The first time my son met an African American kid, he was shocked.

“The sun is extreme here,” he told me, “Look at that kid’s skin.”

My five-year-old has been playing for hours with this boy he met on a beach in Puerto Rico. It was his first encounter with someone with black skin. We had just moved from Argentina where less than 2% of people have dark skin.

My son didn’t perceive the other boy’s as different because of his color— he was only concerned about the sun effects on his skin. This observation taught me a lesson. Race is a social concept; it’s not part of our DNA, we learn it as we grow up.

Our mind is race agnostic until society teaches us that not all skin colors are equal.

The Color of our Minds

Kids naivety aside, the color of our skins are indeed determined by the sun. I’m not talking about getting tanned. Nature is wise; human skin has adapted over centuries as our early ancestors migrated across our planet.

There’s a direct correlation between skin color and latitude. The closer to the Equator, the darker the skin of those populations — the body creates a shield to protect itself from ultraviolet rays. In areas where winters are more extreme, and sunny days are limited — like in Chicago where I live now — a whiter skin helps produce more vitamin D.

All people alive today are Africans — like it or not, that’s how everything started.

The Homo Sapiens species evolved in Africa. We are all descendants of that continent as explained in this fascinating National Geographic piece. Modern genetic research has shown that all humans are closely related. We all have the same collection of genes, but slightly different versions of some of them.

The color of our skin has nothing to do with race — it’s a byproduct of adaptation.

Science has proven that the different types of skin are a consequence of how our ancestors dealt with sun exposure. However, when we think about race, the first thing that comes to mind is skin color. And, what’s even worse, not all are equal— white skin seems more special than the rest.

This hierarchy is artificial though. Someone got the science wrong, and many people conveniently took it as true. Hint: it helped start a war.

My kids playing. They worried about the sun, not skin colors.

Science Debunks Race Myths

“The concept of race has no genetic or scientific basis.”

— Craig Venter, DNA sequencing pioneer

The article mentioned above sheds light on how science created a racial hierarchy.

Studies performed by Dr. Samuel Morton wrongfully concluded, by studying skulls from various ethnic groups, that some races were superior to others.

Back in the 1820–30’s this Philadelphia physician collected and measured hundreds of human skulls to confirm that there were differences among the races — in particular, a difference in brain size.

Morton assigned the highest brain capacity to Europeans — with the English highest of all. Second was the Chinese, third was Southeast Asians and Polynesians, fourth was American Indians. The smallest brain capacity was assigned to Africans and Australian aborigines.

In the decades before the American Civil War, Morton’s ideas were used to justify slavery. Also, his belief that Native Americans could not integrate into modern industrial society was central to Andrew Jackson’s policy of Indian Removal.

Modern science has debunked the myth that certain races have more gifted brains than others. However, many people still take that belief as true. Our society is still paying a high price for it.

One Color Doesn’t Fit All

There are several manifestations of racism. Understanding them will help you understand how other minds work when it comes to the color of your skin.

Internalized racism refers to the feelings of self-hatred among oppressed groups. Their traits have been devalued in Western societies.

Colorism is discrimination based on skin color — darker-skinned groups are treated worse than lighter skin ones by whites or even members of their own race.

Subtle racism is described as a person who has implicit racial or other negative attitudes towards another group. It doesn’t always include acts of bigotry; it also involves everyday behaviors such as ignoring, ridiculing or treating people as less worthy of respect because of their race.

Regardless of the prejudice degree — many people are suffering the color of their skin, rather than feel proud of it.

Most recently, reverse racism has also gotten the media attention. Whites, who have been historically privileged, feel left out when society is trying to level the field for minority groups. However, many social activists challenge this notion.

Shadism and colorism are two phenomena that have flourished because of social pressure too. People feel insecure about their aspect and want to adapt to social ideals. Like the skin-whitening app on Facebook, that Vaseline launched in India, to allow users to whiten their profile pictures.

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