Human Colors


There is only one species of Man on Earth: Homo sapiens. Anthropologists and biologists place all races in existence today as a single species, which points to the fact that the differences  between human races are not really all that great.

As a matter of fact, compared with many other mammalian species, humans are genetically far less diverse; a counterintuitive finding, given our large population and worldwide distribution. For example, the subspecies of the chimpanzee that lives just in central Africa, Pan troglodytes troglodytes, has higher levels of diversity than do humans globally. Moreover, the genetic differentiation between the western (P.t. verus) and central (P.t. troglodytes) subspecies of chimpanzees is much greater than that between human populations. It is interesting to note that “differences” within human groups are just as pronounced as the differences among the groups themselves. Negroid people range in color from black to light yellowishbrown; Mongoloid people range from yellow, to white, to bronze-brown; Caucasoids range from pink (as in England) to dark brown (as in Southern India).

 As a matter of fact, early studies of human diversity showed that most genetic diversity was found between individuals rather than between populations or continents, and that variation in human diversity is best described by geographic gradients, or clines.

A wide-ranging study published in 2004 found that 87.6% of the total modern human genetic diversity is accounted for by the differences between individuals, and only 9.2% between continents. In general, 5%–15% of genetic variation occurs between large groups living in different continents, with the remaining majority of the variation occurring within such groups.

These results show that when individuals are sampled from around the globe, the pattern seen is not a matter of discrete clusters, but rather gradients in genetic variation that extend over the entire world. Therefore, there is no reason to assume that major genetic discontinuities exist between peoples on different continents or “races”.

As a matter of fact, skin color, to which most people refer when they speak of a “race” of  people, is due to the brown pigment in the skin known as melanin. Melanin does far more than simply provide the body with pigmentation; its most important role is protecting the body by absorbing ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight, which can damage the skin and produce skin cancer if not filtered out by the melanin.

The more melanin a person has, the darker the skin will be as an adult; conversely, the less melanin in the skin, the lighter the skin will be as an adult. A person whose skin possesses no melanin is referred to as an albino, and cannot produce body pigment. Such a person’s pinkish-white color is due to blood vessels showing through the colorless skin.

The claim that there are many different skin colors in the world is thus not altogether accurate. There is only one coloring agent for the human race; the shade of color simply depends upon how much melanin is present.

*Published in PSC Newsletter2nd School Semester 2012/2013 issue.


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