Estimated reading time: 7 mins (1295 words) A micrograph of a light and dark hair shaft crossing each other. Have you ever gotten into a debate about someone’s hair color?
“Remember that blonde?” “Which blonde? You mean, Jessie? Her hair is light brown” “No, it’s clearly dark blonde” “You need to get your eyes checked, that’s light brown” /end scene Same goes for dark brown to black. And I’m pretty sure I’ve heard people argue that they’re not ‘redheads’ but actually they’re ‘strawberry blonde’.
But how can hair color be so debatable?
Well, it’s because hair color categories are an illusion.
Estimated reading time: 12 mins (2250 words) (Edit: Link to an article I wrote with my advisor about African skin pigmentation genetics in Genome Biology)
Last week, a research article was published on skin color variation within Africa. Last week’s article on African skin color in _Science_ READ IT! It is great, well-written, and has amazing figures! I would actually show you some of those figures if I wasn’t terrified of publishers coming after me for copyright infringement (look, I’m trying to finish a Ph.D., here, so I don’t have time to get sued by journal publishers…). If you don’t have access to these journals, hit up your nearest scholar and ask them for a copy (you can email me!). And one of the things I really appreciate in this article is that it’s a study on variation in Africa that actually includes African authors from African institutions. This research is important. That’s why it was picked up by The New York Times and The Atlantic. These articles are all full of people emphasizing that African diversity is an amazing thing that we need to pay attention to! Read both of those articles too because they are full of quotes that got me feeling some type of way: “We knew quite a lot about why people have pale skin if they had European ancestry,” said Nicholas G. Crawford, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and a co-author of the new study. “But there was very little known about why people have dark skin.” – New York Times
Few human traits are more variable, more obvious, and more historically divisive than the color of our skin. And yet, for all its social and scientific importance, we know very little about how our genes influence its pigment. **What we do know comes almost entirely from studying people of European descent. **– Ed Yong via The Atlantic
And there you have it, in bold, the reason I ended up doing a Ph.D. in biological anthropology. I wanted to know more about human biological variation, and I specifically wanted to focus on African diversity. Why is so much of the research on human trait variation focused on Europeans?