(A Piece of Melanin)
In modern day society, the concept of race is a widely accepted
quality of humans. Race is characterized by the color of an
individual’s skin color and their ancestry. The former, most
widely recognized as an indication of one’s race, is accompanied by the
presumption that the genetic and biological causes responsible for it,
originate from people with a great degree of genetic variations within the
human species. But what is the relationship between skin color and
genetics? Is it important enough to divide humans into separate
races? Does the term race have any scientific merit or is it a
manifestation of social stratification?
Phenotype and Genotype
According to James King, author of The
Biology of Race, Physical characteristics such as hair color, eye
color, height, skin color, build, etc., are the components that make up an
individual. These are the observable characteristics that can be
inferred as inborn qualities. From these qualities we assume that the
traits are inherited from the parents. The genotype is the genes
that are directly given to the offspring, and the phenotype is the
consequence of those genes. For example, we can assume that an individual
with blue eyes has received the blue eye color gene from both parents and
no genes for brown eye color, because brown is a dominant gene and blue
would not be observable. So the Genotype of blue eyes is two blue
eye genes and the phenotype is the blue eyes that we can see (King
People of European dissent tend to embody a variation of skin color.
Variation within groups is as strong as the socially recognized variation
between ethinicities. There seems to be a direct relation between
parents and their offspring. When two parents of similar
phenotypical pigmentation produce offspring. The offspring usually
embody the sane color. However, unlike eye color, phenotypically
dissimilar pigmentation produce offspring, that offspring tends to be
intermediate. Oddly enough, when two of these intermediate parents
produce offspring the result is often to the extreme of the original
parents (King 212).
Pigmentation also has a key environmental factor, writes L.C. Dunn author
of Heredity and Race (315). When individuals with pale skin
color are exposed to long periods of direct sunlight the result is darker
skin. As the original skin color gets darker the effect of exposure
to the sun diminishes. The darker the skin the greater the
resistance to the damage the sun can cause. Hence, the minimal need
for darkly pigmented people to darken. In this instance it is
difficult to infer genotype from phenotype (315).
The Geography of Race
It is hard to ignore the fact that the
different proposed races of the human species have originated in separate
isolated regions of the earth. And where crossroads have been formed
between these regions a blend of the races has developed.In
subtropical areas, where tree cover is scarce, such as the African
Savannah, the people living there develop extremely dark pigmentation.
In southern Asia, the sun exposure was consistent but it was not as strong
and tree cover was present which caused the people’s skin to darken to a
lesser degree. In European areas, the cloudy cover enabled the
people to survive without this quality. As you move further north
into the Arctic region, the sun becomes stronger and the glare off the
snow mix to create a people more similar to the Asian people ( Dunn
There are three factors of geography that may be attributed to race (Dunn
1. Physical barriers such as
mountain ranges, oceans, desert regions, etc.
2. The effect of
geography on climate which leads to the variations within species.
3. Of less impact are the
chemical or mineral variations in terrain and soil.
Physical barriers keep interbreeding between different regions to a
minimum. They restrict the movement of genes from spreading to other
populations. In prehistoric times, the ability of human kind to
break these geographical barriers was small. Once established in an
area, years of isolation lead to a variation within that population that
other populations would not have had access to (318). These factors
in racial variations had a direct impact on the next two.
Climate has a direct effect on the pigmentation of races. In areas
where peoples were exposed to more direct sunlight, skin pigmentation
becomes increasingly darker. As stated earlier, the skin develops
darker pigmentation to effectively protect itself from the sun. In
areas where less sunlight is experienced, the skin does not develop this
quality genotypicaly, but embodies the ability to adapt rapidly when
exposed to the sun (Dunn 315).
Skin pigmentation is determined by the amount of melanin present in the
skin. The more the melanin the darker the skin. All races of
the human species have this characteristic. There are isolated
instantances of albinos, which are present in every race. This is a
genetic mutation that lacks any pigmentation in eyes, hair, and skin (King
The third factor of chemical or mineral variation in the terrain is quite
complicated and best understood by a simple example. In New Zealand,
the natives centuries ago had a legend of the “good lands” and the “
bad lands.” In the bad lands, the cattle and people were often
struck with a sickness, today identified as pernicious anemia. The
anti-pernicious factor in humans is a compound of cobalt and in areas
where the sickness occurred, cobalt was minimal in the soil. This
further prevented the movement of people (Dunn 320).
Races or Variations?
The presumption that there are a number of
different races within the human species implies that there is a different
genetic code for these separate races. King explains, the degree to
which the genetic makeup between individuals in different racial
categories varies is 6%. However, within any certain race there is
the same degree of difference between individuals. The development
of varying skin pigmentation is not an influential enough of a difference
to divide the human species into races. Skin color is merely a
reaction to a dangerous environment. The same instances have been
documented in immunity to diseases. A people who are endangered by a
virus develop a way to survive (Boyd 45).
It can also be argued that the geographical factors stated above are the
same factors that have been responsible for the evolution of all species.
Nature and its woes had an influence on the variations that were
experienced by the people. But the amount of time that it takes for
a new species to develop is immense. Human beings started to expand
out into the world about 25,000 years ago. This leaves little space
for the evolution of separate species. At this same time, the people
were beginning to develop technology. It was rather primitive, but
its purpose was to make survival easier. Humans are the only animals
that do not adapt to the environment, but rather adapt the environment to
fit their needs. So, with a brief period, being subject to nature,
humans adapted to their environment physically, but with the quick
advancement of technology the impact of nature became minimal (Dunn
Race can also be examined from the angle of interbreeding. For
example the Drosophila. A species of flies. Has a number of documented
strains. When these strains are interbred, fully fertile and
sometimes even larger flies are produced. Yet, when these hybrids
reproduce, their offspring are prone to genetic defects and infertility.
Further breeding of these offspring leads to more extreme cases of the
same. This scenario has been documented in many different animal
species (King 118).
This type of genetic divergence is nonexistent in the human species.
To be classified as separate races, humans would need to possess this
hybrid disability. The “races” of the human species are variable
in degrees of melanin, which does not qualify them to be called as such.
Race is a concept of society that insists
there is a genetic significance behind human variations in skin color that
transcends out ward appearance. However, race has no scientific
merit outside of sociological classification. There are no
significant genetic variations within the human species to justify the
division of “ races.”