How Not To Talk About Race And Genetics

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Letters, Media Archive on 2018-03-31 02:37Z by Steven

How Not To Talk About Race And Genetics


Micah Baldwin / Via Flickr: micahb37

Race has long been a potent way of defining differences between human beings. But science and the categories it constructs do not operate in a political vacuum.

This open letter was produced by a group of 68 scientists and researchers. The full list of signatories can be found below.

In his newly published book Who We Are and How We Got Here, geneticist David Reich engages with the complex and often fraught intersections of genetics with our understandings of human differences — most prominently, race.

He admirably challenges misrepresentations about race and genetics made by the likes of former New York Times science writer Nicholas Wade and Nobel Laureate James Watson. As an eminent scientist, Reich clearly has experience with the genetics side of this relationship. But his skillfulness with ancient and contemporary DNA should not be confused with a mastery of the cultural, political, and biological meanings of human groups.

As a group of 68 scholars from disciplines ranging across the natural sciences, medical and population health sciences, social sciences, law, and humanities, we would like to make it clear that Reich’s understanding of “race” — most recently in a Times column warning that “it is simply no longer possible to ignore average genetic differences among ‘races’” — is seriously flawed…

Read the entire letter here.

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Biracial and Jewish

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Identity Development/Psychology, Judaism, Letters, Media Archive, Religion, Social Science, United States on 2017-03-22 14:38Z by Steven

Biracial and Jewish

The New York Times

Helen Kiyong Kim, Associate Professor of Sociology
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington

Noah Samuel Leavitt, Associate Dean of Students
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Washington

To the Editor:

Re “What Biracial People Know” (Sunday Review, March 5):

Moises Velasquez-Manoff makes a number of vital points about the creative ways that biracial people navigate the world.

During 2011-14, we interviewed 39 young men and women who were the offspring of Jewish and Asian parents. Supporting Mr. Velasquez-

Manoff’s point that biracialism breaks down tribalism — and perhaps extending his assertions — our research found that these young people strongly identified both as multiracial as well as Jewish in a surprisingly traditional religious sense…

Read the entire letter here.

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The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice

Posted in Biography, Books, History, Letters, Media Archive, Monographs, Social Justice, United States, Women on 2016-02-06 21:17Z by Steven

The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice

Alfred A. Knopf
480 Pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0679446521
eBook ISBN: 978-1101946923

Patricia Bell-Scott, Professor of Child and Family Development and Women’s Studies
University of Georgia

Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice

A groundbreaking book—two decades in the works—that tells the story of how a brilliant writer-turned-activist, granddaughter of a mulatto slave, and the first lady of the United States, whose ancestry gave her membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution, forged an enduring friendship that changed each of their lives and helped to alter the course of race and racism in America.

Pauli Murray first saw Eleanor Roosevelt in 1933, at the height of the Depression, at a government-sponsored, two-hundred-acre camp for unemployed women where Murray was living, something the first lady had pushed her husband to set up in her effort to do what she could for working women and the poor. The first lady appeared one day unannounced, behind the wheel of her car, her secretary and a Secret Service agent her passengers. To Murray, then aged twenty-three, Roosevelt’s self-assurance was a symbol of women’s independence, a symbol that endured throughout Murray’s life.

Five years later, Pauli Murray, a twenty-eight-year-old aspiring writer, wrote a letter to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt protesting racial segregation in the South. The president’s staff forwarded Murray’s letter to the federal Office of Education. The first lady wrote back.

Murray’s letter was prompted by a speech the president had given at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, praising the school for its commitment to social progress. Pauli Murray had been denied admission to the Chapel Hill graduate school because of her race.

She wrote in her letter of 1938:

“Does it mean that Negro students in the South will be allowed to sit down with white students and study a problem which is fundamental and mutual to both groups? Does it mean that the University of North Carolina is ready to open its doors to Negro students . . . ? Or does it mean, that everything you said has no meaning for us as Negroes, that again we are to be set aside and passed over . . . ?”

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote to Murray:

“I have read the copy of the letter you sent me and I understand perfectly, but great changes come slowly . . . The South is changing, but don’t push too fast.”

So began a friendship between Pauli Murray (poet, intellectual rebel, principal strategist in the fight to preserve Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, cofounder of the National Organization for Women, and the first African American female Episcopal priest) and Eleanor Roosevelt (first lady of the United States, later first chair of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, and chair of the President’s Commission on the Status of Women) that would last for a quarter of a century.

Drawing on letters, journals, diaries, published and unpublished manuscripts, and interviews, Patricia Bell-Scott gives us the first close-up portrait of this evolving friendship and how it was sustained over time, what each gave to the other, and how their friendship changed the cause of American social justice.

