeneracy or disability. Mjöen also entirely overlooks the influence of the social background on the subjects’ behaviour.

C. B. Davenport also demonstrates (in The Effects of Racial Miscegenation, 1917) the existence of disharmonic phenomena in half-breeds-relatively small digestive organs in a bulky body, well developed teeth in weak jaws, large thighs out of proportion to the body, etc. It is not disputed that there are individuals displaying such characteristics, but it has not been shown that the phenomena are due to miscegenation; similar cases are found among old families while generally speaking crossbreeding between black and white produces well proportioned individuals…

…The notion of humanity as being divided into completely separate racial compartments is inaccurate. It is based on false premises, and more particularly on the «blood» theory of heredity which is as false as the old racist theory. «Of one blood» is a phrase without meaning, since the genes or factors of heredity have no connection whatever with the blood, and are independent elements which not only do not amalgamate but tend to become most sharply differentiated. Heredity is not a fluid transmitted through the blood, nor is it true that the different «bloods» of the progenitors are mixed and combined in their offspring.

The myth of «blood» as the decisive criterion regarding the value of a cross persists even in our own day and men still speak of «blood» as the vehicle of inherited qualities, «of my own blood», «the voice of blood», «mixed blood», «new blood», «half blood», etc. The terms, «blue blood» and «plebeian blood» have become a permanent part of everyday speech as descriptions of the descendants of aristocratic and plebeian families respectively, the last being used in a depreciative sense. «Blood» is also to mean nationality: «German blood», «Spanish blood», «Jewish blood», etc. The criterion reaches the nadir of absurdity in such cases as the classification in the United States of those individuals as «Negroes» or «Indians» who have one-sixteenth part of Indian blood» or «black blood»—that is, when one of their sixteen direct ancestors (great-great-grandparents) was a Negro or an Indian…

…Accordingly we can sum up the position more or less as follows: (a) miscegenation has existed since the dawn of human life; (b) miscegenation results in a greater somatic and psychic variability and allows of the emergence of a great variety of new gene combinations, thus increasing the range of hereditary characteristics in the new population group; (c) speaking biologically, miscegenation is neither good nor bad, its effects being dependent in every case on the individual characteristics of the persons between whom such crossbreeding takes place. As, in general, miscegenation occurs more frequently between individuals on the lower social levels and in unsatisfactory economic and social circumstances, the causes of certain anomalies observable must be sought in this fact rather than in the fact of miscegenation as such; (d) examples of «pure races» or of isolated human groups having developed a high culture independently are the exception; (e) on the contrary the great majority of areas of high civilization are inhabited by obviously cross-bred groups….

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