We have already covered three of our four answers to the question posed in the title. Part 1 of our three-part series introduced the subject and gave the first two answers. Part 2 provided the third answer, and now this final segment will give us the fourth answer. In the introduction to the series, I said that the answer in a scientific sense was essentially a matter of vitamins and sunlight. As strange as that may have sounded to you, reading this final answer should clear it all up. God’s design and creative genius is nothing short of astounding! Enjoy!
Answer #4 – God, Anthropology and Chemistry
Now here is where the real fun starts. I love truth and therefore I love exploding myths! Race is a myth – there is no such thing. It is no more than a social construct based on ethnicity and culture. When I read Michael Burns’ excellent book, “Crossing the Line: Culture, Race and Kingdom,” many things caught my attention. One such thing really caught my attention, and that was the mention of a book by a well-known anthropologist. That anthropologist was Ashley Montagu, who in the same year I was born (1942) published a book entitled, “Man’s Most Dangerous Myth: the Fallacy of Race.” This stuck with me not only because the book was written in my birth year, but Ashley was my mother’s maiden name and further, the topic of the book was absolutely intriguing to me.
Montagu was quite the interesting character. He was Jewish, born in London and later naturalized as an American citizen. He was an atheist, and considering that he was born in 1905, I find it remarkable that he didn’t subscribe to Darwin’s views on race (described in his writings during the latter half of the 1800’s). Darwin believed that black people were much less evolved than white people, and as a result, less intelligent. Darwin also believed something similar about females generally, regardless of color. But Ashley rejected that part of Darwinism and along with Albert Einstein, spoke out strongly against the views and ill treatment of black Americans by white Americans. A part of that action no doubt came from their common Jewish backgrounds and the racism they had endured personally. But it was far more than that to Montagu – it was a matter of science. His views ended up pretty much carrying the day with his fellow anthropologists in rejecting any supposed scientific basis for race.
A Matter of Basic Chemistry
Recent anthropologists have continued to dig deeper into the complexities we call race, most often with an atheistic mindset. Nonetheless, their findings are remarkably helpful to those of us wanting to explain skin color differences. One of the big names in this endeavor is Nina Jablonski. She and her husband, George Chaplin, a geographic information systems specialist, formulated what was called the first comprehensive theory of skin color in the early part of this century. According to their theory, skin color is a matter of vitamins.
One article I read claimed that scientists have long assumed that humans evolved melanin, the main determinant of skin color, to absorb or disperse ultraviolet light. But why? The answer is turned out to be pretty simple. Two vitamins are the focus and the melanin in the outer layer of our skin worked over time to allow one type to be absorbed into the body and the other type to avoid being taken out of the body. Vitamin D must be absorbed in sufficient amounts to build calcium. In northern climates where the sunlight is less available, the skin must remain lighter in tone to make sure that enough Vitamin D is absorbed.
The other vitamin, called folate, a member of the vitamin B complex, is also essential to our health. Yet it is significantly affected by the ultraviolet light from the sun, dispersed from the body rather quickly if the skin is light. According to Jablonski, the body’s folate reserves can be cut in half within an hour if the sunlight is intense and the skin is very light colored. Hence, those in the tropics must have darker skin and the melanin takes care of that. Bottom line, if your ancient ancestors lived in low sunlight areas, they developed light skin; if they lived in high sunlight areas, they developed dark skin.
The only question mark I ran across among scientists regarding this now well-accepted theory was in considering the Inuit peoples whom we call Eskimos. They have dark skin and yet live in very low-light areas in the far north. Two theories are used to explain their aberration from the norm. One is that they migrated from hot climate locations and have not been in their new locations for long enough to adapt. The other explanation is that although they did migrate from somewhere in the tropics, they consume so much Vitamin D from their diet, especially blubber type fats which are rich in Vitamin D, that the skin color hasn’t needed to lighten up to receive more of this vitamin from the sun. Although the Eskimos give us an interesting exception to consider, they are an exception. The rest seems to be solid science and certainly accepted science. I’m aware that I’ve already made a point about current science not necessarily being absolute, but I feel pretty safe in accepting these current conclusions. At the least, they don’t contradict any biblical material, which was the main concern in my earlier comments regarding science.
Thus, my buddy James was right on target. The closer to the equator one’s ancient ancestors were located, the darker their skin. The further from the equator they were, the lighter their skin. Other physical characteristics, such as facial features, bone structure, hair texture and color would assumedly have developed similarly to best fit the environment.
A Mighty Thin Paint Job!
Nearly 40 years ago, I attended a couple of seminars conducted by a man in the Mainline Church of Christ named John Clayton. He had been a literal card-carrying atheist who had converted to Christianity. His seminars were about apologetics, the existence of God. I recall him greeting his old friends in attendance from his former association of atheists and then his newfound Christian friends. And then he got down to business and delivered powerful and compelling evidences for the existence of God. At some point, he dealt with race. He showed a picture of a black tribesman dressed only in a loin cloth. He gave us enough time to form our stereotypical opinions of what type person this was, and most of us likely thought of a very uneducated native from some remote tribe. Then he told us that the man was a PhD and one of the world’s foremost scientists in his chosen field. That was a valuable lesson never to be forgotten.
