Pure-breds vs. Mongrels

Nope, not dogs, cats, horses, or any other animal. I’m talking about humans. Sorry if the term “mongrel” offends you, but I’m including myself in this group, and it seems a handy term to identify people of mixed genetic background. This is not necessarily so-called “mixed race” offspring, but anything that is not “pure-bred” (or shall I say “inbred”? — My dad was 100% Dutch — we can trace all of his ancestors back to Holland in the 1860s, and some of his ancestors all the way back to the 1500s or 1600s; so when I talk about inbreeding, I’m including him and all the other “genetically pure” or “ethnically pure” people like that). I kinda like to say “inbred” because “pure” sounds so hoity-toity and “holier than thou,” while “inbred” has negative connotations. Using terms like inbred and mongrel kinda puts us all on equal footing [“all men are created equal,” after all], even if these terms are negative sounding. I’m not intending to be offensive; I’m typing this with an amused smirk on my face, and hope you all can see the humor in it. You see, America is a great “melting pot”; although apparently some groups haven’t “melted” as much as others. When I lived in Chicago, one of my husband’s friends (a Jamaican) was married to a Polish woman who I believe was native-born American. She was pure-bred [inbred? ;-)] Polish, and she and her parents and extended family all spoke Polish to each other, but spoke English to others. It was actually pretty humorous — we went to their child’s birthday party, and because I was white, all her Polish friends and family thought I must be Polish too, so they started off talking to me in Polish. Needless to say, I got on better with the Jamaican grandmother because we both spoke English, than with the Polish grandmother, although those who were bilingual spoke English to me. Many big American cities have neighborhoods called “Little Italy” and “Chinatown” and so forth, because people from one country or another tended to congregate in one spot and maintain their ethnic identity, rather than truly “melt” together. This is also how my dad was able to be pure Dutch, though all his ancestors left Holland a few generations before he was even born — they all settled in a very “Dutch” part of the country, and continued the tradition of Dutch marrying Dutch (see why I call it “inbreeding”?)… until my dad met my mom who has a who-knows-what genetic background.

One of the things that people often say about America and our birth outcomes is that we are of mixed genetic heritage — good ol’ melting pot, with many people claiming ancestry in half-a-dozen different European countries, and others combining genetics from entirely different continents. I think that’s great; but there is a theoretical problem with this mixing, if, for example, a woman with a genetically small pelvis, thanks to generations of inbreeding (for example, Koreans marrying only Koreans and giving birth to Koreans for millennia), marrying a man with a genetically large head (like, apparently, the Dutch, judging by my dad’s family photos), and then ending up with a theoretical baby that has a head too big to fit through the mother’s pelvis. I say “theoretical” because I don’t know if it’s been proven. [Also, it seems to be at least an equal chance that the baby would end up with the mother’s small head and body, so it’s really being prejudicial to say that a hypothetical child would definitely be too big to be born vaginally.] I remember reading about (and I blogged about it previously) a study in which Asian women married to white men had C-sections at a higher rate than white women married to Asian men. However, I wonder how much of the C-section rate was due to the doctor’s prejudicial decision that the baby would be too big for the woman’s pelvis, so was quicker to call for a C-section than he would have otherwise. And I also think of that one “Baby Story” I watched with a short woman and a big and tall husband, and she was induced because the doctors feared that with her husband being that big, the baby would be too big if she went to her due date. Birthweight? Six pounds and change. Um, yeah; that’s big. [Sarcasm]

So, are America’s high C-section rate, and poor rates of things like maternal and infant mortality due to us being a genetic melting pot? Or is it possibly something else?

What got me thinking on this topic again was this article I read, about a New Yorker living in Japan (married to a Japanese man, having lived there for years), trying to have a home-birth. In the article, the woman said that 1 out of 10 couples in Tokyo is “mixed” — I wonder if that would be a better place for a study into the theoretical problem of mixed genetics leading to “unbirthable” babies. We could look retrospectively at birth records of the three groups: “pure bred” Japanese mothers and fathers; Japanese mothers and foreign fathers; and foreign mothers and Japanese fathers; and see what if any differences there are in the C-section rate and birth outcomes of the three groups. It wouldn’t totally do away with provider bias, but it seems more likely to me that Japanese doctors would be less likely to stamp a Japanese pelvis with “FAIL” than American doctors might be — nationalistic pride, if nothing else, perhaps?

At the least, it would be interesting to see if the C-section rate for Japanese mothers and gaijin fathers would be similar to that of the American study.

2 Responses

  1. Wow, the Dutch are perhaps the most out-bred country in Europe, so come on, you really think that your dad and family is in-bred? You can not tell by looking at someone what their background is! I look like a whitey through and through, blond curly hair and German build. Guess what? I’m 1/4 Native American, I am sure me and mine also totally fail the one drop test (for African American heritage) by a wide margin, and matrilineally my sibs and cousins and I are Jewish. Now, if we take what my ancestors said at face value they said they were white, HA!

    Genetics are not exactly cut and dried like you think, humans can and do out breed when cultures touch, we are genetically more different within “cultures” then between cultures – meaning we’re so heterogeneous that there is no such thing as race at all. White is not white nor has it really ever been. We have got to discard the old notions of race, there is no such thing – we have families and in families there tends to be similarities but geez, but a family a race does not make.

  2. Just echoing the previous commenter. There is no such thing as ethnic purity. We are more the same than we are different and phenotypic traits like skin color comprise only tiny fraction of our genetic diversity. America’s high C-section rate is about culture, not genes.

    A side note, the recent study published in Science about Neandertal DNA might be of interest to you. In a nutshell, all non-African humans have 1-4% Neandertal DNA. There was interbreeding between early modern humans and Neandertals, who were quite phenotypically different. Namely, they were more robust and had larger/thicker skulls, but smaller pelvises. They also probably had light skin and light/red hair, whereas modern humans had darker skin and hair. And yet Neandertal genes put them within the realm of human genetic diversity…that is, the difference between me and a Neandertal may be less than the difference between me and you. So I don’t think we can talk about differences in Japanese and American (and I assume you mean white American) births without acknowledging that it’s a study about culture rather than a study about genetics or physiology.

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