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Diagram showing Types of F 2 Individuals from Mulatto Crosses
figure 1  


mongrel. 1. Derogatory description of the offspring or result of miscegenation, mixed marriage, etc.; specifically a person of mixed racial heritage. 2. Derogatory term for a person of mixed descent, whose parents are of different nationalities or different social classes. 3. Derogatory term for a person of Jewish descent. 4. A person of mixed or undefined opinions; a person whose political or religious allegiance, etc., changes according to which way the wind is blowing. 5. A person of base, low, or indeterminate status. 6. A cheat or a coward. 7. Worthless. (adjective)reference 1reference 2

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aninmated dog animated dog animated dog
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The literal definition is “a dog having parents of different breeds” and is typically derogatory in this context as well (contrasted with “bitch,” for instance, which—when applied to a female dog—is a relatively neutral descriptor of sex category). When applied to dogs, its synonyms are mutt, cur, pooch, pye or pie dog, poi dog, pot-licker, pot-hound, mutton hound, soup hound, bone eater, biscuit eater, Heinz, and suck-egg dog—all negative references even in the context of canine name-calling.

Contemporarily, if applied to a human, this is not a term used in polite company, nor will you find it often quoted in the mainstream press, at least in the U.S. It is most often found in the tracts and rants of white supremacist Christian fundamentalists in reference to Jews and those of mixed race. The reference to Jews is even accompanied by a biblical exegesis that purports to show a scriptural basis for this racism.reference 3

1. The Oxford English Dictionary Online. 2005. 3d ed. Accessed from http://

2. Whitney, William Dwight, and Benjamin E. Smith. 1914. The Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia; with a New Atlas of the World. Century Co. Accessed from http:// century/.

3. Herrell, V.S. 1998. Mamzir and 'Mongrel' in the Bible. Herrell Brothers Publishing House; Christian Separatist Church Society. Accessed Mar 27 2005 from http:/ / sixth/ mamzir.html.

It is more common to see this term in public discourse in the U.K. or Australia. Unreported in the U.S. media, the slur made headlines in Britain during the runup to elections in 2005. The Labour Party leader, Peter Hain, called Conservative leader Michael Howard an “attack mongrel.” Howard is Jewish. Labour Party MP's seemed determined to paint this as simply a variation on “attack dog politics.” However, it is hard to believe the denials that this was an intentional slur when campaign posters had already depicted Howard as “a Shylock.”reference 4

4. Cusick, James. 2005. Labour Revive Racist Row as Hain Brands Howard ‘Attack Mongrel’. Sunday Herald online, Mar 13. Accessed Mar 22 2007 48383.

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The world of dogs, especially in Anglo societies, is divided between those dogs which are purebred and those which are not. Internationally there are more than 300 breeds recognized by kennel clubs. Dogs recognized as purebred have a pedigree documenting that their ancestors were all members of the breed. Any other dog is a mongrel and, implicitly, of lower quality. Non-purebred dogs are seldom considered as entrants in dog shows, even when it is the performance qualities of working dogs that are being judged. And, the winners of the most prestigious shows are typically admired exclusively for their physical conformity to breed standards. At the Westminster Kennel Club show, widely viewed as the premier event on the American show dog circuit, if a dog meets the correct specifications for the ratio of eye-to-ear-to-snout-to-whatever and walks properly, it wins. While announcers of such shows typically declare that these are “not beauty contests,” there is no question that dogs are judged against a stated physical ideal.reference 5 Regardless of the fact that this ideal is quantified, the outcome is based on appearance. Just as intelligence is not seriously considered in the award of scholarships by the Miss Teenage America pageant, pointers are not required to point nor are sheep dogs expected to herd.

The real questions here are: Why the preciousness about “purity” of genetic heritage? And what is so threatening about hybridity?

5. Goldberg, Jonah. 2002. Westminster Eugenics Show. National Review Online. Accessed Apr 18 2008 from http:// goldberg/ goldberg021302.shtml.

Perhaps the emphasis on purity is simply a byproduct of the evolutionary drive to see one's own genes carried on. Yet, while it is understood that inbreeding preserves specific traits, it is also widely recognized that those same traits can have undesirable and unpleasant health consequences for the dogs themselves. Inbreeding over generations typically results in lowered fertility and vigor, so cannot be seen as a successful strategy for continuing ones genetic line. Most societies show an implicit recognition of this in mating customs that emphasize exogamy, or marriage outside of the immediate social group.


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Yet fear of miscegenation, the mingling with the other, is a potent force. At best, the offspring of parents with different racial backgrounds were described as “tragic mulattos,” supposedly unwelcome in either the black or the white community. In 2000, Alabama was the last state in the U.S. to repeal its unconstitutional law against interracial marriage. A stunning 40% of the electorate voted against the repeal.reference 6 Exogamy apparently has its limits.
6. Alabama Repeals Century-Old Ban on Interracial Marriages. 2000. Election 2000. Accessed Mar 22 2005 from http:// 2000/ ALLPOLITICS/ stories / 11/ 07/ alabama. interracial/
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I will hardly be the first to point out the ominous relationship between a rise in interest in human eugenics and the increased interest in dog breeding in the 19th and early 20th centuries. While the oldest dog breeds are about 400 years old, making their identification coincident with the creation of the concept of race, most modern breeds are less than 200 years old. Kennel clubs and closed registries for breed members date from the late 1800's (the American Kennel Club formed in 1884, a bare decade later than the British Kennel Club, which was organized in 1873).reference 7 This is the same period in which racial purity arose as an ideal and the concept of eugenics was articulated.

