Skin Color and Race

Genes for Skin Color Rebut Dated Notions of Race, Researchers Say

A gallery of busts from the 19th century showing human diversity on display in the Museum of Mankind in Paris. Scientists have found that the genetic variations that determine skin color are widely shared. Credit Romuald Meigneux/SIPA, via Associated Press

For centuries, skin color has held powerful social meaning — a defining characteristic of race, and a starting point for racism.

“If you ask somebody on the street, ‘What are the main differences between races?,’ they’re going to say skin color,” said Sarah A. Tishkoff, a geneticist at the University of Pennsylvania.

On Thursday, Dr. Tishkoff and her colleagues showed this to be a profound error. In the journal Science, the researchers published the first large-scale study of the genetics of skin color in Africans.

The researchers pinpointed eight genetic variants in four narrow regions of the human genome that strongly influence pigmentation — some making skin darker, and others making it lighter.

These genes are shared across the globe, it turns out; one of them, for example, lightens skin in both Europeans and hunter-gatherers in Botswana. The gene variants were present in humanity’s distant ancestors, even before our species evolved in Africa 300,000 years ago.

Humans develop color much as other mammals do. Special cells in the skin contain pouches, called melanosomes, packed with pigment molecules. The more pigment, the darker the skin.

Skin color also varies with the kind of pigments: Melanosomes may contain mixtures of a brown-black called eumelanin and a yellow-red called pheomelanin.

To find the genes that help produce pigments, scientists began by studying people of European ancestry and found that mutations to a gene called SLC24A5 caused cells to make less pigment, leading to paler skin. Unsurprisingly, almost all Europeans have this variant

“We knew quite a lot about why people have pale skin if they had European ancestry,” said Nicholas G. Crawford, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania and a co-author of the new study. “But there was very little known about why people have dark skin.”

Since the early 2000s, Dr. Tishkoff has studied genes in Africa, discovering variants important to everything from resistance to malaria to height.

African populations vary tremendously in skin color, and Dr. Tishkoff reasoned that powerful genetic variants must be responsible.

Studying 1,570 people in Ethiopia, Tanzania and Botswana, she and her colleagues discovered a set of genetic variants that account for 29 percent of the variation in skin color. (The remaining variation seems tied to genes yet to be discovered.)

One variant, MFSD12, was particularly mysterious: No one knew what it did anywhere in the body. To investigate its function, the researchers altered the gene in reddish lab mice. Giving them the variant found in darker-skinned Africans turned the mice gray.

As it turned out, MFSD12 can affect the production of brown-black eumelanin, producing a darker skin color.

The eight gene variants that Dr. Tishkoff and her colleagues discovered in Africans turned out to be present in many populations outside the continent. By comparing the DNA of these people, the researchers were able to estimate how long ago the genes appeared.

They turned out to be immensely old. A variant for light skin — found in both Europeans and the San hunter-gatherers of Botswana — arose roughly 900,000 years ago, for example.

Even before there were Homo sapiens, then, our distant forebears had a mix of genes for light and dark skin. Some populations may have been dark-skinned and others light-skinned; or maybe they were all the same color, produced by a blend of variants.

Neanderthals split off from our own ancestors an estimated 600,000 years ago, spreading across Europe and eastern Asia. While they became extinct about 40,000 years ago, some of their DNA has survived.

These hominins inherited the same combination of variants determining skin color, Dr. Tishkoff and her colleagues also discovered. It’s possible that some populations of Neanderthals, too, were light-skinned, and others dark-skinned.

Living humans come packaged in a wide range of hues — from pale and freckly in Ireland to dark brown in southern India, Australia and New Guinea. Researchers have argued that these varying colors evolved partly in response to sunlight.

The idea is that people who live with intense ultraviolet light benefited from dark color, pigments that shielded important molecules in their skin. In places with less sunlight, people needed lighter skin, because they were able to absorb more sunlight to make vitamin D.