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Black Indians Formed the First American Rainbow Coalition

Posted in Articles, History, Letters, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, United States on 2016-01-23 23:06Z by Steven

Black Indians Formed the First American Rainbow Coalition

The New York Times

To the Editor:

Census Finds Many Claiming New Identity: Indian” (front-page, March 5) discusses whites who now assert their Indian blood, but fails to mention African-Americans who can claim longer and more legitimate ties to America’s Indian heritage. Many in the New York area are pursuing their biracial heritage through such organizations as the National Alliance of Native Americans and radio stations such as WLIB.

The African-native American connection came to light in 1503, when Gov. Nicolas de Ovando of Hispaniola complained to King Ferdinand that African slaves “fled among the Indians . . . and never could be captured.” His words announced our first rainbow coalition. Today almost every African-American family — from Frederick Douglass, Langston Hughes and Alex Haley to Alice Walker, Jesse Jackson and L. L. Cool J — has an Indian branch in its family tree. The statistics are much lower for white Americans…

William L. Katz
New York
March 6, 1991

The writer, a scholar in residence at N.Y.U., is the author of “Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage” (1986).

Read the entire letter here.

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Letter to Governor Paul B. Johnson Jr. and Lieutenant Governor Carroll Gartin

Posted in Law, Letters, Media Archive, Mississippi, United States on 2013-07-07 19:42Z by Steven

Letter to Governor Paul B. Johnson Jr. and Lieutenant Governor Carroll Gartin

University of Southern Mississippi Libraries
Special Collections: Exhibits and Events


Mississippi State Sovereignty Commission
New Capitol Building
Jackson, Mississippi

Erle Johnston, Jr., Director
Governor Ross R. Barnett, Chairman

Phones: FL 4-3218; FL 2-1022


TO: Honorable Paul B. Johnson, Governor; Honorable Carroll Gartin, Lieutenant Governor

FROM: Director, Sovereignty Commission

SUBJECT: Louvenia Knight (Williamson) and her two sons, Edgar Williamson, born May 1, 1954, and Randy Williamson, born October 10, 1955

  1. This a condensation of a very voluminous file in the Sovereignty Commission on the two Williamson boys, shown on their birth certificates to be white males, sons of white parents, but possessing an amount of Negro blood believed to be between 1/16 and 1/32.
  2. This family lives in the Stringer community of Jasper County. A school bus from Stringer white attendance center passes in front of their home and also a school bus from the white attendance center at Soso in Jones County. The School Board in Jasper County will not permit them to go to the white school and the School Board in Jones County will not take them on transfer. They cannot and will not attend the Negro schools because they are white and because this would be violating Mississippi law. They are now eight and nine years old respectively and have never attended school one day.
  3. The State Department of Education asked the Sovereignty Commission to investigate and try to work out a solution to this problem. The Sovereignty Commission has made every attempt, through investigation and meeting with the school board personnel, to get these boys into a white school. We have even advised the officials involved that we can expect a lot of bad publicity on Mississippi if the boys are not admitted to a school. As of now, the newspapers, who know about the case, are withholding publication at the request of the Sovereignty Commission Director. We cannot maintain this black-out indefinitely.
  4. Unless the influence of the Governor’s office and/or the Lieutenant Governor’s office can be of some assistance in solving this problem, the Sovereignty Commission must close its files with the situation remaining status quo. When we close our files without progress we are afraid the news media will begin to publicize this case as two white boys who cannot go to school in Mississippi. As a newspaper man myself, I realize this story would make national headlines and we hare attempted to avoid it.
  5. The Sovereignty Commission Director will be happy to hear any recommendations from the Governor or Lieutenant Governor. The Commission file on this case is available if you wish to study it in detail.

Erle Johnston, Jr.

View the letter here.

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A Note of Thanks

Posted in Letters, Media Archive on 2013-01-18 23:28Z by Steven


Hi Steven,

This note is a grateful note: just wanted to say thanks for collating such broad, broad data on such a contested subject. Mixed-race is a tough one, hey? It’s wonderful that you made a site which brought all those opinions, past and present, onto a page which I can scroll down and read to my heart’s content (or heart’s discontent, at times, since often the experiences that are told on your site aren’t happy ones at all. But let’s hope for the future.)

I’m a person who identifies as mixed-race. My father is Cape Coloured and my mother was born in Australia to Dutch parents. They met here, in Melbourne.

Thank you for letting me hear the other voices out there; some I can relate to, some I can’t, but all of them make me grateful that we can, at least, have the conversation.

