Tuesday, 22 March 2011

the theory behind skin colour

Skin colour and the differences it creates needs no formal introduction. As kids, we are taught different colours mean different things. Red means stop. Green means go. I wonder though, has that same kind of thinking been so strongly absorbed into our mind, that it transcends into the way we see people with different skin tones?

Growing up in Malaysia, we are surrounded by different skin tones. Though the very thing that makes us such an outstanding country, sometimes threatens to rip apart the very nature of this harmonious coexistence.

Think about it. How often have you related a story about someone doing something, and your friend/parent immediately ask:

Indian ah?
Malay ah?
Chinese ah?

What's the difference?

Skin colour shouldn't be the judgement or explanation.

In fact, the more i thought about it, the more i was intrigued about what made people have these different skin tones.

Human skin color is quite variable around the world. It ranges from a very dark brown among some Africans, Australians, and Melanesians to a near yellowish pink among some Northern Europeans. There are no people who actually have true black, white, red, or yellow skin. These are commonly used color terms that do not reflect biological reality.

Skin color is due primarily to the presence of a pigment called melanin. Both light and dark complexioned people have this pigment. However, two forms are produced--pheomelanin, which is red to yellow in color, and eumelanin, which is dark brown to black. People with light complexioned skin mostly produce pheomelanin, while those with dark colored skin mostly produce eumelanin.

Skin Color Distribution Around the World

Before the mass global migrations of people during the last 500 years, dark skin color was mostly concentrated in the southern hemisphere near the equator and light color progressively increased further away, as illustrated in the map below. In fact, the majority of dark pigmented people lived within 20° of the equator. Most of the lighter pigmented people lived in the northern hemisphere north of 20° latitude.

map of the world showing the distributiion of human skin color in about 1500 A.D.--darker skin colors are found mostly between 20 degrees north and south of the equator

(Data for native populations collected by R. Biasutti prior to 1940.)

Such a non-random distribution pattern of human skin color was predicted by Constantin Wilhelm Lambert Gloger, a 19th century German zoologist. In 1833, he observed that heavily pigmented animals are to be found mostly in hot climates where there is intense sunshine. Conversely, those in cold climates closer to the poles commonly have light pigmentation. The relative intensity of solar radiation is largely responsible for this distribution pattern.

So you see, its not the colour of our skin that makes us different. That's just plain geography.

Stop racism.

No comments: