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A Brief History of the Evolution of Skin Color
Surprise ending alert!
In 2012, a large-scale study of 15,874 people was published in Psychological Science that asserted “cognitive abilities play a critical, albeit underappreciated, role in prejudice.” Simply put, the study found that lower intelligence scores in childhood translated into higher rates of racism in adulthood.
Even more simply put, racists are fucking stupid.
There is a long and terrible history of comparing Black people with monkeys. I’m going to explain—beyond the obvious—why that’s incredibly dumb.
Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. Approximately seven million years ago we shared a common ancestor, then we split and eventually became humans, and they became chimpanzees.
Do you know what skin color a chimpanzee has under their coat? It’s pretty white.
When humans began to lose our body hair, we had not yet left the African continent. Why did evolution say hey we don’t need to go around looking like Ron Jeremy any longer? Because it was fucking hot. Well, it’s a little more complicated than that.
About two million years ago, Africa went through a significant ecological change, with vast areas of forest transforming into savannahs. That was around the time that we began walking erect, and I’m not talking about that morning wood as you stumble to the bathroom with a pee boner. Homo erectus was an evolutionary gamble that paid off, allowing our ancient ancestors to thrive on the grasslands while our less evolved cousins stuck to the trees.
I call it a gamble like there was a conscious purpose behind this evolution, but there was no design involved, intelligent or otherwise. It’s just a chance mutation that worked out. It might not have, however, because walking on two legs requires greater energy expenditure than walking on four limbs like an ape. Therefore, being bipedal had to offer some advantage in securing additional food. The fuck does this have to do with skin color? I’m getting to that.
One benefit of walking erect is it allowed them to see predators coming on the open plains and say oh fuck saber-tooth-murder-beast gotta hide! Or, at least, gotta run away faster than Zog does. Sucks to be Zog. But running was the big advantage, and that’s where the hair loss comes in. They needed to be able to cool themselves effectively, which requires less hair, and more sweat glands.
Before long, evolutionarily speaking, our prehistoric ancestors were the best endurance athletes on the planet. Gazelles and whatnot could outsprint the shit out of them, but not for long. Determined bipeds working as teams could just keep on running until some tasty quadruped said fuck it I’m tired I can’t do this anymore and they’d just stand there and the persistence hunting bipeds could walk up to it and bashed it’s head in with a rock and hey we’re having steak for dinner.
And that steak fed their brains. The human brain is only 2% of our body weight, but accounts for 20% of our energy expenditure. Even when you’re not thinking about things because you’re watching a Trump rally and your brain is completely shut off to the point that you drooled all over your Ted Nugent T-shirt, your brain is still burning an assload of calories.
Now about skin color. No longer having hair to protect us from the sun’s rays, our skin darkened to compensate. This wasn’t about skin cancer, as that shows up later in life, after most people have procreated. There wasn’t an evolutionary advantage to preventing melanoma because there weren’t any 83-year-old Al Pacinos wandering the African plains impregnating people.
It was more about folate.
The fuck is folate? It’s an essential B vitamin, and too much sun exposure results in low levels of folate. Low levels of folate = low sperm count in dudes, and also birth defects if folate is low during pregnancy. Now that is a good evolutionary explanation for darker skin; it keeps folate levels high when the sun is nuking your ass.
So, dark skin was an adaptative improvement away from the lighter skin of our much less evolved ancestors.
This is where shit gets complicated.
While too much sun exposure is bad, not enough is also bad. You probably know about the whole Vitamin D thing. It’s critical for strong bones and teeth, as well as for immune function. And those hominids who migrated northward didn’t get enough sun so they evolved into pasty motherfuckers who could absorb more solar radiation and get that all important Vitamin D. Research has shown high correlation between weak ultraviolet light and light skin, as well as darker skin in regions of high UV. We’ve even seen this in the Americas, the part of the planet most recently populated by our species. Those indigenous peoples close to the equator have darker skin than the ones at the ass end of South America.
So, it’s just about geography. Simple, right?
No. Not that simple. There is one additional factor that makes the racists look even more idiotic.
About 8,000 years ago, Central Europeans had much darker skin than they do now. And those living to the south of them had lighter skin. Wait. The fuck? That goes against the whole higher UV = darker skin concept. How did that happen?
Agriculture is how that happened.
The “Fertile Crescent”—a region around the Middle East—is where mass agriculture first appeared. Although it’s wrong to call it the “Agricultural Revolution” because it was slow as Eric Trump reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. A process that took thousands of years can’t realistically be called a “revolution.” Anyfuckingway, humans in the region gradually transformed away from hunter-gatherers into being farmers.
The farmers were largely vegetarian. And because they were vegetarian, with an emphasis on vegetable because milk yield was still really fucking low from the animals they domesticated, they didn’t get much Vitamin D in their diet. Despite being in a relatively sunny region, those whose genes mutated toward lighter skin absorbed more of that Vitamin D that was lacking in their diets, and they ended up healthier and having more kids.
Meanwhile, Central Europeans were still killing the shit out of everything that moved, including lots of meat and fish, and getting plenty of Vitamin D via their diets. Ergo, there wasn’t a strong evolutionary advantage toward having light skin.
The hunter-gatherers were way healthier. They were bigger and stronger, but they were outbred by bread. Being nomadic means it’s hard for a parent to care for more than one child at a time when you’re constantly on the move. And so, siblings were often born four or five years apart, with the younger one not showing up until the older one could handle lots of walking. Kids in these communities breastfed a lot longer too because mom was always lugging them around, and breastfeeding is a somewhat effective form of birth control. As a result, hunter-gatherer tribes stayed quite small.
Conversely, farming communities, despite their limited shit-quality diets, had a more stable food supply and they weren’t on the move. As a result, women could be popping out babies every year. Eventually, their non-vitamin-D-eating pasty populations eventually pushed out the darker-skinned hunter-gatherers of Europe via weight of numbers.
I mentioned how this was going to make racists look even more stupid. Well, in a lot of those white supremacist groups they brag about their warrior ethos and how they’re top of the food chain blah fucking blah look at me holding this fish in my Truth Social profile photo. The reality is that their ancestor’s skin color resulted from not getting enough meat and fish because their weak-ass forebears were eating mostly cereals, and it was only because they got good at growing grain that they ended up taking over the continent.
In conclusion, don’t be a dumbshit racist fucknut.
But DO get my sweary history book ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY SH!T WENT DOWN.
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Photo: A San Bushman shows hunting for antelope in the grass, 2007.