Being Black: Still a multi-front struggle

Posted in Africa, Articles, Biography, Europe, History, Media Archive on 2017-12-05 01:19Z by Steven

Being Black: Still a multi-front struggle

DW
2017-04-07


Theodor Wonja Michael

A particular excerpt of the DW documentary “Afro.Germany” went viral: the touching testimony of one of the oldest Afro-Germans born in Berlin. Here’s what can be learned from social media users’ hundreds of reactions.

“I am an African – I didn’t even know Cameroon and Togo were German colonies,” said one social media user, reacting to an online video clip about the life and times of Theodor Wonja Michael, one of Germany’s oldest contemporary witnesses.

The clip is an excerpt from “Afro.Germany,” a documentary project by Deutsche Welle, which aims to chronicle the diversity of Black experiences in Germany and challenge the historical amnesia surrounding Germany’s colonial past.

The video narrates Michael’s extraordinary experiences as a Black person in Germany.

Born in Berlin in 1925, Michael was forced to act in “human zoos” during his childhood. He survived the Nazi era and later became an actor and author

A further challenge: fluid identities

However, subsequent analysis by researchers such as E. P. Johnson, has drawn attention to the more troubling implications of Black identity politics.

Black pride can inadvertently promote the problematic notion of Black authenticity – that is to say, it can construct an image of the the “real Blacks” and the “real” Black experience, to which the individuals must conform and relate. This line of thinking can hinder efforts geared towards separating identity from race.

For example, one commentator insisted on referring to Michael as “mixed-race” and denounced the acceptance of “trans-racial crap.”

Race does not define us, but it does influence our experience of the world. Needless to say, “Black” includes a spectrum of peoples whose experience of race varies depending on the interaction of other factors, such as class, culture, gender, nationality, etc. For many people, race is not a black and white issue, but a multi-front struggle for inclusion in their “own” communities.

“My mother was French, my father was American […] Being light skinned, I fought blacks because I wasn’t dark enough. I fought whites because I was colored. Fought Spanish, Puerto Ricans because they said I was a ‘wanna be’ and fake,” said one commentator…

Read the entire article here.

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Eve Rosenhaft and Robbie Aitken

Posted in Africa, Audio, Europe, History, Interviews, Media Archive on 2017-12-05 00:36Z by Steven

Eve Rosenhaft and Robbie Aitken

The New Book Network
2017-02-04

Black Germany: The Making and Unmaking of a Diaspora Community, 1884-1960 (Cambridge University Press 2015)

“There were black Germans?”

My students are always surprised to learn that there were and are a community of African immigrants and Afro-Germans that dates back to the nineteenth century (and sometimes earlier), and that this community has at times had an influence on German culture, society, and racial thinking that belied its small size.

Germany’s role in colonizing Africa has received increased attention lately, with an exhibit on German colonialism appearing at the Deutsches Historisches Museum in October and recent headway on a deal for Germany to pay reparations to the descendants of Herero and Nama genocide victims in Namibia. In Black Germany: The Making and Unmaking of a Disapora Community, 1884-1960 (Cambridge University Press, 2015), Eve Rosenhaft and Robbie Aitken supply a part of the colonial story that gets even less attention than that of Germans in Africa: what about Africans in Germany? Focusing primarily on a community of West-African-born black Germans and their families, Rosenhaft and Aitken trace the groups evolution in the nineteenth century through its persecutions by the Nazi state and postwar existence.

Download the interview (00:25:27) here.

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Why Is Skin Color Different? Huge Genetic Study Reveals Prevailing Theory of Pigmentation is Wrong

Posted in Africa, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2017-12-04 04:20Z by Steven

Why Is Skin Color Different? Huge Genetic Study Reveals Prevailing Theory of Pigmentation is Wrong

Newsweek
2017-11-30

Kastalia Medrano, Staff Writer


These are South African individuals in a household that exemplify the substantial skin pigmentation variability in the Khomani and Nama populations.
Brenna Henn

Scientists used to think that the same small handful of genes accounted for about half of all pigment variation in human skin. A new study shows the genetic picture behind skin color is far more complex.

