The actions that human beings have taken as a result of our ignorance of the fundamental facts about race and racism have caused and continue to cause unquantifiable pain and suffering for our species.
Indeed, I believe that our misunderstanding of race is one of the most significant factors that has greatly decelerated our evolution as a species.
My hope is that this essay will help you to gain profound insight into the twin issues of race, (what it is and what it is not) and racism, (in both its historical and present-day manifestations), ultimately yielding great compassion for both the targets and the perpetrators of racism, coupled with a firm resolve to work diligently toward its eradication on our planet.
Based upon the completion of the National Institute of Health’s mapping of the entire human genome, many genetic scientists no longer believe that race, as we commonly think of it, even exists. The term has acquired so many unscientific connotations that in this sense it is often replaced in scientific usage by ‘ethnic stock’ or ‘group.’
Since all of my experience with race and racism have occurred within the American context, I shall discuss those issues from the American experience.
I believe that most Americans of all races, associate race with skin color more so than with any other difference. In fact, if the average American were asked to define race in one word, they’d say, “color”, meaning skin color. I believe that the color of a person’s skin is often the first characteristic that many people notice, even before noticing their gender. That was certainly true in the story I remember hearing as a young person of the state trooper who, when asked why he shot a small, African-American boy whom he thought was a crime suspect, replied, “I didn’t see size, nothing. All I saw was color”. I don’t actually know whether that story is true, but my lifetime of experiences as an African-American in the United States tells me that it most certainly could be.
So, since skin color is such a defining characteristic, it’s important that we understand exactly what it is and how we get whatever color our skin is, what determines it.
No matter our race, the color of our skin, hair and eyes is determined by the same thing – melanin, also called pigment. Melanin is a substance, such as the protein hemoglobin, which produces color in both plant and animal tissue. In plants, the protein is chlorophyll, which makes plants green.
Within the human species, there are only two colors of pigment, a brown-black pigment called eumelanin and an orange-red pigment called pheomelanin. With the exception of people who are born with albinism, (a genetic deficiency in which, regardless of race, one is born with white hair, white skin and pink eyes because the melanocytes which make pigment do not function), all human beings on planet Earth have some combination of those two pigments…..the orange-red pheomelanin and the black-brown eumelanin.
Thus, people of Asian and African and European and Native-American decent don’t have different kinds of melanin. The “stuff” in our bodies that gives us, (all of us, across the Earth), our skin color, is exactly the same – pheomelanin and eumelanin. We just possess them in varying degrees across a continuum. The more eumelanin you have, the darker your skin is. The more pheomelanin present in your cells, the lighter your skin is. That’s it. In a nutshell, that’s what skin color’s about.
In order to clearly see how ludicrous it is to judge human beings on the basis of their skin, we need but to think about how ridiculous it would be to judge people on the basis of their eye color, or their hair color. Imagine an entire world order which held as one of its fundamental beliefs, (whether primarily conscious or unconscious), that brown-eyed people are genetically and specifically intellectually superior to blue, green and gray-eyed people because the genes that result in brown-eyes are genetically dominant and the genes that result in blue, green and gray-eyes are recessive. It makes sense on the surface, does it not that genetic dominance is superior to genetic recessiveness? After all, dominance is stronger, isn’t it? And to be stronger is to be superior, right? It’s just common sense, many would say.
Well, in my view, nothing is farther from the truth. Who actually believes that brown-eyed people are as human beings, inherently superior to blue, green and gray-eyed people? It’s utter nonsense, in my view, as is the assertion that people with black and brown hair are superior to people with blonde and red hair because their hair-color genes are dominant. Blonde haired, blue-eyed people are not inherently intellectually or in any other way, inferior to people who have genetically dominant eye and hair color genes. It’s quite apparent to any sane person, that assertions to the contrary are utter craziness.
Yet, melanin, the same, the exact same substance that determines our eye and hair color, also determines the color of our skin. Yet, the fundamental truth is that while we believe that the idea that human beings are superior and inferior to each other based upon eye and hair color is utter nonsense, with regard to skin color, for the past six-hundred years, people of color have suffered indescribable evil on the basis of the color of their skin.
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