The new genetic evidence supports this explanation, but adds unexpected complexity. The dark-skinned people of southern India, Australia and New Guinea, for example, did not independently evolve their color simply because evolution favored it.

They inherited the ancestral dark variants Dr. Tishkoff’s team found in Africans. “They had to be introduced from an African population,” said Dr. Tishkoff.

Yet the same is true for some genes that produce light skin in Asia and Europe. They also originated in Africa and were carried from the continent by migrants.

As Africans moved into Europe and Asia, they interbred with Neanderthals on several occasions. Last week, Michael Dannemann and Janet Kelso of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany reported that people in Britain still carry a number of Neanderthal variants that color skin.

Some of the newly discovered genes appeared relatively recently in our evolution.

The pale-skin variant of SLC24A5 that’s overwhelmingly common in Europe, for example, is a recent addition to the genome, arising just 29,000 years ago, according to the new study. It became widespread only in the past few thousand years.

Dr. Tishkoff and her colleagues found it frequently not just in Europe, but also in some populations of lighter-skinned Africans in East Africa and Tanzania. Studies of ancient DNA recently discovered in Africa point to an explanation.

Several thousand years ago, it seems, a migration of early Near Eastern farmers swept into East Africa. Over many generations of interbreeding, the pale variant of SLC24A5 became common in some African populations.

In all, the new study provides “a deeper appreciation of the genetic palette that has been mixed and matched through evolution,” said Nina Jablonski, an expert on skin color at Pennsylvania State University.

Source: The New York Times

Famous Friday!

North and Saint West

Kardashians

Celebrities Kim Kardashian and Kanye West are the parents of two multiracial children and soon to be three. Kim and Kanye married in May of 2014. North West was born in June of 2013 and their son Saint West was born two years later in December of 2015. They are now expecting their third child via surrogate. Kim began considering a surrogate after doctors told her it would be too risky for her to get pregnant again. Kim and Kanye are raising their children to be aware of their biracial identity. Kim’s Kardashian’s father is Armenian and her mother English, Scottish, Irish, German, and Dutch. Kanye West is African American. In the September issue of Interview Magazine Kim said “Kanye always has his family around and people who look like my daughter-that’s important to me. She’s obsessed with curly hair, and if she finds someone who has the same hair, she runs to them and is like, “You have curly hair like me?’ And we get to talk about it. We also talk about it with my niece Penelope, because she and North look really different, but they’re best friends and they’re together all the time.” Kim also stated “We want to raise our kids to be really aware. I think that’s all you can do. The more you talk about things and keep them out in the open, the more they won’t be taboo, kids are really so open. They say anything. So if you educate them, then they feel empowered.”

Makensie Shay McDaniel

Project RACE Teens Co-President

Photo Credit: kimkardashian instagram

Famous Friday! Peyton Elizabeth Lee

Famous Friday: Peyton Elizabeth Lee

 

13 year old Peyton Elizabeth Lee is the star of the Disney Channel’s hit show Andi Mack, the number one TV series to date in 2017 among 6 to 14 year old girls. Peyton is the daughter of Chinese actor Andrew Tinpo Lee and Irish-Italian psychologist Jennifer Dormer Lee. Before landing this role she had danced professionally and acted in commercials.

When asked about her racial identity, Peyton said, “I would say that it definitely makes me stand apart from the crowd. I wouldn’t say that it’s really changed anything dramatically. Yes, when we see families from my dad’s side it’s different experience than seeing people from my mom’s side. But being mixed-race has definitely had no big effect on my life really.”

She has also explained that she never felt pressured to pick one part of her identity. “I’ve always just been half,” she said.playing a multiracial character.

Peyton plays a multiracial character on her show, but when the show was being cast. Peyton’s audition performance convinced showrunners to cast a multiracial family similar to Lee’s Chinese and white heritage.
 
“They weren’t looking for an Asian American girl,” she explained. “They were just looking for a girl. So when I went to the audition there were people of all different races, white, everybody was there. So once I was cast, then the family became Asian American. That was never the first idea.”
 