Research supporting the prior, simpler conclusion was skewed by Eurocentrism. Because it focused almost exclusively on Northern Eurasian populations from higher latitudes, the data missed a huge swath of the globe. Now, scientists have factored in people of color living in lower latitudes—and found that the prevailing theory is wrong.

Scientists from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Stanford University, and Stony Brook University worked with groups of indigenous southern African peoples called the KhoeSan, notable to some for their use of “click” language. They interviewed them, measured their respective heights and weights, and used a tool called a reflectometer to measure their skin pigmentation.

After seven years of research, and data gathered from about 400 individuals, the researchers realized that the closer a population lives to the equator, the greater the number of genes play a part in determining skin pigmentation. A paper describing the research was published November 30 in the scientific journal Cell.

“Previous work has shown the biomedical consequences of ethnically biased studies. Over the past 10 years, approximately 80 percent of genetic association studies were performed in European-descent groups,” Alicia Martin, a postdoctoral scientist in the lab of Broad Institute member Mark Daly, told Newsweek by email. “What we find here is that the biology of pigmentation or ‘architecture’ can be very different in Africans.” Martin says the findings emphasize the need to fund more genetic work in diverse populations…

Read the entire article here.

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Loci associated with skin pigmentation identified in African populations

Posted in Africa, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2017-12-04 01:50Z by Steven

Loci associated with skin pigmentation identified in African populations

Science
2017-10-12
eaan8433
DOI: 10.1126/science.aan8433

Nicholas G. Crawford, Derek E. Kelly, Matthew E. B. Hansen, Marcia H. Beltrame, Shaohua Fan, Shanna L. Bowman, Ethan Jewett, Alessia Ranciaro, Simon Thompson, Yancy Lo, Susanne P. Pfeifer, Jeffrey D. Jensen, Michael C. Campbell, William Beggs, Farhad Hormozdiari, Sununguko Wata Mpoloka, Gaonyadiwe George Mokone, Thomas Nyambo, Dawit Wolde Meskel, Gurja Belay, Jake Haut, NISC Comparative Sequencing Program, Harriet Rothschild, Leonard Zon, Yi Zhou, Michael A. Kovacs, Mai Xu, Tongwu Zhang, Kevin Bishop, Jason Sinclair, Cecilia Rivas, Eugene Elliot, Jiyeon Choi, Shengchao A. Li, Belynda Hicks, Shawn Burgess, Christian Abnet, Dawn E. Watkins-Chow, Elena Oceana, Yun S. Song, Eleazar Eskin, Kevin M. Brown, Michael S. Marks, Stacie K. Loftus, William J. Pavan, Meredith Yeager, Stephen Chanock, Sarah Tishkoff

Despite the wide range of skin pigmentation in humans, little is known about its genetic basis in global populations. Examining ethnically diverse African genomes, we identify variants in or near SLC24A5, MFSD12, DDB1, TMEM138, OCA2 and HERC2 that are significantly associated with skin pigmentation. Genetic evidence indicates that the light pigmentation variant at SLC24A5 was introduced into East Africa by gene flow from non-Africans. At all other loci, variants associated with dark pigmentation in Africans are identical by descent in southern Asian and Australo-Melanesian populations. Functional analyses indicate that MFSD12 encodes a lysosomal protein that affects melanogenesis in zebrafish and mice, and that mutations in melanocyte-specific regulatory regions near DDB1/TMEM138 correlate with expression of UV response genes under selection in Eurasians.

