There’s No Scientific Basis for Race—It’s a Made-Up Label

Posted in Africa, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, History, Media Archive on 2018-03-13 18:09Z by Steven

There’s No Scientific Basis for Race—It’s a Made-Up Label

National Geographic
April 2018 (The Race Issue)

By Elizabeth Kolbert
Photographs by Robin Hammond

The four letters of the genetic code —A, C, G, and T—are projected onto Ryan Lingarmillar, a Ugandan. DNA reveals what skin color obscures: We all have African ancestors.

It’s been used to define and separate people for millennia. But the concept of race is not grounded in genetics.

In the first half of the 19th century, one of America’s most prominent scientists was a doctor named Samuel Morton. Morton lived in Philadelphia, and he collected skulls.

He wasn’t choosy about his suppliers. He accepted skulls scavenged from battlefields and snatched from catacombs. One of his most famous craniums belonged to an Irishman who’d been sent as a convict to Tasmania (and ultimately hanged for killing and eating other convicts). With each skull Morton performed the same procedure: He stuffed it with pepper seeds—later he switched to lead shot—which he then decanted to ascertain the volume of the braincase.

Morton believed that people could be divided into five races and that these represented separate acts of creation. The races had distinct characters, which corresponded to their place in a divinely determined hierarchy. Morton’s “craniometry” showed, he claimed, that whites, or “Caucasians,” were the most intelligent of the races. East Asians—Morton used the term “Mongolian”—though “ingenious” and “susceptible of cultivation,” were one step down. Next came Southeast Asians, followed by Native Americans. Blacks, or “Ethiopians,” were at the bottom. In the decades before the Civil War, Morton’s ideas were quickly taken up by the defenders of slavery…

Skulls from the collection of Samuel Morton, the father of scientific racism, illustrate his classification of people into five races—which arose, he claimed, from separate acts of creation. From left to right: a black woman and a white man, both American; an indigenous man from Mexico; a Chinese woman; and a Malaysian man.
Photograph by Robert Clark

…By analyzing the genes of present-day Africans, researchers have concluded that the Khoe-San, who now live in southern Africa, represent one of the oldest branches of the human family tree. The Pygmies of central Africa also have a very long history as a distinct group. What this means is that the deepest splits in the human family aren’t between what are usually thought of as different races—whites, say, or blacks or Asians or Native Americans. They’re between African populations such as the Khoe-San and the Pygmies, who spent tens of thousands of years separated from one another even before humans left Africa

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lupita Nyong’o To Star In ‘Born A Crime’ Based On Trevor Noah’s Memoir

Posted in Africa, Articles, Arts, Autobiography, Media Archive, South Africa on 2018-02-22 04:47Z by Steven

Lupita Nyong’o To Star In ‘Born A Crime’ Based On Trevor Noah’s Memoir

Deadline Hollywood

Amanda N’Duka


EXCLUSIVE: Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, currently starring as Nakia in Disney/Marvel’s record-smashing, watershed hit Black Panther, has signed on to star in Born a Crime, the film adaptation of The Daily Show host Trevor Noah’s bestselling debut autobiography Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood.

Nyong’o will play Noah’s mom, Patricia, who served as an important figure to her son in his formative years. She was shot in the head by his stepfather while returning from a church service in 2009, but survived.

Noah is producing the project through his Ark Angel Productions alongside Norman Aladjem, Derek Van Pelt and Sanaz Yamin of Mainstay Entertainment, and Nyong’o…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

New gene variants reveal the evolution of human skin color

Posted in Africa, Articles, Health/Medicine/Genetics, Media Archive on 2018-02-20 00:53Z by Steven

New gene variants reveal the evolution of human skin color


Ann Gibbons, Contributing Correspondent

Researchers have identified genes that help create diverse skin tones, such as those seen in the Agaw (left) and Surma (right) peoples of Africa.

Most people associate Africans with dark skin. But different groups of people in Africa have almost every skin color on the planet, from deepest black in the Dinka of South Sudan to beige in the San of South Africa. Now, researchers have discovered a handful of new gene variants responsible for this palette of tones.

The study, published online this week in Science, traces the evolution of these genes and how they traveled around the world. While the dark skin of some Pacific Islanders can be traced to Africa, gene variants from Eurasia also seem to have made their way back to Africa. And surprisingly, some of the mutations responsible for lighter skin in Europeans turn out to have an ancient African origin.

“This is really a landmark study of skin color diversity,” says geneticist Greg Barsh of the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama.

Researchers agree that our early australopithecine ancestors in Africa probably had light skin beneath hairy pelts. “If you shave a chimpanzee, its skin is light,” says evolutionary geneticist Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania, the lead author of the new study. “If you have body hair, you don’t need dark skin to protect you from ultraviolet [UV] radiation.”

Until recently, researchers assumed that after human ancestors shed most body hair, sometime before 2 million years ago, they quickly evolved dark skin for protection from skin cancer and other harmful effects of UV radiation. Then, when humans migrated out of Africa and headed to the far north, they evolved lighter skin as an adaptation to limited sunlight. (Pale skin synthesizes more vitamin D when light is scarce.)…

Read the entire article here.

Tags: , , , , , ,

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


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.

Tags: , , , , , ,

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

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.

Tags: , , , , ,

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


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.

Tags: , , , , , ,

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

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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

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


  • 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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

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.

Tags: , ,