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Archiver > Melungeon > 2003-05 > 1053596083

From: "Mike Nassau" <>
Subject: [Melungeon] genetics, genealogy and race
Date: Thu, 22 May 2003 17:34:43 +0800

I have been thinking about that question on the Pollitzer and Brown study on
blood antigens and my emphasis on the Duffy locus, with the Fya- allele
being found in the malarial zone of West Africa and Fya+ everywhere else.
Of course, Fya- lacks the blood cell surface antigen which is the binding
site for the malarial parasite (a trypanosome protozoan, if memory serves),
which makes the person without the Duffy antigen suffer much less with a
malarial infection. The question challenged the sampling done for this
study, which is a valid objection and something which had bothered me for a
long time.

There was also some assertion that the study was strictly biochemical and
ignored the genealogy. Genealogy is totally irrelevant for what I was
talking about, which is proving the presence of African ancestry in the
group. Genealogy is putative, legendary or traditional ancestry, it tells
us little or nothing about the biology of the individuals. Secret adoptions
(particularly mothers raising daughter's illegitimate children), illicit
liaisons, and other discrepancies abound in all populations. One DNA tester
said in an interview that no one should have their DNA tested unless they
were fully willing to accept whatever the findings might be, including that
they were mistaken about who their father is, since about "one person in ten
is sending father's day cards to the wrong guy". If we extend this 90%
probability of being right in one's genealogy over ten generations (about
250 years), there is only a 35% chance of being right even if records are
complete. After 20 generations, there is only a 12.17% chance and after 40
generations, a 1.5% chance of being correct. So when so many British nobles
claim to be direct male line descendents of William the Conqueror, they have
a less than 2% chance that it is actually so. It would be very interesting
to do a Y-chromosome analysis on the all hereditary peers in the House of
Lords who claim to have the same direct male line. I guess genealogy has
the same relation to scientific ancestry studies that holy scriptures have
to evolution and population genetics. One is taken on faith, the other is
rationally derived from objective reality. Just as religious scriptures can
be fascinating, genealogy can be a very absorbing family history as
believed, whether it is true or not.

Now race is a very difficult concept to pin down. Race, breed and variety
are terms used for distinct populations within a species. The level higher
than species, the genus, is assumed to mean that the two populations can not
interbreed. The dhole, the wild dog of East and South Asia, certainly
resembles the domestic dog to a remarkable degree, but they can not
interbreed, so they are different genera. The dog, dingo, wolf, coyote and
the various jackals all can interbreed but do so infrequently even where
their ranges overlap. This makes them different species of the same genus,
Canis. Now, if we kept our prejudices out classification, we would be set
with an understanding of natural classification. But we don't. Bonobos,
chimpanzees and humans are probably as closely related as the coyote, dingo
and black-backed jackal, but almost no one suggests putting them in the same
genus. Similar prejudices prevail in racial classification.

Race is generally used for populations which are naturally formed, variety
for domestic plants and breed for domestic animals. If we accept the
estimate that modern man separated from Homo robustus some 100,000 to
200,000 years ago, and use that for an estimate of the degree of separation
possible within the species, races would be expected to take tens of
thousands of years to form. In terms of the degree of separation demanded,
there are three to eight races of modern humans. There is one group formed
in southern Africa which is usually split into two races, the Khoisan
(Khoi-khoi [hottentots], San [bushmen], Sandawe and Hadza) and the Twa
(pygmies, Mbuti). There is another group north and west of the vicinity of
Lake Victoria but south of the Sahara, which can be split into two races,
the Guinean of the rainforest (coastal) belt and the Sahelian of the bush
and grasslands. The other group includes North Africa, the Horn of Africa
and the rest of the world. It can be split into the Australian, the Papuan
(New Guinea and neighboring islands, and the Andaman Islands), and the
Southeast Asian (including the south Chinese [but not the north Chinese],
the people of the Indochinese peninsula and the Malayo-Polynesian peoples)
and then a group with all the rest. So a Swede, an Ethiopian, an Arab, a
Sri Lankan, a north Chinese, a Korean, a Navajo and a Mayan are all the same
race by genetic distance. See for Cavalli-Sforza's
table of genetic distances to see how well this division, which is
admittedly heavily influenced by Merritt Ruhlen's work on the relationship
of languages, fits the DNA studies done so far.

