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Smith Stubbs

Anthropology 1020
Professor Higgins

Skin Deep: Nina Jablonski’s Theory of Race

Nina Jablonki’s theory of race is centered around race being cultural,

and differences in skin tone are nothing more than necessary adaptions to

the environment in which our early human ancestors evolved. Outside of

these slight evolutionary changes we as humans are all the same.

In Jablonski’s exploration of race, she found a direct correlation between

the amount of UV rays that a population is exposed to and their tone of skin.

Thus it was assumed that people with lighter skin evolved in areas with less

exposure to UV rays, and people that evolved in areas with more exposure to

UV rays developed darker skin as a defense against skin cancer. However,

this simple explanation doesn’t necessarily fulfill the evolutionary concept of

having different skin tones, because evolutionary adaptions are almost

always to increase reproductive success. Since skin cancer doesn’t affect

people until after their reproductive age, it does not affect the ability to

reproduce, and darker skin as an evolutionary adaption against skin cancer

doesn’t serve as a sufficient explanation for this evolutionary change.

Upon further research Jablonski discovered that certain UV rays

penetrate through the skin and into the blood stream eliminating folate in
the blood supply; folate is a necessary vitamin used in the production of

DNA, low levels of which can lead to a number of birth defects, making a

darker skin tone necessary for the protection of folate in the blood stream to

produce healthy offspring. The same would apply with lighter skinned

people living in areas with less UAV rays, their skin needs to absorb more UV

to produce vitamin D; a deficiency in vitamin D can lead to bone diseases

such as rickets. This makes lighter skin an evolutionary adaption as well,

except its purpose is to absorb more UV in an environment with lower levels

of UV rays, allowing for the production of vitamin D and the prevention of

birth defects.

Nina was able to present a possible direct link between evolutionary

adaptions in skin tone for the prevention of birth defects in correlation with

the amount of UV rays a given population is exposed to; for this reason, I find

the evidence of Jablonski’s theory of race compelling. The one exception to

the rule would be the indigenous people of the northern arctic; they were

particularly dark skinned yet resided in an environment with very low UV

levels. While the video did state that this population does get their vitamin D

from their diet I would like to see a study done in order to measure the

amount of vitamin D consumed, in order to further validate Jablonski’s theory

of race.

At the end of Jablonski’s explanation, she uses an example of two Brazilian

identical twins, Alex and Alan, who are of African and Portuguese decent. The twins

enrolled at a university under a quota system for colored minorities. Upon enrolling
each of the twins had their picture taken, and afterward one was labeled as being

black and the other as white. I believe that the case of Alex and Alan validates that

race is strictly a cultural concept, because the concept of race can divide two

genetically identical individuals into two different groups.