Paleopathologist debones concepts of race

PHOTO PROVIDEDSUNY Plattsburgh anthropology professor, Dr. Gillian Crane-Kramer, poses in Department of Forensic and Archaeological Sciences at the University of Bradford, Yorkshire, England in 2019. These are skeletons of lepers from a medieval leper hospital. She used the collection for her master studies.

PLATTSBURGH – Dr. Gillian Crane-Kramer heard snippets about Oprah Winfrey's riveting interview with the Duke and Duchess of Sussex.

The March 7 bombshells dropped included an unnamed Royal's concern about Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor's complexion, which gets Crane-Kramer, a paleopathologist who studies the evolution of ancient disease, riled.

“The baby could look Black is what they're basically saying,” the SUNY Plattsburgh anthropology professor said.

“My attitude on this is so who cares if the baby looks Black? I could see why some people would make that an issue. As far as scientists are concerned at this point, race is a cultural construct. It's a very powerful cultural construct, and it has profound political, economic, social impact on people's lives."


In terms of science, humans are all one species with an enormous amount of variation.

"Period," she said.

"The reason we see this kind of variation is that for countless generations humans have been adapting to different environmental circumstances."

People with dark skin inhabited tropical areas of the world where solar radiation is very intense.

“Black skin, it was the original human skin color, whether people like to hear that or not, it's true," she said.

"White skin only evolved in the last 100,000 years.”

Original skin color was black because the human species evolved in Africa, a continent of intense solar radiation.

“And black skin is much more efficient at protecting against sun damage than light skin is,” she said.

“This is the only reason why we see people with dark skin in tropical regions. Light skin only evolved in the last 100,000 years when people moved permanently to living in northern temperate zones where the solar intensity was far lower.”

White skin is more efficient at producing Vitamin D than dark skin is.

“Our skin is stimulated to produce Vitamin D when we are exposed to sunlight,” Crane-Kramer said.

“So if you live in an area where there is far less sunlight for part of the year, like winter here, there is always the damage that you would have, the potential that you would develop Vitamin D deficiency.”

Over countless generations, skin color lightened in temperate zones to produce adequate amounts of Vitamin D in low solar radiation environments.

“That's it,” she said.

“That is the explanation for skin color. The genes that determine skin color are only six genes out of of 25,000,”


Most human variation is invisible and genetic such as Rh blood type and immune genes.

“When you look at that kind of emergence of white genes in the African population in the United States, the unsettling truth of that is that a lot of it happened because of slave women being raped by their owners,” Crane-Kramer said.

“That's where a lot of it happened. I'm not saying that there weren't occasions where white men and Black women or Black men and white women had legitimate relationships and produced children.

“But we know that in a large number of cases, those white genes entered the black African gene pool because of violence, because of the rape of African women. So a lot of African Americans do carry white genes, but in many ways, that is a shameful part of our history.”


In the 1967 landmark civil rights case, Loving v. Virginia, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled laws, which banned interracial marriage, were unconstitutional.

Twelve years later, Meghan Markle's mother, Dorian Ragland, married Thomas Markle, who is Caucasian.

In 2018, Meghan married Prince Harry, and they are the parents of Master Archie Harrison Mountbatten-Windsor and a baby girl that will be born in late summer.

“My attitude about it is who cares if their children have dark skin color,” Crane-Kramer said.

“To me it doesn't matter. You want them to have a healthy, happy child. It just doesn't matter what color the child is. This is just based on racism, nothing else. And I imagine that Meghan has been very sensitive to that. She was the first bi-racial person to marry into the Royal Family. She is a commoner.”

Crane-Kramer doesn't know her life history, but imagines Meghan was the recipient of racism since childhood.

“So when comments like that are made, not only are they very hurtful, they fundamentally make judgment calls about somebody based on that color, which is just not acceptable for anyone,” she said.


It's hard enough to marry into the British monarchy as the 1,200 year-old history has shown.

“But to have to deal with that kind of racism as well must have been just dreadful for her,” Crane-Kramer said.

“This is the thing, it's based on culture. It's not based on science, which says there are no human races."

One human species with variations based on environment.

"That's all," she said.

So, you can't place a judgment call on ancestry. You can't say some ancestry is better than other ancestry.

"We're all African for God's sake, all of us, every single one of us is carrying genes from Africa. That's where our species emerged.

"That just shows how ludicrous this whole issue of race is.”

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