Variation in epidermal pigmentation is a striking feature of modern humans. Human pigmentation is correlated with geographic and environmental variation (Fig. 1). Populations at lower latitudes have darker pigmentation than populations at higher latitudes, suggesting that skin pigmentation is an adaptation to differing levels of ultraviolet radiation (UVR) (1). Because equatorial regions receive more UVR than temperate regions, populations from these regions (including sub-Saharan Africans, South Asians, and Australo-Melanesians) have darker pigmentation (Fig. 1), which likely mitigates the negative impact of high UVR exposure such as skin cancer and folate degradation (1). In contrast, the synthesis of vitamin D3 in response to UVR, needed to prevent rickets, may drive selection for light pigmentation at high latitudes (1).

The basal layer of human skin contains melanocytes, specialized pigment cells that harbor subcellular organelles called melanosomes in which melanin pigments are synthesized and stored and then transferred to keratinocytes (2). Melanosome morphology and content differs between melanocytes that synthesize mainly eumelanins (black-brown pigments) or pheomelanins (pigments which range from yellow to reddish-brown) (3). Variation in skin pigmentation is due to the type and quantity of melanins generated, melanosome size, and the manner in which keratinocytes sequester and degrade melanins (4).

While over 350 pigmentation genes have been identified in animal models, only a subset of these genes have been linked to normal variation in humans (5). Of these, there is limited knowledge about loci that affect pigmentation in populations with African ancestry (6, 7).

Skin pigmentation is highly variable within Africa

To identify genes affecting skin pigmentation in Africa, we used a DSM II ColorMeter to quantify light reflectance from the inner arm as a proxy for melanin levels in 2,092 ethnically and genetically diverse Africans living in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Botswana (table S1 and figs. S1 and S2) (8). Skin pigmentation levels vary extensively among Africans, with darkest pigmentation observed in Nilo-Saharan speaking pastoralist populations in Eastern Africa and lightest pigmentation observed in San hunter-gatherer populations from southern Africa (Fig. 2 and table S1)…

Read the entire article here.

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Skin pigmentation is far more genetically complex than previously thought

Posted in Africa, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2017-12-03 22:33Z by Steven

Skin pigmentation is far more genetically complex than previously thought

Broad Institute
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
2017-11-30

David Cameron, Director of Communications/Media Relations


Credit : Brenna Henn
South African individuals in a household that exemplify the substantial skin pigmentation variability in the Khomani and Nama populations. Picture taken with consent for publication.

By studying an African population underrepresented in most datasets, researchers find genetic complexity of pigmentation varies by latitude

Many studies have suggested that the genetics of skin pigmentation are simple. A small number of known genes, it is thought, account for nearly 50 percent of pigment variation. However, these studies rely on datasets that heavily favor northern Eurasian populations—those that reside mostly in higher latitude regions.

Reporting in the November 30 issue of Cell, researchers from the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Stanford University, and Stony Brook University report that while skin pigmentation is nearly 100 percent heritable, it is hardly a straightforward, Mendelian trait. By working closely with the KhoeSan, a group of populations indigenous to southern Africa, the researchers have found that the genetics of skin pigmentation become progressively complex as populations reside closer to the equator, with an increasing number of genes—known and unknown—involved, each making a smaller overall contribution.

“Africa has the greatest amount of phenotypic variability in skin color, and yet it’s been underrepresented in large scale endeavors,” said Alicia Martin, a postdoctoral scientist in the lab of Broad Institute member Mark Daly. “There are some genes that are known to contribute to skin pigmentation, but by and large there are many more new genes that have not been discovered.”

“We need to spend more time focusing on these understudied populations in order to gain deeper genetic insights,” said Brenna Henn, assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University who, along with Martin, is a co-corresponding author…

Read the entire article here.

