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The philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was the first person to classify people into fixed races according to skin color. To him, skin color was equated with character. People of darker-colored races were inferior and destined to serve those of lighter-colored races. The linking of blackness with otherness and inferiority was one of the most powerful and destructive intellectual constructs of that time.

By early 19th century, dark colored people signified inferiority and the prospect of profit through slavery, while the possession of lightly pigmented or “white” skin became the norm from which others deviated. The rise of Social Darwinism in the late 19th century further reinforced the notion that the superiority of the white race was part of the natural order because certain “stocks” were more highly evolved and culturally superior because of their “fitness” and “adaptations.” That such ideas continue in the 21st century is viewed with disbelief by many scientists and thinkers, who cite evidence that biological races don’t exist and that races are “only” social constructs. Despite genetic evidence confirming the nonexistence of races, belief in the inherent superiority and inferiority of people affect many parts of the world.

What causes this variation in skin color?

Because of the strong correlation between pigmentation and amount of sunlight, biologists suggest that color differences are a result of natural selection imposed by different light levels in different places. This has been observed when light-skinned people get darker by tanning or when exposed to more sun.

When dark populations of humans moved into the Middle East and Europe, they evolved lighter skin color. But when those populations colonized Australia, skin color got dark again. This happened too, when humans moved from northern Asia across the Bering Strait and down into the Americas: those populations that reached Central and South America re-evolved dark pigmentation.

A person’s skin color is determined by the amount of melanin in their skin. Its purpose is to protect the skin from the Sun’s harmful UV rays. Lighter skin tones in the northern hemisphere allow more UV rays to penetrate the skin to help produce right amount of vitamin D that the body needs. The body must strike a careful balance to make sure it receives just enough UV radiation to make the essential vit. D, while avoiding overexposure that can lead to skin cancer.

In northern coastal areas, such as in Alaska and Canada, the Inuits tend to have darker skin than one might expect. This is likely from a diet rich in seafood that provides all the vit. D their bodies need. As a result, their skin produces more melanin making them darker.

Today, people of all ethnicities and nationalities travel and live all over the world. Their individual bodies adapt to conditions where they live over time, and they pass on these traits to their children. Thus, the myriad skin tones we see around us now.

 

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 Mandela_Bday

A happy 92nd birthday to Nelson Mandela, the Nobel laureate, Sage and formidable man from South Africa. He is my idol and an inspiration for his grit, determination and above all patience and compassion.

Some of his memorable quotes –

  • If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.
  • After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.
  • There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children.

He is loved and admired all over the world. May he continue to live long.

I am happy to share the same zodiac sign as him – Cancer.

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