Is there a Dominant Race?
Race has been a very controversial topic in our world for the past few centuries. it can be defined as a "population partially isolated reproductively from other populations, whose members share a greater degree of physical and genetic similarity" (1). It is true that people are more attracted to others that seem compatible to them in looks, such as skin color or ethnic pointers, educational and socioeconomic status, belief systems, etc. That's perfectly fine, as people tend to have their own preferences and they should follow it. However, due to the competitiveness of humans, people keep on bringing up the idea of a "dominant race." Basically, that one race is better than all others. This really started to show in Europe and the Americas with the African slave trade.
Caucasian Europeans went on to say that they themselves were the better race, and that Africans were "the white man's burden." The idea here was that it was the social responsibility to take on slaves to protect them and make them civilized. However, that was an argument to support slavery and we all know how that worked out. However, race is still a very large issue today and racism continues to thrive in societies. But is there really a reason? Is one race better than another, or are we all somehow equal when it comes to the big picture?
A common issue that comes up with race is the color of ones skin. Skin color is produced by the deposit of a pigment, melanin, into skin cells. There are two kinds of melanin that produce the skin colors we see today, and they are eumelanin and pheomelanin. Individuals with a higher concentration of eumelanin tend to have a darker skin color, and those with more pheomelanin tend to be East Asians and Native Americans, as the original color of this pigment is reddish-yellow (2). Europeans tend to be paler, and thus have less melanin deposit than other ethnic groups, such as Africans and south Indians. This is actually due to natural selection.
The theory is that people who live closer to the equator and regions that have a high amount of UV ray radiation tend to be darker with more melanin, which is used to diffract UV rays. Regions where there is more sun tend to have darker skinned people, because they need more protection from the UV rays. However, lighter skinned people, such as Europeans and East Asians live in regions that are generally cool and cloudy and where people are not hit too greatly by sunlight. However, Europeans and East Asians acquired their lighter skin color in two different pathways but converged to lighter skin color (3) through natural and sexual selection forces. So skin color was due to environmental factors, specifically amount of sunlight. As such, it has been seen that people with darker skin color have less risk of getting skin cancer, and when they do, it arises from malformations in lighter parts of their bodies. Also, it has been seen that Caucasians living in Hawaii have the most prevalence of skin cancer(3). In that sense, naturally having a deeper color is good.
There is evidence that certain races have specific prevalence rates of genetic diseases. For example, sickle cell anemia has a higher prevalence rate in people of African descent than the general population. To get sickle cell, a person needs to inherit both alleles of the sickle cell gene, which is recessive. However, those who do not have any sickle cell alleles tend to be at higher risk of getting malaria than those who are heterozygous for the gene. As such, the population who are carriers for the disease have greatest chance of survival since their phenotype is normal, and because the sickle cell allele seems to protect them from malaria. Another disease that is more prone in one specific race is Tay Sachs disease, which is seen at a great prevalence rate in people of eastern European Jewish descent. Tay Sachs leads to degeneration of the nervous system, and those who are born with it usually survive only up to their second year of life(3).
Another interesting disease is diabetes mellitus, which has a higher prevalence rate in Southeast Asians. A component of this may be the diet changes that are occurring in Southeast Asia. Before, Asians followed a metabolism where they ate a lot when food was available, and starved when there wasn't. However, due to economic changes, food is available much more now than before, and their bodies have not adapted to this change of surplus resources. However, diabetes is much less common in societies that have been nutritionally stable - they've evolved to be able to breakdown sugar better due to the stability of their environment. Then there is cystic fibrosis, which has a higher prevalence rate among Caucasians.
When we look at all these disease prevalence rates, it seems that in one way or another, we really are even. After all, it appears that every ethnic group has a chance of getting something that others will not, and this is probably due to inbreeding within the races. As people continuously selected individuals that were most similar to them, they formed specific gene pools, and thus, a malignant gene continued to be passed along generations, and today we see that in disease rates in specific cultures. This brings on the idea that perhaps having a multi-ethnical genotype is perhaps the best option, as people may become carriers for specific genes but through heterozygous selection, the genes not preferred may not show up in the phenotype. However, to achieve this phenotype, our society would have to be less visually selective, but that may become a problem as looks are a key part of an individual in today's society.
It is because of these looks that people tend to have so many societal stressors. This is definitely seen in minority groups, who sometimes have a hard time getting a job or work in a specific field, reinforcing stereotypes. However, due to these stereotypes, society is opening a path to specific problems in many ethnic groups. Take, for example, mental health. A study by Adams et al. hypothesized that minority groups would end up having more psychological stress and symptoms of PTSD and depression after a stressful event. The study consisted of a random selection of English or Spanish speaking adults who were living in New York City at during the World Trade Center attacks and continued to live in NYC afterwards. The method to gather data were surveys. The results showed that contrary to their belief that the minority groups would show more symptoms to meet the criteria for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Depression, they actually had less symptoms than whites to meet the criteria (4).
The experimenters probably believed that because minority groups generally lived in greater stress due to SES and other factors, the disaster would be a breaking point leading to many psychological problems, but the opposite happened and Caucasians actually seemed to look at the disaster as a breaking point. This may possibly be because the minority groups have formed a defense mechanism against disasters due to the fact that they have been living in constant stress. Because they had been living with a lot of stress, they probably know how to handle stress from shocks and disasters better than those that do not live with severe stress on a regular basis. Caucasians generally live in a higher SES society and they have more resources to help them handle stress, although they do not have to constantly live with severe stress, such as how they will survive as other groups may have. As such, they are not used to stress so they may not know how to handle stress, and this may be why disasters such as the World Trade Center attacks hit them harder than it did other groups. They never needed to form a defense mechanism or any mechanism to deal with major stress and as such, they were not prepared for it, which led to higher PTSD and depressive symptoms in them.
From my research, it appears to me that in one way or another, we're all equals. This may not be accurate in one specific field, such as socioeconomic status, but when we look at the grand picture by putting all the pros and cons together, it seems to me that we are all pretty even, in one way or another, and that we can all help each other benefit. Now the only problem is getting people to cooperate together, although that idea has started to take hold within many individuals today. It's a good thing to know that racism is not as blatantly obvious as it used to be a few decades ago, and that the world is working to create equal opportunities for everyone. For example, companies have begun importing individuals from other countries to give them better job opportunities and vice versa, and a lot of companies are assuring people that they hire people objectively. As time goes on, the world progresses and that is a reassuring idea, as this leads to open mindedness and great ideas forming.
1. Metcalf, David. The Role of Biological "Race" in Understanding Genetic Disease. Mankind Quarterly. Washington.. Vol. 48, Uss. 3, pg 261-283 Spring 2008
2. Jablonski, Nina. The Evolution of Human Skin and Skin Color. Annual Review of Anthropology. Palo Allo: Vol. 33 pg. 585-625. April 2004
3. Norton, Heather L. et al. Genetic Evidence for the Convergent Evolution og Light Skin in Europeans and East Asians. Molecular Biology and Evolution. Oxford University Press Vol. 24, Iss. 3, pg. 710-722. 2007
4. Adams, Richard E. and Boscarino, Joseph A. Differences in Mental Health Outcomes Among Whites, African Americans, and Hispanics following a community Disaster. Psychiatry. New York. Vol. 68, Iss. 3, Pg 25-266. Fall 2005