Peyton feels lucky to be a role model for kids. “I always had my Disney Channel role models,” she said. “Wizards of Waverly Place was my favorite show of all time. I just remember looking up to Selena Gomez, and its crazy that I might be that sort of person for somebody else.”

“We’ve had a lot of people say how relatable it (the show)is to them, and that’s really the ultimate goal for me, at least — it’s that people all around the world see that they aren’t different and they’re not alone,” said Peyton.

And rumor has it that she is dating her co-star Asher Angel in real life!
 
-Karson Baldwin, Project RACE Teens Co-President
 

Cast of Disney's "Andi Mack," left to right: Stoney Westmoreland, Lauren Tom, Peyton Elizabeth Lee, Lilan Bowden

Cast of Disney’s “Andi Mack,” left to right: Stoney Westmoreland, Lauren Tom, Peyton Elizabeth Lee, Lilan Bowden 
Photo: Natalie Cass / Disney Channel

Misinformation Warning

This was reported in #MixedRace Daily on September 28, 2017:

www­.attn­.com – In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported an estimated 60 percent of Americans were proud to have a multiracial background.

It is entirely untrue. We do not know why #MixedRace Daily continues to mislead the multiracial community. The study done in 2015 by the Pew Research Center only studied 1,555 multiracial people. They did not study all Americans and therefore, the statement is untrue. Sixty percent of Americans are not multiracial. Therefore, the statement is grossly misleading. We have repeatedly proven the #MixedRace Daily information to be false and misleading.

Please be careful where you get your information about the multiracial community.

New People – Book Review

Book Review

New People by Danzy Senna

New People

New People is about a multiracial woman named Maria. These are some of the terms she uses for multiracial people:

Miscellaneous People

Mulatto (her favorite word, which means little mule) and Mulatta

Multiracial

Biracial

The “N” Word

Odd, twisted girls

Racially nebulous

Quadroon

Negro

Born again black people

Butterscotch

Mestizo Abandoner

Mixed

“Everything” and

my least favorite, “Mutt.”

She also says things like, “Being black and looking white was enough of a freak show” and “He was embracing his black identity.” Apparently, biracial people can absolutely not embrace their white identity. So passing for black is fine; passing for white is not.

 

It’s as if the author, Danzy Senna, had plugged biracial into every thesaurus she could find and then used the words over and over ad nauseam. Maria measures everything and everyone by race and wouldn’t you know she is engaged to a biracial man, but falls for a black poet. I suppose that’s the premise of the book. By the way, the term New People was not invented by Senna. It was also a magazine that was started in the 1980s by Yvette Walker-Hollis.

 

I realize that a lot of readers think this book is quite funny. A review in Essence magazine thinks it’s hysterical. There is that. I also watched a new “comedy” on Netflix last week with a biracial character. Many “jokes” were made at his expense because he was biracial. His mother repeats several times that she hopes for “butterscotch babies.” Why is it suddenly OK to make jokes about the multiracial community?

 

When I read fiction, I ask myself about a quarter into the book if I care about the characters. In New People, I knew by page 14 that I didn’t care what happened to these people. I re-check half way through and with this book, things only got worse. Other reviewers of Danzy Senna’s works do not share my opinion. She and her book are being heavily promoted and praised. She is clearly the biracial darling of the moment. I read most books about multiracial people because of my work with Project RACE and the multiracial community. I can honestly say no person I have ever met—multiracial or otherwise—is preoccupied 100 percent of the time with race, like Maria. They are usually the people who scream, “There is no such thing as race because it’s a social construct,” but they are the same people who give you an entire host of words about the multiracial community. You may want to think about that for a moment.

 

To be fair, if you are looking for a book that presents an entire population as screwed up, also with no scientific basis, New People should fit into your life perfectly.

 

Susan Graham

 

Project RACE in the News!

http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2017-08-28/human-rights-racial-justice/could-multiracial-americans-ease-racial-tensions/a59186-1

For Your Information

For Your Information

 

I have recently come under scrutiny by two members of the “mixed race” community. They verbally attacked me on social media because I do not use the term “mixed.” I prefer the term “multiracial.” That is my personal preference. I feel that everyone should use the terminology with which they are most comfortable.

 

I was recently speaking with the mother of one of our Project RACE Teen members who told me her son used “multiracial” and “mixed” interchangeably and was that OK? I assured her that was absolutely fine and that he should use the terms in his comfort zone. I am hardly the mixed police.

 

However, I would like to clear up any misconceptions about terminology. I prefer “multiracial” for the following reasons:

 

  • In 1993 the federal government asked that the multiracial community choose one term that they could consider for the 2000 Census and federal forms. They could not accommodate more than one word. All of the multiracial organizations chose the term multiracial. Project RACE polled every one of our members to find out their preference. Multiracial was the preference with biracial second.

 

  • “Mixed” never felt right to me and to many other members of the multiracial community. When I thought about it, I realized that mixed was the opposite of “pure.” I did not want to go backwards historically into a division of pure and un-pure people. It would be wrong, I felt, for me to use that terminology, especially in today’s world.

 

  • Hundreds of articles in newspapers, magazines, and online, have titled their articles about multiracial children “Mixed Up” or some negative use of the word “mixed.” They were called “mixed nuts” in at least one movie. Why make it easy for them to do that?

 

  • When Barack Obama was President, if a news outlet referred to him as multiracial, they used the term “multiracial.” Did you ever ask yourselves why? Because it’s a respectable term and everyone deserves to be identified with respectable terminology.

 

  • Words are important and it is important to give multiracial children appropriate and respectable terminology to use, especially when asked the question, “What are you?” Whether this is multiracial, biracial, mixed, or something else is up to you and your family and remember that it’s about the children.

 

The two individuals who attacked me and Project RACE are somewhat known in the “mixed race” community. One is a librarian of other people’s writing and the other is a member of a local group, yet they felt the need to verbalize their apparent upset with us. I am not sure why they are attempting to discredit us. I am extremely proud of the work of the members of Project RACE, the only national organization advocating for the multiracial community for over three decades.

Susan Graham

Thank you!

MHW Collage 2017

Thank you to everyone who helped make Multiracial Heritage Week a success again this year!

Since its inception in 2014, we have received state proclamations from Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Washington, DC. This year we also reached out to city mayors in addition to states. We held numerous celebrations and special events for the children throughout the United States because at Project RACE, it’s about the kids! We gave them “skin tones of the world” multicultural crayons with paper plates to draw their own faces, also librarians and Project RACE members read them stories. Additional thanks go out to Patti Barry, Kim Carlucci and Carolyn Brajkovich for all their help. We could not have done it without you!

New York Times Q & A

This “The Ethicist” column appeared in the Sunday New York Times.

My mother is from Central America. She came to the United States for college and met my American father. I am, therefore, 50 percent Latino genetically, but I don’t identify as Latino. There were (to my regret) no Central American influences in my upbringing — no Spanish language, no Latino relatives, no foods from “the old country.” There was also no discrimination directed at me or my mother (we look “white”). Is it ethical to identify as Latino in social situations and on the census? Name Withheld

Our ethnic and racial categories drape loosely around the realities of our complex lives. I am the son of an English woman and a Ghanaian man. I am an American citizen. Am I a black American? African-American? Anglo-American? Anglo-African? “Latino” is a word that hovers uneasily between a category defined by culture and one defined by descent. The latter conception makes you Latino. The former doesn’t quite. There’s also a notion that ethnicity should be defined by your own sense of identity — by whether you think of yourself as Latino. But whether you think of yourself as Latino is shaped by ideas about culture and descent. There isn’t a single correct view about that. Still, here’s a solution: In cases in which you don’t have the time or space to explain your situation, probably the least confusing thing to say to people in the United States is that your mother is Latina. (As far as forms go, if they permit you to check two boxes, I’d do that. If they don’t, I don’t believe it matters much what you do.)

