A Straight Dope Classic from Cecil's Storehouse of Human Knowledge

Will all humans one day be the same color?

March 23, 1984

Dear Cecil:

I seem to remember reading sometime in my childhood (but I can't remember where . . . I bet you get a lot of letters like this) that given the present rate of interracial births, somewhere in the future--say, several hundred years--the entire human race will be the same color. Is this true? If it is, approximately what color will our descendants be? Will the makers of flesh-colored Band-Aids finally be able to settle on a shade that makes everybody happy? Most important of all, will we have to come up with a new reason for hating each other?

Dear Absalom:

Cecil is always happy to answer questions on racial topics, which give him the opportunity to alienate vast new segments of his already disgruntled readership. The likelihood is that widespread interracial mating would result in rapid (i.e., within several generations) lightening of skin tone among that portion of the population we now inaccurately call black.

Cecil bases this statement on his anthropological researches in Brazil, where he conducted a combination field trip and all-night beach party several years ago. Racial mixing in Brazil is common and in fact has come to be a point of national pride there. This apparently traces back to the rabbitlike sexual proclivities of the original male Portuguese settlers, who liked dark-skinned women and who also were accustomed to assembling vast hierarchies of wives, mistresses, and concubines, with whom they cheerfully begat kids by the cartload.

The story is told of one Correa (called by the Indians Caramuru, "man who makes lightning"), a European who may have been a castoff from one of the original exploring parties. He supposedly fathered an entire village full of people in the present-day state of Bahia, over which he presided as chief.

The current population of Brazil exhibits an amazing variety of racial characteristics in every conceivable combination, including such novelties as the blond Afro. Skin tones range from very dark to very light. The belief among Brazilians, however, is that the population is "bleaching," and in fact the percentage of inhabitants who describe themselves as white has been steadily increasing during Brazil's history, even though a large percentage of such persons actually is of mixed ancestry. (Admittedly there has also been substantial immigration from Europe.)

This is not to say that Brazil is necessarily headed toward some sort of national average, skin-tone-wise. While overt racial hostility is virtually unknown in the country, there is a widely shared feeling that a light skin is more desirable than a dark skin.

For this reason, dark-skinned people make an effort to mate with lighter-skinned folks, with the result that the percentage of persons of pure-blooded African descent is small and in all likelihood steadily decreasing. On the other hand, the number of pure-blooded Europeans is sizable and likely to remain so.

The upshot of all this, some think, is that eventually Brazil will probably have a fair number of pink people, a whole passel of brown people, and not very many black people. Cecil regrets to report that he failed to investigate the impact of this development on the Brazilian Band-Aid industry, but he promises to do so at the earliest opportunity.

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