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An Unexpectedly Complex Architecture for Skin Pigmentation in Africans

Posted in Africa, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2017-12-03 03:40Z by Steven

An Unexpectedly Complex Architecture for Skin Pigmentation in Africans

Cell
Volume 171, Issue 6, 2017-11-30
pages 1340–1353.e14
DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.11.015

Alicia R. Martin, Meng Lin, Julie M. Granka, Justin W. Myrick, Xiaomin Liu, Alexandra Sockell, Elizabeth G. Atkinson, Cedric J. Werely, Marlo Möller, Manjinder S. Sandhu, David M. Kingsley, Eileen G. Hoal, Xiao Liu, Mark J. Daly, Marcus W. Feldman, Christopher R. Gignoux, Carlos D. Bustamante, Brenna M. Henn

Highlights

  • Skin pigmentation in Africans is far more polygenic than light skin in Eurasians
  • Southern African KhoeSan populations have lighter skin compared to equatorial Africans
  • Highly heritable KhoeSan skin color variation is poorly explained by known genes
  • The study of African skin color identifies novel and canonical pigmentation genes

Approximately 15 genes have been directly associated with skin pigmentation variation in humans, leading to its characterization as a relatively simple trait. However, by assembling a global survey of quantitative skin pigmentation phenotypes, we demonstrate that pigmentation is more complex than previously assumed, with genetic architecture varying by latitude. We investigate polygenicity in the KhoeSan populations indigenous to southern Africa who have considerably lighter skin than equatorial Africans. We demonstrate that skin pigmentation is highly heritable, but known pigmentation loci explain only a small fraction of the variance. Rather, baseline skin pigmentation is a complex, polygenic trait in the KhoeSan. Despite this, we identify canonical and non-canonical skin pigmentation loci, including near SLC24A5, TYRP1, SMARCA2/VLDLR, and SNX13, using a genome-wide association approach complemented by targeted resequencing. By considering diverse, under-studied African populations, we show how the architecture of skin pigmentation can vary across humans subject to different local evolutionary pressures.

Read or purchase the article here.

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What We Lose: A Striking Novel About Filial Grief

Posted in Africa, Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, South Africa, United States on 2017-11-27 02:58Z by Steven

What We Lose: A Striking Novel About Filial Grief

The Atlantic
2017-08-01

Amy Weiss-Meyer, Associate Editor


Zinzi Clemmons (Nina Subin)

Zinzi Clemmons’s debut tangles with familiar questions, using a propulsive experimentalism in lieu of linear narrative.

When Zinzi Clemmons was a graduate student at Columbia, at work on her MFA, her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Clemmons had been writing a novel with a more or less linear narrative structure. She moved back home to Philadelphia and kept writing, but differently now, taking notes and collecting fragments of text as she cared for her mother. “The only time and energy I could muster resulted in that very short form,” she said recently. “I just ended up keeping those pieces and stitching them together, and a fictional narrative arose.” The novel she had been working on no longer felt worth her while; she’d been trying to use it, she said, to “avoid what was going on with my mom.”

The new novel that emerged, What We Lose, is a startling, poignant debut, released to no shortage of fanfare (Vogue called it “the debut novel of the year”). It tells a story based loosely on the author’s own. The protagonist is Thandi, who, like Clemmons herself, is the daughter of a “coloured” South African mother and an African American father. Thandi, like Clemmons, was raised in a wealthy, mostly white suburb of Philadelphia. Thandi’s self-proclaimed status as a “strange in-betweener”—she has “light skin and foreign roots,” and feels neither fully black American nor fully African—is a defining preoccupation of her young adulthood. Her relationship with her mother is loving but difficult. And in the wake of her death, as Thandi unexpectedly confronts the possibility of becoming a parent herself, she struggles to come to terms with what her mother’s life was, and what hers should be…

Read the entire article here.

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What We Lose, A Novel

Posted in Africa, Autobiography, Books, Media Archive, Novels, South Africa, United States on 2017-11-27 02:13Z by Steven

What We Lose, A Novel

Viking (an imprint of Penguin Random House)
2017-07-11
224 pages
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0735221710
Paperback ISBN: 978-0008245948

Zinzi Clemmons

From an author of rare, haunting power, a stunning novel about a young African-American woman coming of age—a deeply felt meditation on race, sex, family, and country

Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor—someone, or something, to love.

