Eye color, hair color, skin tone, all of these are genetic expressions. Genetic mutations that create a wide range of diversity among the human beings on the planet. But it is only a small visual expression of a very complicated system.
While working on Here Be Dragons, I found myself mildly annoyed by the author’s reference to one such genetic expression. The society she created had more red heads than blonds. Seriously, H? You’re just nit picking now…
I wish I was. Part of the reason I haven’t put my all into the next Dysfunctional novella, is because I’ve noticed an uptick the last two years in racially motivated hate mail. How Dare I HAVE A MIXED RACE COUPLE in that book! And main characters at that.
Oh, yes, how dare I? Skin color is genetic expression, like red hair or blue eyes. As a matter of fact, we know there are at least 16 individual genes that code for eye color. In 2016, when I had to get new prescription reading glasses, I got a crash course in modern genetic understanding of eyes.
Why? Because I had marked on my paperwork that I had brown eyes. The doctor informed me I had hazel eyes. I told him that was impossible, my mom has blue eyes, my dad has BROWN eyes and there is no way to mistake them for “hazel”… But I had noticed in the last decade some of the brown color had started to fade from the irises. I used to describe them as a rich chocolate brown, but now they are more a muddy brown. The doctor told me it happened, sometimes hazel eyes get darker with age, sometimes they get lighter.
What does hazel eye color or red hair have to do with racism? Racism depends on the visual expression of genetics. That’s it. It’s not actually a genetic roadmap showing supremacy in your genome. It’s mostly a fluke. I mentioned eye and hair color though, because they provide excellent examples.
As most of you know, Jude the Great Nephew is a red head. And our great nephew born in April, Caiden, is also going to be a red head. Now, these kids are from two different sides of the family. Jude is biologically related to me. Caiden is biologically related to J. And rest assured, I checked some genealogy before J and I got real serious 10+ years ago because he comes from a huge family that has lived in this town for a long, long time and so do I. So, I had some concerns about overlap.
J and I had a better chance of winning the lottery than of having 2 great nephews from different sides of the family with red hair. Red hair requires both parents to have the MC1 gene mutation. I have auburn hair. My father has brown. My father’s father was a redhead. But my father’s mother was definitely not. My mom was once blonde and I’ve already mentioned she has blue eyes. Jude’s mom, has a grandfather that was a redhead. However, Jude’s mommy is definitely not a redhead and definitely not sporting auburn hair.
Here’s the kooky part about the MC1 gene mutation. You can have two copies of it and still not be a redhead. Or you can carry a single copy of it and be a redhead. Redheads don’t exist in my mom’s family, so I imagine I carry just one copy of it. Jude’s dad is a dishwater blond, not a strawberry blond. However, my nephew’s father has auburn hair, while his mother is blonde like mom.
MC1 does something else as well, it contributes to skin pigmentation. As does another genetic mutation that has impacts eye color. The reason redheads are normally fair skinned is because MC1 contributes to a decrease in melanin production.
I’ll mention again that eye color is actually based on a combination of 16 genes, at the very least. A couple of them encode for eye color and melanin production which is why people with blue eyes tend to be fairer skinned, just like redheads.
I can actually apply this bizarre pattern of traits to myself quite well. I am not fair skinned, despite having auburn hair. I have an “olive complexion”. My mom can get a sunburn thinking about it. My dad and I keep tans year round.
My dad has brown eyes. My mom has blue. Dad had brown hair (male patterned baldness took care of the getting grey part). Mom was a blonde (it’s gone greyish white now). Based on the pattern of dominant genetic traits, I should have brown hair and brown eyes. I have hazel eyes and auburn hair.
Odder yet, my father has to at least carrying the encoding for blond hair and blue eyes because my sister has blonde hair and blue eyes, just like mom. Also, there is something not Scottish in my father’s family tree. Gaels weren’t often of an olive complexion.
But my paternal grandmother was also olive complected, had brown hair, and brown eyes. Her ancestry was French. And either Native American or Mediterranean or Middle Eastern. I can make that claim based on the fact that my grandmother, my father, and I do not conform neatly to northern France or Gaelic Celt genetic trends.
Here’s the thing though, relying on genetic expression to prove your superior to anyone else, can be a serious issue. I went to highschool with a guy that was a redhead. Freckles, blue eyes, hair the color of a pumpkin, gets a sunburn just thinking about going outside without sunscreen… He married a lovely young lady when we were all in our twenties who was African American. They have two kids. People ask him if the youngest child had a different mother, because the youngest child is a redhead. The oldest has light skin, but he isn’t passing for “white”. After the youngest was born and could pass for “white” with her cute red hair, they asked how it was possible… Their doctor informed them we are learning that gender can affect genetic expression. Females born to “interracial couples” usually look significantly different than their male siblings.
That doctor referred my friend and his wife to a genetic study done of the MC1 gene (he mentioned it to me, which is why I was informed of the gene’s existence, he thought I’d find it fascinating and I did, imagine that). The MC1 gene mutation that codes for red hair can be found in all “races.” It naturally occurs in Native American populations, Asian populations, and African populations. However, because expression of the MC1 genetic mutation is so visually varied, it was thought to only occur in caucasian populations. But to be a redhead like Jude or Caiden, you must carry 2 copies of the MC1 mutation.
The point being that you cannot base the idea of supremacy off looks. Meaning the foundation of racism, that any one race is superior to another based on the visual expression of genetics is ridiculous. And based on how genes like MC1 work (and this isn’t the only one of its kind), you can’t actually look at a person and “know” their race. Especially not in the US, where lots of genetic diversity exists.
I could send my genes off tomorrow to 23 & Me or one of those sites and find out the “olive complexion” isn’t what I thought it was. It could be the expression of a number of genes that increase or decrease melanin production, like MC1. It would not be impossible for my heritage to link to somewhere in the heart of Africa but because I carry MC1, it decreased the amount of melanin in my skin, giving me an “olive complexion.” Or it could be that I have stronger genes than MC1 that encodes for more melanin; which is why I’m not fair skinned despite the hazel eyes and auburn hair.
A visual inspection will classify me as “white,” but my genome may not agree.