Babies show racial bias at nine months, U of T study suggests

Two new U of T studies suggest racial bias can develop in babies before they’ve even started walking.

According to a U of T study, nine-month-old babies looked at their own-race faces paired with happy music for a longer period of time, as well as other-race faces paired with sad music.  (SHUTTERSTOCK)  

Two new University of Toronto studies suggest racial bias can develop in babies at an early age — before they’ve even started walking.

Led by the school’s Ontario Institute of Child Study professor Kang Lee, in partnership with researchers from the U.S., U.K., France, and China, the studies examined how infants react to individuals of their own race, compared to individuals of another race.

“The goal of the study was to find out at which age infants begin to show racial bias,” Lee said. “With existing studies, the evidence shows that kids show bias around 3 or 4 years of age. We wanted to look younger.”

The first study looked at 193 Chinese infants from three to ninth months, recruited from a hospital in China, who hadn’t had direct contact with people of other races. The babies were then shown videos of six Asian women and six African women, paired with either happy or sad music.

The study found that infants from three to six months old didn’t associate sad or happy music with people of the same race or of other races, which indicates they “are not biologically predisposed to associate own- and other-race faces with music of different emotional valence.”

However, at around nine months old, the reactions were different.

According to the study, nine-month-old babies looked at their own-race faces paired with happy music for a longer period of time, as well as other-race faces paired with sad music. Lee says this supports the hypothesis that infants associate people of the same race with happy music, and other races with sad music.

That’s not to say parents are teaching their children how to discriminate against other raced individuals, Lee says.

“We are very confident that the cause of this early racial bias is actually the lack of exposure to other raced individuals,” he said. “It tells us that in Canada, if we introduce our kids to other-raced individuals, then we are likely to have less racial bias in our kids against other-raced people.”

Andrew Baron, an associate professor of psychology the University of British Columbia, said while the goal of the study is “terrific,” there are many reasons infants would look for longer amounts of time at faces of different races. For example, he says an infant could spend more time looking at an own-race face because it is familiar, or at an other-race face because it is different and unexpected.

“It’s impossible to draw that conclusion about association from a single experiment when you could have half a dozen reasons why you would look longer that don’t support the conclusion that was made in that paper,” said Baron, who was not involved in the studies, but specializes in a similar field — the development of implicit associations among infants.

“There’s multiple reasons — and contradictory reasons — why we look longer at things. We look longer at things we fear, we look longer at things we like. That’s an inherent tension in how you choose to interpret the data.”

The second study took a closer look at that bias and how it affects children’s learning skills.

Researchers showed babies videos of own-race and other-race adults looking in the same direction that photos of animals appeared (indicating they are reliable) and looking in the wrong direction of the animals (indicating they are unreliable).

The study found that when adults were reliable and looking in the direction of the animals, the infants followed both own- and other-raced individuals equally. The same results occurred when the adults were unreliable and looking in the wrong direction.

However, when the adults gaze was only sometimes correct, the children were more likely to take cues provided by adults of their own race.

“In this situation, very interestingly, kids treated their own-raced individuals — who are only 50 per cent correct — as if they were 100 per cent correct,” Lee said.

“There is discrimination, but only when there is uncertainty.”

The first study was published in Developmental Science and the second was in Child Development.

The study was conducted in China, Lee says, because the researchers were able to control the exposure to other-raced individuals.

Lee said he has been trying for nearly 10 years to organize a study looking at babies born into mixed-race families. He suspects infants born into mixed-race families would show less racial bias.

When it comes to parents who want to try to eliminate racial bias from a young age, Lee says exposure is key.

“If parents want to prevent racial biases from emerging, the best thing to do is expose their kids to TV programs, books, and friends from different races,” he said.

“And the important message is they have to know them by name . . . it’s extremely important to know them as individuals.”