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Recent studies have produced a variety of advances in the investigation of genetic similarities and differences among human populations. In this reprinted article, originally published in Human Biology in 2011 (vol. 83, no. 6, pp. 659–684), I pose a series of questions about human population-genetic similarities and differences, and I then answer these questions by numerical computation with a single shared population-genetic data set. The collection of answers obtained provides an introductory perspective for understanding key results on the features of worldwide human genetic variation. A new foreword discusses the original article in light of the research that has followed.
Geneticists have argued that the linear decay in within-population genetic diversity with increasing geographic distance from East Africa is best explained by a phylogenetic process of repeated founder effects, growth, and isolation. However, this serial founder effect (SFE) process has not yet been adequately vetted against other evolutionary processes that may also affect geospatial patterns of diversity. Additionally, studies of the SFE process have been largely based on a limited 52-population sample. In this modestly updated article, originally published in Human Biology in 2016 (vol. 88, no. 3, pp. 219–231), we assess the effects of founder effect, admixture, and localized gene flow processes on patterns of global and regional diversity using a published data set of 645 autosomal microsatellite genotypes from 5,415 individuals in 248 widespread populations. We used a formal tree-fitting approach to explore the role of founder effects. The approach involved fitting global and regional population trees to extant patterns of gene diversity and then systematically examining the deviations in fit. We also informally tested the SFE process using linear models of gene diversity versus waypoint geographic distances from Africa. We tested the role of localized gene flow using partial Mantel correlograms of gene diversity versus geographic distance controlling for the confounding effects of treelike genetic structure. We corroborate previous findings that global patterns of diversity, both within and between populations, are the product of an out-of-Africa SFE process. Within regions, however, diversity within populations is uncorrelated with geographic distance from Africa. Here, patterns of diversity have been largely shaped by recent interregional admixture and secondary range expansions. Our detailed analyses of the pattern of diversity within and between populations reveal that the signatures of different evolutionary processes dominate at different geographic scales. These findings have important implications for recent publications on the biology of race. Our new foreword situates these findings in a long line of anthropological research that categorically rejects racial interpretations of analyses of human diversity.
Isolation-by-distance models are part of the institutional creed of antiracialism used to critique claims of biological race concepts (BRCs). Proponents of antiracialism appeal to isolation-by-distance models to describe patterns of human genetic differences among and between groups as a function of distance. Isolation by distance has been referred to as the pattern that human genetic variation fits, distributing the differences we see as race throughout geographic space as a series of Gaussian gradients. Contemporary scientific critiques of BRCs fuse social constructionist race concepts with a description of the distribution of proportions of human genetic variation in geographic space as a function of distance. These two points are often followed by statements noting that there is only one human race. How these two concepts connect to each other, and whether or not they connect at all, is unclear in both academic and nonacademic spaces. Consequently, scientists and the public lack an understanding of human population structure and its relationships to varying systems of human interactions. This article reviews isolation-by-distance models in population genetics and the use of these models in the modern problem of human difference. The article presents a historical and conceptual review of isolation-by-distance models and contemporary scientific critiques of BRCs, followed by examples of the use of isolation-by-distance models in studies of human genetic variation. To address the shortcomings in the scientific critique of race, the author proposes combining Du Boisian demography with Darwinian evolutionary biology. From a Du Boisian demographic perspective, race is a product of racism, or race/ism, and is a heredity and inheritance system based on rules of partus sequitur ventrem and hypodescent. Race marks individuals and groups them to reproduce unequal relationships into which Europeans co-opted them. This synthesis propounds a new racial formation theory to understand the more general consequences of racism on genes and health outcomes.
The study of human variation is central to both social and biomedical sciences, but social and biomedical scientists diverge in how variation is theorized and operationalized. Race is especially problematic because it is a cultural concept that contains implicit and explicit understandings of how collective bodies differ. In this moderately updated article, originally published in Human Biology in 2015 (vol. 87, no. 4, pp. 306–312), we propose an operationalization of race that addresses both racial experience and human biological diversity, placing them within the same ontological sphere. Furthermore, this approach can more effectively advance antiracist pedagogy and politics. We argue that human biological diversity does not have to be in opposition to constructivist notions of race. Rather, racial experience is emphasized as an embodied experience that is as real and as valid as biological variation. By focusing on both racial experience and biological diversity, it becomes more feasible to operationalize race to fruitfully inform the pedagogy and politics of antiracism. To do so, racial experience must be more broadly conceived and should not always equate to negative outcomes. With the recognition that racial experience has the potential to be something other than damaging, an antiracist anthropology can more effectively address issues pertaining to racial health disparities.