Dr. Aarathi Prasad’s programme, Is It Better to be Mixed Race?, airs tonight at 8:00pm on Channel 4. In a preview article for the Sunday Telegraph, Dr. Prasad, a geneticist, writes about the science behind mixed-race people and asks whether or not their genetic diversity is beneficial:
So are these differences significant and, more to the point, are they significant enough so that when they are brought together, there might be tangible benefits for people who are mixed-race? The answer from some scientists who still do what could be called “racial science” appears to be yes on both counts. Dr Mark Shriver, who studies human origins at Penn State University, is interested in ancestry, variations in skin and hair colour, facial features and height….
Shriver’s work has uncovered something else that is very interesting. He finds that mixed-race people are more symmetrical than the rest of us, and being more symmetrical translates into being more attractive, having less infection, being less stressed, and having greater genetic diversity. Professor Bill Amos at Cambridge University has also been studying the genetic basis of human disease. He finds that in humans, an individual’s level of genetic diversity can predict with astonishing accuracy how likely they are to survive parasites and infectious disease. In a recent study in Kenya, he found that low levels of diversity were strongly associated with death before the age of five.
It’s always useful to know more about the science of anything. And such work provides a powerful counter to those who oppose mixed-race marriages because the children will be ‘wrong’, as the children will be genetically stronger. As Dr. Prasad puts it:
When someone like me chooses a partner of another race, some family member is guaranteed to ask the same question as that Louisiana Justice of the Peace: “But what will the children be?”
Yet I am also uncomfortable with the talk about mixed-race children being more attractive. Different people find different people attractive. Some people have more admirers than others, and that is fine. But to talk about attractiveness in terms of race (even mixed-race) is worrying. It might be the case that on average mixed-race people are considered more attractive by more people, but it is such a generalisation as to be pointless. Any discussion that seeks to grade races on the basis of looks is dangerous.
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