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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/335

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RACIAL ELEMENT IN NATIONAL VITALITY

RACIAL ELEMENT IN NATIONAL VITALITY
By Dr. CHAS. B. DAVENPORT

COLD SPRING HARBOR, N. Y.

OUR population is made up of such a variety of racial elements that it is hardly possible to make any statement about it as a whole that is both true and significant. Especially is this so in the field of statistics. When we say the death rate in the United States is 15.0 for the registration area, the number may be very accurate; but is it very significant? It throws together data of partly black states and those of nearly pure white: those of the slums of great cities with masses of recent immigrants and those of Kentucky. We have a number, to be sure, and one that we can compare with numbers similarly derived from other countries; but, aside from affording facts for almanacs, I conceive that such a number has little significance biologically or scientifically. I want as my contribution to this discussion to point out how widely different in vitality the races of the United States are. And first, it is necessary to point out that for the most part we use the term race too narrowly. I will use it collectively for the possessors of a racial (i. e., inheritable) character. Such are potentially members of a race; they may easily become actually such in consequence of a certain amount of isolation or inbreeding. To illustrate the fact that many traits that we think of merely as variations are really racial traits, we may consider eye color. If I ask a brown-eyed person whether he got his brown eyes from the mother's or the father's side of the house, he takes no umbrage at the inquiry and informs me if he knows. But if I ask an inhabitant of the island of Raratonga who prides himself on his race purity whether he got his brown eyes from the mother's or the father's side of the house, he feels at once insulted. His brown eyes he recognizes as a racial characteristic. As a matter of fact the brown eye color is a racial characteristic in both cases, but persons of European origin are used to the intermingling of the brown-eyed and the blu-eyed races that are found in this country, and forget the racial significance. Similarly, if I ask a colored man of our south whether it was from the father's or the mother' side of the house that he got his light color, he answers me without objection, but if I should ask any of this audience whether they got their white skin color from the father's or the mother's side, they would naturally take exception to the inquiry. All of our inheritable characteristics have, indeed, the essential traits of specific characters.

Beginning with the generally recognized races, as is well known the mortality of the negro is very different from that of the white. Thus, the census report gives the death rate among whites as 17 per 1,000 and among negroes 28 per 1,000, or nearly double, and for every 100 white children per 1,000 who die under 15 years, there are 150 negro chil-