Another Open Letter

TO THE NEW YORK TIMES: AN OPEN LETTER TO THE ETHICIST

I wish I could thank Kwame Anthony Appiah for setting the multiracial movement back over fifty years, but I can’t. He is “the ethicist” for the NY Times and wrote a column this week titled “How Should I think about Race when Considering a Sperm Donor?” Basically, it is about a White, Jewish woman who is considering sperm donation and cannot decide if it matters that the father could be a donor of color.

First, Appiah manages to turn the donor of color into a black father. The baby’s father could be Hispanic, Hawaiian, Native American, or a thousand other combinations. But no, Appiah turns this baby black. I wonder if he has some type of race-meter that lets him know who is what racially.

Then he gives this woman two choices: raise the child as African American or let it pass as white. What?! What happened to letting the child be raised as biracial or multiracial? It is, after all, the largest growing population in the United States, according to the Census Bureau. In fact, it took us about fifty years to get the Census Bureau to accommodate people of more than one race on their forms and just as long for the Office of Management and Budget to accept us.

Of course the child will need to be taught about their entire heritage and we don’t need Appiah to remind us of that. The multiracial community has plenty of families that celebrate their wholeness, and are not torn apart by the old one-drop rule that says a person with any Black ancestry makes you Black. Are we trying to forget about black slavery but not about the mulatto people of slavery? Shame on you.

Appiah decrees that if you “look black” you must self-identify racially as Black, which just is not how it always turns out. I doubt if he has many friends who identify as biracial or multiracial. In the only example he could find, he reminds us that Barack Obama had a White mother and was raised by his White grandparents and he “turned out OK.” Sigh.

I think this mother would probably do best with a child her own race and Kwame Appiah should stop giving advice to interracial families.

Susan Graham is president of Project RACE, the national organization for multiracial children and adults. She is the author of Born Biracial: How One Mother Took on Race in America.

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

Race and DNA

DNA Tests, and Sometimes Surprising Results

Students at West Chester University in Pennsylvania have volunteered to take part in ancestry DNA testing. Anita Foeman, a communications professor, says she has found that conversations around race are “complicated and jagged.” CreditWest Chester University

Race and identity in many ways define who we think we are, while modern genetics can challenge those notions. To delve into these issues, I am involved with a communications studies project at West Chester University in Pennsylvania that explores narratives at the intersection of race and identity.

For the last decade, I have invited hundreds of people to be part of ancestry DNA tests. But first I ask people how they identify themselves racially. It has been very interesting to explore their feelings about the differences between how they define themselves and what their DNA makeup shows when the test results come in.

Biologically, our ancestral differences reflect only a 0.1 percent difference in DNA. Yet we often cling to those differences — both in unity with our fellow people of origin and, at times, in divisiveness.

Over all, the experiment has provided a special opportunity to explore the lines of race. I found that as human beings, our strategies for survival are the same, and our similarities far outweigh our differences.

But inside each comment was a longing to find out more. And a long-term, ever-deepening conversation began.

What started out as a curiosity turned into a study. My colleague Bessie Lee Lawton and I began our collaboration in 2012, and a more rigorous protocol was established. Statistical analysis was done to look for patterns not easily gleaned from individual stories.

Speaking in generalities, we found that women were more flexible about their racial identity than men; that people of color expected diversity in their backgrounds more than people of European ancestry; and that younger people were more open to diversity than older ones. People of European background tended to have more anxiety, before and after the test.

Keep in mind that analyzing a person’s ancestry through DNA, means looking back hundreds of years. People receive only half of their DNA from each parent, and therefore the race or identity of either parent may be too diluted to show up in these tests.

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Participants in the research study were asked to predict their ancestral backgrounds before test results come in.CreditWest Chester University

As a black girl growing up in the 1960s, I often felt race undermined me. I was expected to love Motown, but not ballet. I was praised for speaking standard English, but my interest in the sciences was never appreciated and certainly not cultivated. Random doors opened; others closed.

It took me 10 years before I tested myself. What I found both confirmed and shook my perspective. My background included African heritage from the Gold Coast, including Nigeria and Ghana, intermingled with British and Scandinavian. I suspect this reflects the impact of the brutal Viking Age and later the English in the slave trade.

