Biological Anthropology Section
Central States Anthropological Society
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
Human pigmentation is a complex trait regulated by multiple genes, and the extensive variation observed in pigmentation phenotypes across the human species reflects interactions of various evolutionary forces, including natural selection and gene flow. However, our understanding of human pigmentation variation and its associated genetic architecture has, until recently, been largely concentrated on populations of primarily European ancestry. This bias has shaped perceptions of “normal” pigmentation in the fields of anthropology, dermatology, human genetics, forensic science, and even fashion. The result has been narrowly focused perspectives on the extent of variation in pigmentation phenotypes and a limited understanding of the genes that affect pigmentation variation and its evolution across the human species. In this paper I draw on examples from anthropological genetics, dermatology, and forensic science to demonstrate how the normalization of European pigmentation phenotypes as the “default” can lead to inadequate understandings of the extent of global pigmentation diversity and its evolutionary history, the potential underestimation of melanoma risk in people of color, and the development of potentially incorrect genotype-phenotype association models. I also present quantitative estimates of pigmentation phenotypes to demonstrate the extent of variation across different human populations to highlight the need for broader understandings of phenotypic diversity beyond what is commonly observed in European populations.