Of course, this is not how race is usually used. It usually refers to
visual races, groups which look different. Some people will refer to a
Black race which includes all Sub-Saharan Africans, Dravidians from southern
India and Sri Lanka, Australians, Papuans and the Melanesians, members of
all eight different biological races. But in the context of American racial
clasification, the situation gets much simpler if even less scientific. One
is Black if one has discernable or known Sub-Saharan African ancestry,
Indian if one eighth or more Native American ancestry and not too much
African, Asian if of all or obvious part East, Southeast or South Asian
ancestry, and white if of mostly European, West, Central or Northern Asian,
and/or North African ancestry and not known to be of significant Sub-Saharan
ancestry. With all systems of racial classification, there are many groups
and many individuals who do not fit in one category. The Bantu were formed
by a Guinean intrusion into an area which had been Khoisan, so Bantus of
Cameroon appear almost pure Guinean, but many in South Africa (like Nelson
Mandela) appear almost pure Khoisan. Iranians show their "white" (Central
and West Asian) ancestry, plus the older Elamo-Dravidian South Asian stock,
some Mongol East Asian and some Bantu Black African from the Iranian
colonies in East Africa like Zanzibar. Mixing occurs wherever two or more
peoples live together or next to each other. Even racism in its most
extreme will not prevent mixing, though it may make the gene flow between
two populations very one-sided. Anti-black racism in America may prevent
Hattie McDaniel's children from passing for white, but not Lena Horne's. So
Lena Horne has more white ancestry than black, that doesn't change the fact
that her children have black ancestry through her.

Finally, what records show for racial classification tell us very little
indeed about the actual racial composition of individuals. We know that
most Native Americans of the Southeast have more white and black ancestry
than Amerind. Pollitzer's blood type study on the Lumbee of southern North
Carolina showed them to be 50% black, 40% white and 10% Amerind in ancestry.
The Haliwa of northern North Carolina gave very similar results. This is
what we would expect with the combination of Indian disease susceptibility
and free blacks and mulattos taking refuge with the Indians. This is what I
think of when I think of my Indian ancestors who merged with the Graysville
Melungeons and then into white society, someone who is mixed Amerind, black
and white, and less than half Amerind. I have said many times that I
believe the genealogical records for most Melungeons will show some
self-identified Indians and no self-identified blacks, but that most if not
all of the Indians had a substantial amount of black ancestry, probably more
than Amerind. They would be members of an Indian community, so socially
Indian, the community would have a continuous history of being Indian, so
historically Indian, and they would think of themselves as Indian, so
self-identified as Indian. They just would not be Indian biologically,
which is what is usally meant by racially. Now, I strongly support the
right of such people to classify themselves as Indian and I have no problem
with people claiming ancestors as Indian who thought of themselves as
Indian. That does not mean they can use this to say they have no black
ancestry when they do, however.

I am really tired of people trying to tell me that "their" Indians did not
mix with blacks, that they despised blacks and had nothing to do with them.
I am sure that there were Indians who would not accept someone who looked
almost pure Guinea like say Whoopi Goldberg, but the same people would
readily accept someone who looked like Mariah Carey. If, say, the Tuscarora
were such an exclusive group who would not accept free blacks who were pure
black, then try to believe that a young Tuscarora man would reject a young
Saponi woman just because she was half Amerind, a quarter white and a
quarter black, although she was the color of a pure Indian and very
attractive. I can't do it. Of course, I have always been a sucker for tan
skin with black eyes and hair (see my Filipina wife's picture at ).

I know this will offend some of you who fervently want to preserve the myth
that we do not have black ancestry, and I am indeed sorry to do so. I am
especially sorry to upset those who have been socially ostracized for not
being pure white and are understandably protective of their white or
white-Indian identity. My mother was one of those and I could never get her
to admit the obvious black ancestry in our family even though her father had
had a hard time passing for white. In the last year of her life, she asked
me why she was so much darker than all her friends in a group photo, which
struck me as really strange since we had just had an argument over where we
got our snub noses a month earlier, with her saying they proved Irish
ancestry (there is very little) and me saying African ancestry (definitely
substantially more than Irish). She denied there was any African then and
died still doing so. I have no problem with Melungeons bragging about their
Indian ancestry, tracing their genealogy back without acknowledging any
black ancestry, etc., as long as they do not try to impede the scientific
investigation of our actual biological ancestry by attacking results which
show our black ancestry.

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