John also made a statement that I think I remember correctly, namely that the difference between the blackest black person and the whitest white person was 1/64th of an ounce of melanin. I do recall thinking, “Wow, that’s a mighty thin paint job!” How could so little of this chemical in our skin make so much difference in our world? A few months ago, when I was studying this topic, I wondered if Clayton were still alive (he’s older than me) and I looked him up on the web. I found an email address and emailed him to ask about that melanin statement.
To my amazement, he emailed me back quickly and said that he didn’t recall making the statement but that it sounded about right. He also said that he worked with John Oakes and Douglas Jacoby in the apologetics field and had kept up with my ministry through the years. God bless him! But why do we allow 1/64th of an ounce of anything affect our thinking about others who appear different than us? A sad part of the answer is how we judge appearance, how we judge beauty.
Au Natural and Proud of It
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right? Partially right, but only partially. All human societies have accepted standards of what defines beauty. Those standards change in time and in cultures, but they are as real as the rain to the people in that culture. Since I relish diversity in general, I had to ponder the varying standards of how beauty is determined in different times and places. What I do not relish is when the standards of one culture dominate that judgment by becoming the standard for other cultures. You can probably guess where I’m about to go with this one, right?
What we call the Dark Ages was a period of time when less is known about civilizations that existed during those years. The term is often used synonymously with the Middle Ages, referring to the period of time between the fall of the Roman Empire and the beginning of the Renaissance or period of Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, also known as the Age of Reason, was a philosophical movement that took place primarily in Europe and, later, in North America, during the late 17th and early 18th century. Thus, this time of supposedly waking up to the finer things of life happened to be ushered in by white people.
Guess who decided which race was superior? Guess who decided how beauty was to be defined? I often refer to a comment in the Malcom X movie when he asked a black audience a question like this one: “Who told you that the color of your skin made you inferior? Who told you that the texture of your hair and your facial features were inferior?” His answer was obvious – white people! That is to me so very sad. Why would a woman with a narrow nose and small nostrils be more attractive than one with a broader nose and large nostrils? It’s all in the mind, but it is in the mind! By the way, I didn’t inherit one of those narrow pointy little noses myself. I remember the shock of seeing my nose in a mirror with a sideview option just after I had entered full-blown puberty! That prominent nose did help me develop a personality, however strange you think that personality might be! But you get the point.
Styles change in all sorts of areas – clothing styles, hair styles, and on goes the list. That’s all well and good. Save your out-of-style clothes – the cycle will most likely repeat. The part of style that concerns me is why we adopt certain styles or adapt to certain styles. It can be a matter of pride in trying to be a pace-setter or trying to keep up with the Jones (whoever they may be). It may also be a matter of feeling like we are inferior unless we adopt certain styles.
I know I can go over the line quickly here, so I will make it brief. I am glad that certain of my black sister friends are moving toward styling their hair “au natural” (a shout-out to Sharisse Lucas!). If women of color want to straighten their hair as a matter of personal preference, fine. Most of the women in my family do the opposite and get permanents (which are anything but, and not cheap). I just don’t want those of other ethnicities to feel the burden of trying to conform to what white people think is beauty. I’ll leave it at that and make one confession: I hope God lets me have an afro in heaven!
Enter the Geneticists
In time, scientists in other fields came to similar conclusions that the anthropologists had already reached. Those working with DNA are among those. In 2003, scientists completed the Human Genome Project, making it finally possible to examine human ancestry with genetics. I read an interesting article online from Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts of Science website. It was written April 17, 2017 by Vivian Chou and entitled, “How Science and Genetics are Reshaping the Race Debate of the 21st Century.” Under the subheading, “New findings in genetics tear down old ideas about race,” the following statement was made: “Ultimately, there is so much ambiguity between the races, and so much variation within them, that two people of European descent may be more genetically similar to an Asian person than they are to each other.”
I have watched You Tube presentations from college classroom settings demonstrating the same thing. You can observe a racially diverse group of college students comparing their DNA sequence to one another’s and see precisely the same conclusions. Our DNA simply doesn’t offer scientific proof of what we call racial differences. As Montagu said 75 years ago, our concept of race is a fallacy and a dangerous myth. It is beyond amazing that such a fallacious myth continues to prevail in our otherwise educated world.
May this article help even a tiny bit to dispel the myths perpetrated by Satan through the ignorance and biases of humans. Enough is enough! God made us all and he doesn’t make junk, as the little boy supposedly said. We are made in the image of our Creator, having the capacity to do amazing things as earthly humans and the spiritual capacity to live forever with him, the angels and all of the redeemed. May he help us to not simply accept our physical differences but to rejoice in them. And remember that even if someone thinks you are one of the “beautiful people,” as others would describe you, before you know it you will be old and wrinkled like me! “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised“ (Proverbs 31:30). The only true beauty is that which resides within us, the spirit God placed in this temporary earthly tent we call the body. Focus on the right things and rejoice in the right things. God bless our diversity! It is his delight and must become ours!