Human biological variation has historically been studied through the lens of racialization. Despite a general shift away from the use of overt racial terminologies, the underlying racialized frameworks used to describe and understand human variation still remain. Even in relatively recent anthropological and biomedical work, we can observe clear manifestations of such racial thinking. This paper shows how classification and valuation are two specific processes which facilitate racialization and hinder attempts to move beyond such frameworks. The bias induced by classification distorts descriptions of phenotypic variation in a way that erroneously portrays European populations as more variable than others. Implicit valuation occurs in tandem with classification and produces narratives of superiority/inferiority for certain phenotypic variants without an objective biological basis. The bias of racialization is a persistent impediment stemming from the inheritance of scientific knowledge developed under explicitly racial paradigms. It is also an internalized cognitive distortion cultivated through socialization in a world where racialization is inescapable. Though undeniably challenging, this does not present an insurmountable barrier, and this bias can be mitigated through the critical evaluation of past work, the active inclusion of marginalized perspectives, and the direct confrontation of institutional structures enforcing racialized paradigms.
The AAPA Statement on Race and Racism was written by the AAPA subcommittee tasked with revising the previous AAPA statement on the Biological Aspects of Race that was published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, vol. 101, pp 569‐570, 1996. The Committee on Diversity (COD) subcommittee was comprised of (in alphabetical order): Rebecca Ackermann, Sheela Athreya, Deborah Bolnick, Agustín Fuentes (chair), Tina Lasisi, Sang‐Hee Lee, Shay‐Akil McLean, and Robin Nelson. The statement was unanimously accepted by the AAPA Executive Committee at its meeting on March 27, 2019 at the 88th Annual Meeting in Cleveland, Ohio and is available on the AAPA website at http://physanth.org/.
Like many highly variable human traits, more than a dozen genes are known to contribute to the full range of skin color. However, the historical bias in favor of genetic studies in European and European-derived populations has blinded us to the magnitude of pigmentation’s complexity. As deliberate efforts are being made to better characterize diverse global populations and new sequencing technologies, better measurement tools, functional assessments, predictive modeling, and ancient DNA analyses become more widely accessible, we are beginning to appreciate how limited our understanding of the genetic bases of human skin color have been. Novel variants in genes not previously linked to pigmentation have been identified and evidence is mounting that there are hundreds more variants yet to be found. Even for genes that have been exhaustively characterized in European populations like MC1R, OCA2, and SLC24A5, research in previously understudied groups is leading to a new appreciation of the degree to which genetic diversity, epistatic interactions, pleiotropy, admixture, global and local adaptation, and cultural practices operate in population-specific ways to shape the genetic architecture of skin color. Furthermore, we are coming to terms with how factors like tanning response and barrier function may also have influenced selection on skin throughout human history. By examining how our knowledge of pigmentation genetics has shifted in the last decade, we can better appreciate how far we have come in understanding human diversity and the still long road ahead for understanding many complex human traits.
Hair is predominantly a proteinaceous fiber that originates from hair follicles located within the subcutis and/or dermis of the skin. It is one of the defining features of mammals, serving important functions, such as thermoregulation and endothermy. Among mammals, humans are exceptional in lacking a full covering of body hair. Instead the growth of terminal hairs is limited to specific body regions, such as the scalp, axillae, and groin. Our aim in this chapter is to provide an overview of the anthropology of human scalp hair. We will explore approaches to the study of variation in human scalp hair phenotypes, as well as the genetic and evolutionary basis of this diversity. The biology of human scalp hair, with emphasis on quantitative and qualitative differences among populations, as well as impact on hair grooming practices will also be discussed.