I have a smattering of Asian genes, most likely from indigenous Americans crossing the Bering Strait. For Americans, about 4 percent of our ancestry traced to Asia may actually reflect Native American roots.

However, my grandfather shared with me years ago that in his birthplace of Mobile, Ala., his earliest memories were of Chinese merchants living alongside poor black folks like him. So who knows?

Today I look at faces, even my own, with new recognition. I see that people regularly share narratives that miss something their physical features suggest, and sometimes we find ancestry that we would not have imagined. It is a new twist on an old narrative made possible by cutting-edge science.

The conversation is complicated and jagged, and it mercifully undermines neat, simplistic stories.

Over the last 11 years, more than 2,000 people have taken part in our DNA ancestry project. Below are the stories from a handful of them.

Anita Foeman, professor of communications studies

Source: New York Times

Thumbs Down

THUMBS DOWN TO THE NEW YORK TIMES

Shame on The New York Times for giving editorial and advertising space to Michael Eric Dyson. He is racist against white people and tries to prove that all white people are members of the white supremacy.  Yes, black people can be racist and Dyson proves that. This is not freedom of speech; it is racism loud and clear, but not substantiated. Please think twice before contributing to Dyson or The New York Times in any way. We are.

70,000 People Tell The New York Times to Drop the I-Word

Racist Undertones

New York Times Regurgitates the Same ‘Racist Undertones’ It Covers

Photo: istockphoto/Nancy Nehring

by Seth Freed Wessler, Tuesday, May 7 2013, 3:15 PM EST
The New York Times published an A1 story today about the struggles of farm workers of color in the U.S. But rather than explore the ways that our agricultural and immigration laws have degraded the quality of work and systematically pushed workers of color into the margins, Ethan Bronner strings together quotes that largely regurgitate racist tropes about lazy black workers and “efficient” Latinos. What could have been a story about labor conditions and very real problems of exploitation ended up a mess of racial stereotypes that pit black and Latino workers against each other and makes black folks out to hate immigrants.
The story is ostensibly about a set of lawsuits in Georgia and elsewhere in which U.S. citizens, some black, are suing farms for not hiring them. Some of the plaintiffs say they weren’t hired because of their race or nationality, that the farms only hire Latinos.
But here’s a few passages from the story about workers at a Georgia farm called Southern Valley:
Even many of the Americans who feel mistreated acknowledge that the Mexicans who arrive on buses for a limited period are incredibly efficient, often working into the night seven days a week to increase their pay.
“We are not going to run all the time,” said Henry Rhymes, who was fired — unfairly, he says — from Southern Valley after a week on the job. “We are not Mexicans.”
Jon Schwalls, director of operations at Southern Valley, made a similar point.
“When Jose gets on the bus to come here from Mexico he is committed to the work,” he said. “It’s like going into the military. He leaves his family at home. The work is hard, but he’s ready. A domestic wants to know: What’s the pay? What are the conditions? In these communities, I am sorry to say, there are no fathers at home, no role models for hard work. They want rewards without input.”
After putting us through this litany of generalizations and racist undertones, Bronner writes, “Such generalizations lead lawyers — and residents — to say there are racist undertones to the farms’ policies.” Thanks.
Why not frame the story around what the story is about: the way that guest worker programs depress wages and public policies have systematically pushed black and Latino workers into the most vulnerable parts of the labor market? Why not write about the racist undertones in the policies—the one’s that lock guest workers into captive employment relationships that make it possible for employers to force folks to work seven days a week?
It’s not that Bronner doesn’t give these ideas some space, but to frame the story as it’s framed makes a problem of structural racism into another black-brown struggle. There is a story here about the impact of guest worker programs on wages for other low-income workers, including black folks, but it’s hard to find that story through the weeds.
For a more nuanced take on how black and Latino workers often struggle together at the botton of the labor market, read Brentin Mock’s 2010 story on workers in post-Katrina, post-BP spill New Orleans. Mock wrote about…
an ugly underbelly to the new economy that’s being built. It is one in which opportunity is ever-more concentrated in a few hands, and in which profiteering capitalists and scapegoating politicians are pitting struggling workers against one another in starkly racial terms.

Source: Colorlines Now