Morality or Biology? Those engaged in the culture wars tend to focus on the first; those combing through the genome, the second. In 'Paternal Provisioning versus Mate Seeking in Human Populations,' Edward M. Miller offers us tantalizing insight into the why of some of our African brethren's puzzling behavior. An exercise of historical interest, perhaps, to compare his conclusions with the anthropological observations of those who've gone before us.
Says Miller [all emphasis ours]:
'In some species, males devote more effort to seeking mating opportunities. In other species, they devote more effort to assisting their offspring. In each species, males evolve to use the strategy that most promotes their fitness.
'[...] In warm climates, females typically can gather enough food for themselves and their children. In cold climates, hunting is required to survive winter, and females typically do not hunt (other than for easily captured small game). Hence, offspring survival requires male provisioning in cold climates. Thus, cold climate males were selected to devote more efforts to provisioning, and less to seeking matings. In warm climates, such male provisioning was not essential, even if desirable.'
A pure Negro, about thirty-five years of age, a few years ago, purchased about half an acre of land on the bank of a "branch" near a small village in Maryland. [...] This Negro has been living in it for years and seems perfectly contented. His family consists of himself, wife and three daughters eleven to seventeen years of age. The surrounding country is one of the best tomato growing sections in the United States and during about six weeks of the tomato season tomato pickers are in great demand and make good wages.
During this time the Negro man and his family usually work hard; for they pick by the basket and make in the neighborhood of two hundred dollars. This is practically their year's work. The remainder of the year they do but little. They have a garden, pigs, and chickens. It would be an easy matter for this family to get ahead in the world ; but they prefer the easy life of comparative idleness. (W.H. Collins, 1918)
'Thus, warm climate males who devoted more efforts to seeking mating opportunities, and less to provisioning, left more offspring. This theory can explain many of the known racial differences.'
Fouillée asserts that the dominant characteristics of the Negro are: Sensuality, a tendency to servile imitation, lack of initiative, horror of solitude, instability, inordinate love of singing and dancing, and unconquerable taste for glitter and ornament. He is a person of pleasure, light, gossipy, improvident, lazy.
[...] If one would express the general impression of those who know the North American Negro, then one would say: He is childlike. He does not look very far ahead, he is not very accurate, he is fond of bright colors and finery, is easily distracted. These characteristics may, naturally, be inherent, but this is not necessarily so. (W.A. Bonger, 1943)
'Under some conditions males leave more descendants by devoting more energy to seeking copulations (an endeavor that often includes prestige seeking), and relatively less to provisioning their offspring. In these conditions, selection will be for such characteristics as high sex drive, aggression, a mesomorphic body build, and large testes.'
All who know the Negro recognize, however, that the chief and overpowering element in his make-up is an imperious sexual impulse which, aroused at the slightest incentive, sweeps aside all restraints in the pursuit of physical gratification. We may say now that this element of Negro character constitutes the main incitement to degeneracy of the race and is the chief hindrance to its social uplifting. (W.H. Thomas, 1901)
'Barnard and Woodburn (1988) noted that, "In all known hunter-gatherer societies, with immediate return systems, and in many but not all, hunter-gatherer societies with delayed return systems, people are almost always able to meet their nutritional needs very adequately without working long hours." [...] Most tropical hunter-gatherer societies are immediate return ones.'
This is also one of the main reasons, no doubt, for the great increase in Negro tenant farmers, especially that of share tenants. The latter class increased about thirty-six per cent between 1900 and 1910. Many of these seldom work a full day at a time. As they usually put off cultivating a crop to the last moment, if a wet season happens to set in, it is soon greatly damaged by a growth of grass. As a tenant farmer, the Negro realizes that he is more independent, his time is his own, and that he can usually work when he pleases. A great part of his time is given to various Negro recreations, such as visiting, riding and driving, crap-shooting, preaching, attending revivals, and camp-meetings. (W.H. Collins, 1918)
It was the impossibility of getting the Negroes [in Jamaica] to do any regular work that led to the importation of the Chinese and the Indian coolies. (J.A. Froude, 1900)
'Gardner (1972, p. 414), in describing the Paliyans, a foraging people of India, has pointed out that, "In normal times Paliyan men and women spend a bare three to four hours a day obtaining food and evidence no anxiety whatsoever about its supply." [...] Not surprisingly, with the parties not needing each other economically, "the usual situation is one of fragile, often serial, unions, terminated quickly by the offended party when conflict arises" (p. 419).'
Huffman says that in 1894 more than one-fourth of the colored births in the city of Washington were illegitimate. Many prominent Negroes admit that above ninety per cent of both sexes are unchaste. A negro may be a pillar in the church and at the same time the father of a dozen illegitimate children by as many mothers. (W.H. Collins, 1918)
'Lee and DeVore's famous Man the Hunter is often summarized as showing that most calories come from gathering, not hunting, that most gathering is done by females, and that hunter-gatherers need spend only a relatively small part of their time in gathering. Taken together, these facts imply that a woman can feed her family with little male assistance. This suggests that males would leave more descendants by focusing their efforts on mating rather than on provisioning.'
[In Philadelphia] the number of deserted wives, however, allowing for false reports, is astoundingly large and presents many intricate problems. A very large part of charity given to Negroes is asked for this reason. The causes of desertion are partly laxity in morals and partly the difficulty of supporting a family. [...] There can be no doubt but what sexual looseness is to-day the prevailing sin of the mass of the Negro population, and that its prevalence can be traced to bad home life in most cases. Children are allowed on the street night and day unattended; loose talk is often indulged in; the sin is seldom if ever denounced in the churches. (W.E.B. DuBois, 1899)
'In particular, males frequently have the opportunity to father children through extramarital relationships or rape. High impulsivity individuals would be expected to more often act on these opportunities than would low impulsivity individuals. Thus, impulsivity would be selected for where a high mating effort contributed to fitness.'
