Looking at Ricky Gervais’s photo and thinking about racial diversity

Mama and kittensA photo posted by Ricky Gervais’s from a Gail Cousins Facebook share

A couple of years ago, I read Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors by Nicholas Wade. It postulates the last fifty thousand years, or so, of human history  through what we now know about DNA. (know is a fast-moving target here). I was knocked out. So much so that I tried to get everybody I knew to read it. Now Wade has published a new book, A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History – technically, I guess, he wrote it and Penguin Press published it – in which he tiptoes through the minefield of race. I have not read Inheritance although I plan to even though it is catching alot of flack.

In America, there are only two views of race. One is that the races are equal – or there is no such thing as race – and the other one is that you are a bigot. Apparently Wade is not taking the we are all equal way and that is bothering alot of people. A couple of days ago, Gail Cousins posted this picture on her Facebook page and it reminded me how much variation and unequalness there is in most animals, including us. Reasonably enough, most other animals just don’t seem to care like we do. Still, we don’t like to talk about it in any real way. It is just too emotionally loaded .

That is too bad, because we are really learning alot about how we got to be who we are and that includes race. Most of the current known evidence indicates that, before we became Homo sapiens sapiens, we were almost wiped out as a species. According to Wade, in Before the Dawn, we were down to only about 1500 not quite-yet Homo sapiens. In fact, that close call probably is why we evolved into humans. It is much easier – more likely? – for a small group to make large evolutionary leaps and we did. As an aside, this is not a large evolutionary leap in any scale but our very limited We are special scale (and, as I reread this, on a what we are doing to the planet scale).  End aside.

There are several different theories on why we were almost wiped out, ranging from a volcano near Yellowstone where there is still a super-caldera, to a massive volcano on the island of Sumatra, named Toba, but most anthropologists agree that most of the existing Homo species were wiped out by some sort of major natural catastrophe. What was left was a very small pre-human gene-pool under very stressful conditions, a perfect environment to force adaptation.

This small group, living somewhere around the horn of Africa, were our Adam and Eve. Of the 1500 humans, quoting Charles Mann, No more than a few hundred people initially migrated from Africa, if geneticists are correct. But they emerged into landscapes that by today’s standards were as rich as Eden. Cool mountains, tropical wetlands, lush forests—all were teeming with food. Fish in the sea, birds in the air, fruit on the trees: breakfast was everywhere. People moved in.

When a plant or animal moves into an ecosystem without natural predators, it flourishes. Think Scotch Broom in California, Zebra Mussels in the Great Lakes, Rabbits in Australia, and Humans anywhere outside of Africa. According to the people who know much more about this than I do, our distant ancestors crossed into what we now call Yemen. They flourished and expanded, following the coast eastwardly until they got to India. Then we just went everywhere at once.

One of the small subgroups of those Indians migrated to Europe, another to China, and another wandered through Myanmar, Thailand and Malaysia to Australia. Along the way, each traveling group was a subgroup of the larger group they left and each subgroup is a smaller DNA sample. The group with the widest DNA spectrum are the people who stayed in Africa and the narrowest is probably the last places to be colonized (most experts think that would be New Zealand and Polynesia). The range of DNA in all of Europe is much smaller than the range in Africa (I read somewhere that an average African village has a broader range of DNA than is found in all of Europe).

This means that the smartest or most athletic European is much closer to the dumbest or least athletic European than their equivalent is in Africa. In other words, as a reflection of the different DNA ranges, the ability – mental, physical, among others – ranges in Europe is narrower than the range of abilities in Africa. Another way to look at this is, if you were trying to get the smartest, most athletic, people for – say – a professional football team, you would be seeking individuals who are at the top end of the physical and mental end of the spectrum and the preponderance of them would be from Africa or of mainly African descent because the range of ability is greater in Africa. .

In the real world, about 60% of Professional Football players are of African descent even though the pool of white players is much bigger.


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