“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)
One of my correspondents said that he viewed the people protesting police shootings of Blacks as “people who demand criminal entitlements.” An interesting turn of phrase, “criminal entitlements.” What does that mean?
I could read that as a comment on the fact that many times, the “protests” have turned into mob actions at stores that coincidentally (?) carry expensive merchandise… stores that are looted. That’s criminal. On the other hand, let’s separate “entitlements” from “wants.”
To personalize this: I’m entitled to a pension from the taxpayers of the USA. That is based on a contract between the “government of, by, and for the people” and me; the contract that led me to an Air Force career. I am also entitled to subsidized medical treatment based on that same contract, plus my contributions to Medicare. I am also entitled to social security payments. That is based on a similar contract and on my contributions to social security during my 35-some years of employment. These are entitlements.
The Constitution of the US contains entitlements. One entitlement is the right of every citizen age 18 and above to vote. Another is the right of every citizen to equal protection under the law. The Constitution also entitles us to protection against cruel and unusual punishment. It entitles us to practice the religion of our choice, no matter how idiotic, without fear that an official government religion will supersede it. There’s more, but I hope I’ve made my point.
There is, however, no entitlement to many of the benefits granted, at taxpayer expense, to the poor and homeless. The words from “The New Colossus,” while welcoming are not a guarantee. (If you don’t recognize “The New Colossus,” open a new window and look it up.) The right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence are not an entitlement. They are a hope.
Enough people believe children should not be allowed to starve that programs to feed poor children were implemented at taxpayer expense. Enough people believe providing early childhood education would pay off in later life, that programs like Head Start were funded. And some people take unfair advantage of these programs by buying cigarettes, liquor, and lottery tickets with WIC money, and using Head Start as free childcare. Some, not all.
Enough people believe that no nation could call itself great unless it offered a basic level of healthcare to all its citizens, that the Affordable Health Care Act was passed. Yes, it’s had problems, but it is better than anything else anyone has come up with. Yes, the cost of health insurance and the cost of healthcare have risen dramatically. But the Affordable Care Act is not the culprit. That will be treated in a later post.
Enough people believed that every defendant has the right to a lawyer that public defender offices were established… and then defunded when it became apparent to enough people that not everyone really deserved a lawyer.
Enough people believed that illicit drugs were harming this country that the so-called “war on drugs” was begun, funded, and continued. Whether anyone knew at its inception what a disproportionate effect the “war” would have on the black community we will never know.
Are you angry, yet? I hope that your anger isn’t at me or what I’ve said, but at the truth of what I’ve said.†
What can you do?
First, vote. No matter what you think of either or both current candidates for president, vote. Let the numbers show that the great majority of Americans are invested in their country’s future.
Second, keep yourself informed. Not every one of you has the luxury I have of spending 90-120 minutes a day searching news sources. However, make some time and look for balance… not in a single source, but among several.
Third, become involved. Write a letter to the editor of a local or regional newspaper. Attend a meeting of your city council or county commission, and speak out on an issue. Become an active member of a local political party.
Fourth, learn more about yourself and others. We are born with the prejudices that separate us from those different from ourselves. It’s the “If you’re like me, you’re good; if you’re not like me, you’re bad” inherited from millennia of tribalism. Remember, we are all descended from people who migrated from Africa between about 120,000 and 40,000* years ago. While our evolution burdened us with this, it also gave us a mind that is capable of overcoming that primitive instinct.
† Some of these topics are expanded and others are introduced in “Holy Fire.” Please see the Home Page of this site for ordering information.
* There were several “waves” of migration and at least one was caused by climate change.
Registered Curmudgeon, scientist, skeptic, humanist, and writer.