In arresting and unsettling prose, we watch Thandi’s life unfold, from losing her mother and learning to live without the person who has most profoundly shaped her existence, to her own encounters with romance and unexpected motherhood. Through exquisite and emotional vignettes, Clemmons creates a stunning portrayal of what it means to choose to live, after loss. An elegiac distillation, at once intellectual and visceral, of a young woman’s understanding of absence and identity that spans continents and decades, What We Lose heralds the arrival of a virtuosic new voice in fiction.

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Steeped in Heritage: The Racial Politics of South African Rooibos Tea

Posted in Africa, Anthropology, Books, Media Archive, Monographs, South Africa on 2017-11-09 03:16Z by Steven

Steeped in Heritage: The Racial Politics of South African Rooibos Tea

Duke University Press
2017-10-27
272 pages
3 illustrations
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-8223-6993-6
Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8223-6993-6

Sarah Ives, Postdoctoral Fellow and Lecturer
Stanford University

South African rooibos tea is a commodity of contrasts. Renowned for its healing properties, the rooibos plant grows in a region defined by the violence of poverty, dispossession, and racism. And while rooibos is hailed as an ecologically indigenous commodity, it is farmed by people who struggle to express “authentic” belonging to the land: Afrikaners who espouse a “white” African indigeneity and “coloureds,” who are characterized either as the mixed-race progeny of “extinct” Bushmen or as possessing a false identity, indigenous to nowhere. In Steeped in Heritage Sarah Ives explores how these groups advance alternate claims of indigeneity based on the cultural ownership of an indigenous plant. This heritage-based struggle over rooibos shows how communities negotiate landscapes marked by racial dispossession within an ecosystem imperiled by climate change and precarious social relations in the post-apartheid era.

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction. The “Rooibos Revolution”
  • 1. Cultivating Indigeneity
  • 2. Farming the Bush
  • 3. Endemic Plants and Invasive People
  • 4. Rumor, Conspiracy, and the Politics of Narration
  • 5. Precarious Landscapes
  • Conclusion. “Although There Is No Place Called Rooibos”
  • Notes
  • References
  • Index
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Barack Obama and the Nommo Tradition of Afrocentric Orality

Posted in Africa, Articles, Barack Obama, Communications/Media Studies, Literary/Artistic Criticism, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States on 2017-08-26 23:40Z by Steven

Barack Obama and the Nommo Tradition of Afrocentric Orality

JSTOR Daily: Where News Meets Its Scholarly Match
2017-08-23

Shannon Luders-Manuel


President Obama delivers the State of the Union in 2011
via Flickr/White House

Black actors, entertainers, and everyday citizens often have a particular cadence to their voices that others can identify as “black,” whether or not the listeners can see the individual speaking. Popular culture seems to think that black men sound wise simply by their voices alone, leading to black actors narrating myriad commercials, including Dennis Haysbert for Allstate Insurance and Samuel L. Jackson for Capital One. In an article for Guernica, John McWhorter breaks down this speech pattern: “It differs from standard English’s sound in the same way that other dialects do, in certain shadings of vowels, aspects of intonation, and also that elusive thing known as timbre, most familiar to singers—degrees of breathiness, grain, huskiness, ‘space.’”

While sound influences dialect, black oration goes back much further, to the idea of nommo, which is rooted in West African tradition. Through both dialect and nommo, former President Barack Obama was able to inspire black and white audiences, altering his word choice and patterns accordingly…

Scholarship of nommo is wanting. However, in the Journal of Black Studies, Sheena C. Howard defines it in the following manner: “Nommo, the creative power of the word, is a delivery style that is unique to African Americans. Nommo is manifested in characteristics of African orality.” She focuses on four characteristics of nommo: rhythm, call and response, mythication, and repetition, and she analyzes their use in two of Obama’s speeches: one at Howard University and the other at Southern New Hampshire University, both in 2007…

Read the entire article here.

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