Kindest regards,

Emma Jacobus
Melbourne, Australia

Circular Letter to “Local Registrars, Clerks, Legislators, and others responsible for, and interested in, the prevention of racial intermixture,” from Walter A. Plecker, State Registrar of Vital Statistics, Richmond

Posted in Law, Letters, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States, Virginia on 2013-01-04 19:59Z by Steven

Circular Letter to “Local Registrars, Clerks, Legislators, and others responsible for, and interested in, the prevention of racial intermixture,” from Walter A. Plecker, State Registrar of Vital Statistics, Richmond

Commonwealth of Virginia, Bureau of Vital Statistics
Richmond, Virginia
December 1943

Source: Rockbridge County (Va.) Clerk’s Correspondence, 1912-1943. Local Government Records Collection, Rockbridge County Court Records. The Library of Virginia. 10-0878-003.

In a 1943 letter to local registrars, clerks, and legislators, Plecker asserted, “[T]here does not exist today a descendant of Virginia ancestors claiming to be an Indian who is unmixed with negro blood.”

To Local Registrars, Clerks, Legislators, and others responsible for, and interested in, the prevention of racial intermixture:

In our January 1943 annual letter to local registrars and clerks of courts, with list of mixed surnames, we called attention to the greatly increased effort and arrogant demands now being made for classification as whites, or at least for recognitions as Indians, as a preliminary step to admission into the white race by marraiage, of groups of the descendants of the “free negroes,” so designated before 1865 to distinguish them from slaves.

According to Mendel’s law of heredity, one out of four of a family of mixed breeds, through the introduction of illegitimate white blood, is now so near white in appearance as to lead him to proclaim himself as such and to demand admission into white schools, forbidden by the State Constitution.  The other three people of this type are applying for licenses to marry whites, or for white licenses when intermarrying amongst themselves.  These they frequently secure with ease when they apply in a county or city not the home of the woman and are met by clerk or deputy who justifies himself in accepting a casual affidavit as the truth and in issuing a license to any applicant regardless of the requirements of Section 5099a, Paragraph 4, of the Code.  This Section places the proof upon the applicants, not upon the clerks.  We have learned that affidavits cannot always be accepted as truth. This loose practice (to state it mildly) of a few clerks is now the greatest obstacle in the way of proper registration by race required of the State Registrar of Vital Statistics in that Section. Local registrars, who are supposed to know the people of their registration areas, of course, have no excuse for not catching false registration of births and deaths.

Public records in the office of the Bureau of Vital Statistics, and in the State Library, indicate that there does not exist today a descendant of Virginia ancestors claiming to be an Indian who is unmixed with negro blood

Read the entire letter here.

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Letter, W. A. Plecker to A. T. Shields. 9 May 1925. Typescript.

Posted in Law, Letters, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Politics/Public Policy, United States, Virginia on 2012-10-23 03:00Z by Steven

Letter, W. A. Plecker to A. T. Shields. 9 May 1925. Typescript.

Commonwealth of Virginia, Bureau of Vital Statistics
Richmond, Virginia

Source: Rockbridge County (Va.) Clerk’s Correspondence [Walter A. Plecker to A.T. Shields], 1912-1943. Local Government Records Collection, Rockbridge County Court Records. The Library of Virginia. 10-0477-003.

In a letter to A.T. Shields, Walter Plecker asserted that Judge Holt’s decision to categorize Atha Sorrells as white despite her Indian heritage had “emboldened” the Rockbridge tribe. Nonetheless, he advised against appealing the Sorrells case to the Supreme Court because the court might rule in her favor.

Walter A. Plecker, Registrar

Hon. A. T. Shields,
Rockbridge County Clerk’s Office
Lexington, Virginia

Dear Sir:

In reply to your letter of May 4th, which came during my absence from the, office, I beg to advise that the matter in reference to an appeal in the Atha Sorrells case was left to the Attorney General and the lawyer, Mr. Shewmake, employed by the Anglo Saxon Clubs. After going over carefully the evidence, in view of the fact that nothing new could be introduced,  they decided that it was unwise to appeal the case as the only evidence upon which we absolutely relied,  that of our records was set aside by Judge Holt, and we would not care to take the risk of having the Supreme Court render a similar decision.   Our hope is to drift along until the next legislature, and have them pass a bill prevent ing the marriage of the Indians with the whites.   In my judgement there are no native Indians in Virginia unmixed with negro blood…

Read the entire letter here.

