The myth of fingerprints

By Mary Patterson

Adam and Eve were not white. In fact, they were black. I have often wondered how the knowledge of this fact would have affected history, if every pictorial Bible had shown a darkly skinned Adam naming the plants and animals. And how would history be different if Eve, the mother of all humankind, was depicted with black hair, black eyes, and black skin?

Skin color is produced by a chemical called melanin. There are two types of melanin, pheomelanin (red), and eumelanin (dark brown to nearly black). The amount of melanin in the skin is determined by 4 to 6 genes. Dark skin has more melanin, lighter skin has less melanin, and those with the albino trait produce no melanin. Darker skin prevents skin cancer. Light skinned people are ten times more likely to die from skin cancer than dark skinned people. Dark skin also prevents UV-A radiation from destroying vitamin B folate. While dark skin prevents DNA damage and Vitamin B damage, it can lead to vitamin D deficiency due to a low absorption of sunlight.

When scientists created a human genetic tree based on the DNA of human mothers, they mapped the original “Eve” to Africa. It is thought that 50,000 years ago, a group of people departed the continent and migrated to Europe and Asia. Once the human population reached latitudes and climates with less sunlight, there was a need for more Vitamin D formation. Lighter skin evolved to allow more sunlight absorption and the Vitamin D deficiency
problem was solved. (1)

Jablonski and Chaplin found that the less daily light available, the lighter the skin of the region’s inhabitants. (see image here) The Europeans and Asians are thought to have evolved light skin separately based on 3 mutations in the melanin genes. Melanin is produced by cells in the skin called melanocytes. These cells can produce little melanin, or a lot of melanin based on how the melanin genes are controlled.

Another line of evidence that supports the assertion that “Eve” was black is that genetically, African people are more diverse than European or Asian people. This is because the population of Africa has been on earth longer and has acquired a greater variety of genetic differences. Even so, the differences in human genes across all countries are only about 1%. The point is, we are genetically different from each other, we are each genetically unique, but, our differences are between one individual and another, not between groups with different melanin content in their skin. So, two random individuals in Korea can have more genetic differences than an individual from Korea and an individual from Africa would have. And two individuals from African will be much more genetically different from each other than two individuals from Belgium.

The idea that there are different human races has been disproved scientifically. There simply is not enough genetic difference between human people groups to biologically characterize any group of people as a separate race. So, even the word “racism” is a misnomer. Perhaps we could call prejudice based on skin color “melanism”. Melanism being defined as pre-judgement based on 3 or 4 genetic differences in the melanin genes.

If only Thomas Jefferson had known about skin color adaptation when he wrote Notes on Virginia, he writes “…advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications.” He goes on to say, “This unfortunate difference of colour, and perhaps of faculty, is a powerful obstacle to the emancipation of these people.” Imagine if Jefferson had known that dark skin came first, and that HIS fair skin was a genetic mutation!

When Bishop Desmond Tutu came to Lawrence 5 years ago he said it this way, separating people based on skin color is like separating people based on the size of their noses. He was correct, however, the size of one’s nose likely involves more genes than the color of one’s skin! Imagine if J.C. Nichols had written into his residential contracts that anyone with a nose smaller than 2 inches would not be allowed to purchase a home in Armour Hills, Prairie Village, Mission Hills, or Leawood. Prior to the Fair Housing Act of 1968, anyone with a high melanin content was not allowed to buy a home in these neighborhoods of Kansas City. Many of these “covenants” still physically remain on deeds and their effects on Kansas City segregation can still be seen. (2)

People say that children don’t see color; this is not true. They do see color, but, they put no more importance onto skin tone than blond or red hair, big or small noses, freckles. It is adults who have made skin tone more than just a biological adaptation. “Lock the doors, kids,” we say through certain neighborhoods. We call melanin diverse schools uncomely names, we make blanket statements about people based more on hearsay than on science. We do the subconscious stepping aside when someone of a different skin tone walks by.

Science is forcing us to rethink our knowledge about human history. While art often depicts Noah, Abraham, and Isaac with light skin and brown hair, genetic evidence is contradicting those images. While we have heard dialogue about different “races” of humans, science is telling us that humans cannot be categorized that way. And while residential segregation based on skin color is a factual reality in Kansas City, mathematics shows us that statistically melanin content should be equally dispersed throughout the metro area.

1. Jablonski, Nina G., and George Chaplin. 2000. “The evolution of human skin coloration.” Journal of Human Evolution 39: 57-106

2. The 2000 Census shows that with a combined population of 52,841 persons only 580 African Americans lived in Mission Hills, Prairie Village and Leawood. Only 3 African Americans lived in Missions Hills.
http://www.factfinder.census.gov

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