“Can people be taken from the jungles of Africa and forced into slavery [later] be fully integrated as citizens in a majority white population?”
This question is posed in an article entitled “The Black Dilemma” which has been attributed—wrongly—to The Baltimore Sun newspaper.
The question is posed as a “hypothesis to be tested.” That is a legitimate process. However, I claim that it is the wrong question. Let’s explore that.
You know the “one drop rule,” which says that anyone with any ancestor from Sub-Saharan Africa is considered black. This was never a federal law; however, it was law in Tennessee (passed in 1910) and in other states. Not to be outdone, Virginia finally got in the act in 1924 when the Racial Integrity Act was passed.
You may also know the rule of hypo-descent: children with a mixture of blood from different social or economic groups are assigned to the group with the lower status.
Here’s the kicker. Everyone alive today, and everyone who has ever lived, is descended from hominids who evolved in sub-Saharan Africa. Therefore, everyone alive today is, by those rules, black. (Actually, if we were to follow the thoughts of Langston Hughes, we’re brown. You see, in Africa, “black” means “pure black.” Those of us who are melanin-deficient are, at best, brown.)
There are, to be sure, two competing hypotheses about the origins of modern humans. However, both are based on the findings of geneticists and paleontologists, and both posit that all humans originated in Africa. One hypothesis is that there were two migrations from Africa, one 130,000 years ago or so, and one between 50,000 and 100,000 years ago. The second hypothesis is that there was only one migration. While there is debate, and while study continues, there is no argument but that all modern humans are descendants of people from Africa.
Some of the most recent research, from Cambridge University, is firm in its conclusion that our species, Homo sapiens, originated in Africa about 150,000 years ago, and migrated to Europe, Asia, and Australia between 60,000 and 45,000 years ago. The research also supports an earlier migration of the ancestors of our cousins, Homo neanderthalensis and Homo sapiens ssp. Denisovia, with which later humans interbred.
But why different skin colors? That’s easy, and it’s not rocket science. It’s not even ninth-grade general science.
We all need Vitamin D. Lack of Vitamin D puts us at risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures. Low levels of Vitamin D have also been associated with prostate cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and neuromuscular problems. If children do not receive enough Vitamin D from mother’s milk, they can develop rickets.
Vitamin D is not really a vitamin; it got that name because it was discovered back when vitamins were being discovered. It’s a chemical produce by a chain of chemical reactions that begin in the skin when sunlight (ultraviolet B) strikes one kind of cholesterol (7-dehydrocholesterol). Two more chemical reactions take place in the body before Vitamin D is created.
But, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch (TANSTAAFL). Sunlight also can create skin cancer. When our ancestors lived in Africa, those who had lots of melanin in their skin (making their skin dark) got cancer less often, lived longer, and were more likely to have children who inherited their dark skin. There was enough sunlight near the equator to make Vitamin D, and enough melanin to protect from skin cancer. Over time, their descendants’ skins got darker and darker.
When our ancestors migrated to higher latitudes where the sun isn’t as bright as in equatorial Africa, dark skin was no longer a survival factor. Instead, those with lighter skin who could absorb more sunlight and make more Vitamin D lived longer and were more likely to have children who inherited their light skin. Over time, their descendants’ skin got lighter and lighter.
We all are descended from people who lived in Africa and who had black skin. The only significant genetic difference is that some of us are melanin-deficient.
The question should not be “Can we coexist?” but “Why do we not seem to be able, in this country at least, to coexist?”
The only answers I see are ingrained bigotry, ignorance, and fear.
So, to Trump and his coterie of melanin-deficient Nazis: By the rules of your white-supremacist ancestors, you are black. Live with it.
(Both Snopes.com and the Baltimore Sun aver that the article was never published in the Sun.)
Langston Hughes, The Big Sea, an Autobiography (New York: Knopf, 1940)
Registered Curmudgeon, scientist, skeptic, humanist, and writer.