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Eugenics and Mongrelization [Letter and Response]

Posted in Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Letters, Media Archive, United States on 2011-11-28 03:57Z by Steven

Eugenics and Mongrelization [Letter and Response]

The Eugenics Review
Volume 32, Number 1 (April 1940)
pages 28-30

To the Editor, Eugenics Review

SIR, In order that the eugenics movement shall advance successfully, the eugenics organizations must dissociate their endeavours from the widespread propaganda for race amalgamation and mongrelization. There is little wisdom in breeding selectively among individuals if the results are to be nullified by indiscriminate mixing of the races. Nearly all the arguments against the existence of different races are coming from spokesmen for races that desire admixture to, and absorption by the white race, or Aryan race, using the name in the newer adapted sense. The arguments have utterly failed to change the truth that there are at least three great races-the whites, or Aryans; the Mongolians; and the Negroes. The Jews may be regarded as a sub-race that in some degree, or at least in some countries, may be absorbed by other races.

There has been vastly less race mixture in the northern hemisphere than the amalgamation exponents contend. The United States is not a nation of mixed races, as some writers allege. There has been a small admixture of American Indian and Mexican in some of the western states, and a small admixture of Jews in some of the cities. There are about twelve million Negroes, who have a small fraction of widely diffused white blood, due mainly to miscegnation on the southern plantations before the Civil War. But there is practically no Negro blood in the one hundred and ten million whites, who are almost purely of European descent and have absolutely no intention of amalgamating with the Negroes.

The white race is unquestionably uniquely beautiful and is in many respects of superior intelligence. To mix the white features with other races would destroy the white beauty for ever. The white race should maintain its purity and should further develop its characteristics…

…The mixing of races would produce mongrels lacking the distinctive qualities and values of all races. Eugenics means, not only breeding from the superior and eliminating the unfit among individuals, but also similar procedure as between the races. The white race idealizes a pure white race and further development of its characteristics. There can be no idealization of a mongrel humanity, except among races that desire admixture with whites and thus acknowledge a belief in their own inferiority. This has been the almost universal attitude of the white race, at least in the United States. The cruel persecution of the Jews in Germany caused a temporary reaction in favour of race solidarity, but with the adjustment of the Jewish problem in some manner, the real attitude of the white race will become more outspoken and unmistakable. The eugenics organizations must act along these lines, else their efforts will fail and new organizations will be formed to strive for the true eugenic ideals.

1510 Lincoln Avenue
Lakewood, Ohio, U.S.A.

[Response from the Editor]

Some of the statements in the above letter must not be allowed to pass without comment. The implication in the first sentence, that the eugenics movement associates its endeavours with “propaganda for race amalgamation and mongrelization” is, as far as this country is concerned, a travesty of the facts. We should be much surprised to learn that it is true of the eugenics movement in any country. The views of this Society, as set forth in its Statement of Aims and Objects, is  “that further knowledge of the results of such crosses is needed in order to distinguish between the effects of unfavourable hereditary and environmental influences and to frame a practical eugenic policy.” This does not mean that we do not share Mr. Eshleman’s disquietude at the “indiscriminate mixing of the races,” but we should regard it as a nice question whether that is any more undesirable than the indiscriminate mating of persons belonging to the same race.

The assumption in the second paragraph would almost certainly be rejected by most competent anthropologists to-day. The plain fact that there is no such thing as an Aryan race is in no way altered by the device of using “Aryan” in its ” newly adapted sense.” The only assemblage of human beings to which this purely linguistic term may be applied is the heterogenous body of ethnic and national groups who share the common peculiarity of speaking the Aryan or Indo-European languages. The “great white race” represents in fact a somewhat elastic conception, but however arbitrarily its limits are defined it is difficult to see how they could exclude the majority of Jews. The fact, however, that they would certainly not include the indigenous Jewish communities which exist in both Abyssinia and China is an indication of how far-to quote Huxley and Haddon—”the term Jew is valid more as a socio-religious or pseudonational description than as an ethnic term in any genetic sense.”

The claim that “there has been vastly less race mixture in the northern hemisphere” than is sometimes alleged, may be questioned in the light of some data which have been submitted to us for publication by Mr. J. C. Trevor, formerly one of the Eugenics Society’s Darwin Research Fellows and now University Lecturer in Anthropology at Cambridge. In Mr. Trevor’s paper, for which we hope to find room in our next issue, the ratio of mixed bloods (i.e. persons of partly European and partly non-European stock) to the total population of the United States is given as slightly over 7 per cent, Admittedly this figure can at best be only an approximation, but including as it does in its basis Kuczynski’s statement that to count 6o per cent of the negro inhabitants of that country as mulatto would be “a most conservative estimate,” it is more likely to understate the facts than overstate them. It is noteworthy that according to an eminent American scholar, the number of negroes of full blood was unduly exaggerated in the 1920 U.S. census, the last in which an attempt was made to assess the mulatto element by itself. And it need hardly be added that the familiar phenomenon of “passing for white,” with its inevitable consequences, must not be overlooked in examining the contention that “there is practically no negro blood in the one hundred and ten million whites.”…

Read the entire letter and response here.

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