7. Goldberg.

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The term eugenics was coined by Sir Francis Galton in 1883. Drawing on the theories of evolution of his cousin Charles Darwin—especially his emphasis on the survival of the fit. Darwin 's work had already been used to describe the superiority of some humans over others as “natural.” Galton and the eugenics movement took it a step further, suggesting that the human species would be improved by encouraging those who were naturally superior to be more fruitful. While Galton was an advocate of this “positive” eugenics, there was an equally forceful movement towards the negative approach: culling the least able from the gene pool.reference 8 It will come as little surprise in retrospect that among the least fit were those of non-white races. Margaret Sanger, often recognized as an influential advocate for contraception, is less often remembered as a vocal advocate of this approach. Her magazine warned of “The Rising Tide of Color Against White World-Supremacy” and published such warnings as: “It is the lower elements of the population, the negroid aboriginal tribes and the Pariahs or Outcasts, who are gaining the fastest.”reference 9

8. Carlson, Elof. [n.d.]. Scientific Origins of Eugenics. In Image Archive on the American Genetics Movement, edited by D. Micklos and J. Witkowski. Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y.: Dolan DNA Learning Center, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.
Accessed Mar 25, 2005 from eugenics/.

9. Stoddard, Lothrop. 1921. Population Problems in Asia. Birth Control Review:11.

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The confluence of dog breeding and eugenics is most evident in the work of Leon Fradley Whitney, a veterinarian whose Complete Book of Dog Care and How to Breed Dogs still turn up in bibliographies of classic texts on dogs. He is also the author of The Case for Sterilization, which earned him a personal letter from Adolf Hitler. Whitney, in turn, described Hitler's program to sterilize the retarded and insane as “great statesmanship.”

Genetically, the dog genome shares about 85% of its genetic material with the human genome, which is not such a great extent when compared to other species. However, in the realm of appearance, the dog exhibits a trait that makes it especially amenable to breeding programs. There is far more variation in the appearance of individual dogs than among the members of any other species. The success of dog breeding programs in shaping the appearance of the members of various breeds suggested that similar interventions with humans might bear equally dramatic results.

10. Budiansky, Stephen. 2001. The Truth About Dogs. New York: Penguin Books. 34-35.

11. Guynup, Sharon. 2000. Genetic Testing for Dogs. B. J. Culliton, ed. Genetic News Network. Genetic News Network. Accessed Apr 15 2008 from http:// www.genomenewsnetwork .org/ articles/ 07_00/ genetic_testing_ dogs.shtml.

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photograph of the dog, Bane spacer
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So attached has the world of dog owners become to the value of purity of breed that members are led into disturbing justifications. It is hard not to invert the concept of purity and view the mongrel as impure, or tainted. And who knows what the results might be. “You start mixing things and you lose stability,” stated kennel owner Angelika Morwald, when speaking with the Los Angeles Times about the mauling of Diane Whipple by crossbred dogs in 2001. Bane, one of the dogs involved, was not considered purebred and was described in the same article by a local dog trainer as a “genetic nightmare…it's not a stable animal…”

On the other side, there is an emergent emphasis in U.S. society on the value of hybridity, whether genetic or cultural. “Fusion” in cuisine, music, and fashion is now more than a fad, it is an enduring trend that is reshaping the cultural landscape. Pop icons are increasingly people who are racially mixed or ambiguous who deliberately transgress the boundaries of race and gender. There are those who revel in their mongrelism, seeing it as the wave of the future.

12. Zamichow, Nora. 2001. Deliberate Quest for Ferocity Bred Dog That Killed Woman; Mauling: Promoters of Canine Gladiators Use Mastiff Stock to Produce Animals Twice the Size of Pit Bulls. Los Angeles Times, Feb 1, 1. Accessed Mar 25 2005 from http:// latimes/ 67512858.html? MAC= 56dc7604bf f3463303 e8f29a 4039f3e3&did =67512858&FMT =FT&FMTS= FT&date=Feb+1%2C +2001&author =NORA+ ZAMICHOW& printformat=

About the illustrations: Figure 1 is from Introduction to General Zoology, published by Ginn and Company labeled “Types of F 2 Individuals from Mulatto Crosses” Note that the diagram creates singular locations for the pure form of each race. © 2008 Jupiterimages Corporation.

Figure 2 is a playful look at the possible results of interbreeding. You can see that some crosses fit together better than others. Digital collage by the author.

Figure 3. What a pedigree might look like. By the author

Figure 4. A still from the film Imitation of Life, the classic race movie about the tragic mulatto. Delilah stands behind her mixed race daughter, Peola, as she gazes in the mirror. The younger woman says, “I want to be white, like I look. Look at me! Am I not white? Isn't that a white girl there?”


13. Linville, Henry R., Henry Augustus Kelly, and Harley Jones Van Cleave. 1929. A Textbook in General Zoology. Boston, New York etc.: Ginn and company.



14. Sirk, Douglas. F. Hurst and E. Griffin, writers. 1959. Imitation of Life. Universal-International.125 min.

Figure 5. The logo of the American Kennel Club. This image is copyrighted and unlicensed. I believe that the use of this scaled-down, low-resolution image to provide critical commentary on the American Kennel Club qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.

Figure 6. Sir Francis Galton. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

Figure 7. Leon Fradley Whitney. This image is in the public domain because its copyright has expired.

Figure 8. Bane, in a picture submitted as evidence in the trial of Marjorie Knoller. Because this image was submitted in evidence in a legal case, the image has been released inot the public record and copyright has been relinquished.

see also: cur; feist; pooch; pye dog; yaller dog; pedigree; purebred; pick of the litter; stacked Last updated: August 5, 2008
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