The Genetics of Racism – A Reflection Paper

My biology class has certain papers we have to write. My professor calls them Reflection Papers, and we had to do one on one of two topics to do with genes: either choosing the sex of your baby, or the genetics of racism. It’s basically your thoughts, combined with stuff that we talked about in class. I chose the genetics of racism, and mentioned it on Twitter, and folks were interested, so here it is.

The Genetics of Racism

There are over 100 genes that affect the color of our skin, either directly or indirectly, according to our textbook. Over 100 genes, that we all have. The picture of the two little sisters who look completely different and yet are twins is a wonderful image that shows the true diversity we’re capable of, and it makes the whole argument of one “race” of man being better than another complete crap, in my opinion. We have the same genes. We just have different amounts of melatonin in our skin, as a result of which alleles of a given gene we have that is dominant and/or active. There’s nothing superior about the fact that I have less melatonin in my skin than someone else.

In fact, it’s based, not only on the genes, but on how much UV light my ancestors were exposed to and how badly their chromosomes were damaged by that UV light. My ancestors, for the most part, were from Northern Europe – not the equator, where the UV exposure is higher. So my skin is paler, because I needed less protection. That’s it.

Sadly, this is not something that is understood by many people, or if it is, it’s imperfectly understood. Changes to these genes (I don’t think you can call them damaged anymore, considering it has been millennia since the damage was done) don’t make them inferior to genes that were not changed. It’s just a different allele. And different does not mean inferior. However, that is a notion held by many, in this country and others. And it’s not just whites holding blacks or Hispanics in contempt – in other countries, it is the Caucasians that are considered inferior, because of the lack of pigment in their skins.

Basing perceptions on something someone cannot control, like the color of their skin, is completely unethical. Not only is there no way for skin color to be determined before a child is born, but it has not been shown that skin color has anything to do with mental capacity. I am probably smarter than some people with darker skin than I have, but there are plenty of darker-skinned people who are smarter than I am as well. That has nothing to do with our skin color and everything to do with other genes, how we were raised, nutrition and a host of other things.

When you tie skin color to laws, then the injustice becomes even greater. The myth of different “races” of humans is just that. We are all homo sapiens – one race, regardless of what color our skin is. Due to the increasing globalization of our species and the intermingling of people from around the world, children with lighter or darker skin than their parents are going to become increasingly more common. Allowing discrimination on the basis of that skin color is completely illogical.

Also, it stands in the way of our social development. When you have two sisters that look completely different, and one is looked down upon because her skin is darker than her sister’s, she’s going to have less social opportunities. Why? Because people who base their perceptions of mental capacity on skin color are going to give her less of a chance than her paler sister. In a perfect society, the only thing that would matter was what she could prove she could do – the same doors would be open for both. It works both ways – there may be opportunities that she will have that her sister won’t. That doesn’t make it right, however.

It’s been very difficult for me to write this without it becoming a rant. Racism is one of my hot buttons – I can’t for the life of me understand why someone would equate mental capacity with the color of a person’s skin. Maybe because I’ve been raised in a household that taught me that it was what a person did that matter, not what they looked like or how they spoke or what they believed. I come from a mixed-religion family, a family that reads a lot of books, and have always believed that people are people. Whether you are red, white, black, blue or green – you are a person, and how smart you are, how capable you are, has nothing to do with what color your skin is. Until the entire world believes that, and understands it, our social development as a species is going to be very, very slow.

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