In the city of Philadelphia the increasing number of bold and daring crimes committed by Negroes in the last ten years [1889-1899] has focused the attention of the city on this subject. There is a widespread feeling that something is wrong with a race that is responsible for so much crime, and that strong remedies are called for. One has but to visit the corridors of the public buildings, when the courts are in session, to realize the part played in law-breaking by the Negro population. [...] Judges on the bench have discussed the matter. Indeed, to the minds of many, this is the real Negro problem. (W.E.B. DuBois, 1899)
'Survival through the winter may require not only storing food, but also storing fuel, making clothing, and building shelters. These activities require resisting impulses to divert energy to activities with shorter term returns (gathering non-storable food, drinking, or even flirting). Thus, there are other reasons why seeking immediate gratification and impulsivity would be selected against in cold climates.'
We must acknowledge that the solid basis of the virtues is thrift. The improvidence of the negro is notorious. His neglect of his horse, his mule, his machinery, his eagerness to spend his earnings on finery, his reckless purchase of watermelons, chickens, and garden stuff, when he might easily grow them on his own patch of ground, -- these and many other incidents of improvidence explain the constant dependence of the negro upon his employer and his creditor. (J.R. Commons, 1907)
'Sociability assists in learning of, and exploiting, mating opportunities. However, time spent socializing reduces the time available for gathering food and for other parental investments. Sociability often involves remaining near the camp where others are located, while provisioning requires leaving to forage. Thus, selection for provisioning will reduce sociability.'
[The Negro] will spend hours in talking about the most trivial things concerning himself and others. This disposition to chatter consumes an amount of time of the value of which he has not the slightest idea. Prattle is a source of infinite mischief to the freedman, for it leads him to be very inquisitive about persons; though it may be said, that, were he to expend half as much energy seeking to know the why and wherefore of things, as he employs in prying into the personal affairs of others, he would speedily become an intelligent and self-reliant being. (W.H. Thomas, 1901)
'If those selected for mating effort have higher levels of aggression, lower behavioral restraint, and higher sex drives, it would be predicted that rape rates would be higher.'
It is a fact, which no one will deny, that the crime of rape was substantially unknown during the period of slavery, and was hardly known during the first years of freedom: it is the fatal product of new conditions. Twenty-five years ago women in the South went unattended, with no more fear of attack than they have in New England. To-day, no woman in the South goes alone upon the highway out of sight of white men, except on necessity, and no man leaves his women alone in his house if he can help it. Over 500 white women and children have been assaulted in the South by Negroes within that time. (T.N. Page, 1904)
'Sexual restraint is the ability to resist opportunities for copulation. Males that devote their energies to paternal investment have less energy left for seeking additional matings.'
[In Haiti] the blacks, who form the peasantry of the country, are peaceable, kindly, and hospitable people. [...] Their sex relations are of a frankly natural sort. Marriage is neither frequent nor legally prescribed. Polygamy is openly practiced and the African dances lead to a more or less wholesale and promiscuous sexual indulgence.
[...] The marriage rate [in Jamaica] is not only low, but tends to decrease, and with its decrease rises the percentage of illegitimate births, which now stands at the figure of sixty-five children out of every hundred. (H.H. Johnston, 1910)
'Where males are more aggressive, one would expect females to need to be more aggressive in order to deal with their mates successfully. Where devoting energy to provisioning is not in the male's reproductive interests, females who aggressively assert their rights might be more successful than those who are more passive.'
Also, the proportion of women criminals is higher among Negroes. 19.1 per cent of the Negro criminals committed in 1910 were women, and 7.2 per cent of the whites were women, or one out of every five Negro criminals was a female, one out of every thirteen white criminals was a female. (W.D. Weatherford, 1911)
Theorizing without observation gives only one piece of the puzzle; ditto observation without theorizing. When the two come together so forcefully, it gives pause.
It is tempting to moralize, but from a policy-making perspective, what ought to be is less important than what is. Which ethnic and gender groups live within our borders, and how are they likely to behave with strong constraints? With only limited constraints? With none at all? This is a line of questioning which for a wise policy-maker might bear real fruit.
Bonger, W.A., Race and Crime, Trans. Margaret Mathews Hordyk. NY: Columbia University Press, 1943.
Collins, W.H., The Truth About Lynching and the Negro in the South, NY: Neale Publishing Co., 1918.
Commons, J.R., Races and Immigrants in America, NY: MacMillan, 1907.
DuBois, W. E.B., The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study, Philadelphia: U. of Pennsylvania Press, 1899.
Froude, J.A., The English in the West Indies, NY: C. Scribner & Sons, 1900.
Johnston, H.H., The Negro in the New World, London, Methuen & Co., 1910.
Page, T.N., The Negro: The Southerner's Problem. NY: C. Scribner's Sons, 1904.
Reuter, E.B., The American Race Problem: A Study of the Negro, Ed. Seba Eldridge. NY: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1927.
Thomas, W.H., The American Negro: A Study in Racial Crossing, NY: Macmillan & Co., Ltd., 1901.
Weatherford, W.D., Negro life in the South: Present Conditions and Needs, NY: YMCA Press, 1911.