The myth of the melting pot

The myth of the melting pot

Biodemography and Social Biology
Volume 1, Issue 4 (1954)
pages 248-251
DOI: 10.1080/19485565.1954.9987204

David C. Rife
Institute of Genetics
The Ohio State University

Elton F. Paddock
Institute of Genetics
The Ohio State University

Myths are fictional legends, but more often than not they carry elements of truth. Popular beliefs concerning the results of racial mixture may be classed as the myth of the melting pot According to this myth, the mixture of races is analogous to the process of manufacturing alloys. There is actually a great deal of truth in this analogy, although the true nature of alloys is frequently misunderstood.

When molten copper and zinc are thoroughly mixed in the proper proportions, brass will be produced. Brass, bronze, and other alloys are intimate mixtures of two or more pure metals. The ideal alloy is one which combines the desired qualities of two or more metals in what appears to be a homogeneous blend.

The appearance of homogeneity is superficial, however, as the alloy is essentially a physical mixture, not a chemical compound. Brass, for example, is a mixture of particles of pure copper and pure zinc, the size of the particles varying from atoms to tiny crystals. The result of a mixing of two races is analogous to the metallurgical melting pot in that the mixing does not result in the elimination of variability. It differs in that the end product in the human melting pot is a grosser mixture, the variation within mixed populations being more readily visible than in the metallic alloy. Concepts to the effect that either type of melting pot produces a new homogeneous product are purely fictitious.

The myth of the human melting pot is founded on the assumption that the hybridization of different human populations will eventually result in the elimination of biological differences. According to this way of thinking mankind will eventually be characterized by a uniform shade of skin color, hair form, and various other physical characteristics, which now vary from one ethnic group to another. There can be no question but that barriers between human races are rapidly being eliminated, owing to modern transportation, education, and communication. Today it is difficult to find “pure” racial groups. In most parts of the world many cultural barriers to understanding and cooperation are on the way out. But what about genetic variability? Is it tending to become less?

The answer is “no.” Genes, the particles of heredity, do not lose their identities but maintain them over an indefinite number of generations, regardless of what other genes they may be associated with. This principle is the essence of the classical discoveries made by Mendel almost a century ago. Mixture of races neither increases nor decreases the total genetic variability in mankind. It brings about an increase of  individual variability.

Mixtures of Negroes and Whites provide an excellent example of this principle. The first generation offspring are intermediate or mulatto. But if these mulattoes marry other mulattoes of similar origin, their offspring will exhibit subtly varying degrees of pigmentation, ranging from the dark brown of Negroes to the light pigmentation of Whites. The genes have maintained their individuality from one generation to another. The mixed population will have much greater variability with respect to…

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