Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Skin deep

We were talking in my AP Biology class yesterday about the potential for skin damage from exposure to ultraviolet light.  Later in the day,  a student sent me a YouTube video called "How the Sun Sees You" that uses a UV-sensitive camera to see the sun damage on people's skin (and also illustrates that sunscreen does work, given that it looks an opaque black when filmed in the ultraviolet region of the spectrum).

All of which is well and good, but then I scrolled down to the comments section, which I know I should never do, and I found the following.  Spelling and grammar are as written, so I don't use up my "sic" allotment all in one go:
First off everyone has to stop believing that Melanin a.k.a. Carbon protects us from u.v. rays.  Carbon in the skin actually absorbs ultraviolet rays in a process that is now being called Ultrafast Internal Conversion.  Not one person has mentioned this..  The Elemental Compound for C Carbon is 666.  6 Electrons 6 Neutrons 6 Protons.  The origins of the 666.  The Catholics call It "the mark of beast" which is code for "mark of the our destroyers"  We all know that Carbon is the building blocks of life.  Carbon defines life therefore us Moors who are incorrectly referred to as "Black People" are the building blocks for Human life and biology.  This is true because no one else on the planet possesses the levels of Carbon in the body and brain quite like The Moors. (remember a moor is a black man or women)  In other words, us "Black people" are and forever will be The genetic template for the Human being.  Black ppl we are Human In it's truest form.  Of course there are plenty lies circulating the damn truth.  All non black people are merely human hybrids.  All races were genetically engineered from the supreme Human.  Clones much?  DARK POWER!!
So naturally I thought, "Well, that's a viewpoint I've never run into before."  (I also thought, "I hope this person is on medication" and "this is what it looks like when someone fails high school biology.")  But I did some research, and I found out that this is not the claim of a lone wacko.  This is the claim of a large number of wackos.  There's a whole school of thought (although I hesitate to use either word in this context) that revolves around the contention that people of African descent are superior because they have lots more carbon in them.

Take, for example, the page "Carbon & Melanin Secret of Secrets" over at the amazingly wacky site Godlike Productions.  In it, we find a wall of text that can be summarized as follows:
  • Carbon is some seriously mystical stuff.  Besides the 6-6-6 thing mentioned above, it has four bonds that are shaped like a swastika.
  • It also has something to do with the Buddhist "om," the Christian cross, and the Greek letters alpha and omega.
  • Melanin is dark.  So is carbon.  Therefore melanin is carbon.
  • Melanin is the "key to life" and is the "organizing molecule for living systems."
  • Melanin is an ordinary conductor, a semiconductor, and a superconductor.  Don't ask me how it can be all three at the same time.
  • Satan and Saturn are the same thing.
  • Because the symbol for carbon is C, and the symbol for cytosine (one of the nitrogenous bases in DNA) is C, they're the same thing.  It couldn't be because in English, both of them have names that start with "c."
  • Some other weird stuff about DMT and alchemy and prophecies that frankly I couldn't read because my eyes were spinning.
I read this whole thing with an expression like this:

What bothers me most about all of this is not that crazy people are making shit up.  That's what crazy people do, after all.  What bothers me is that apparently this claim has gotten some traction amongst people who want justification for believing that dark-skinned humans are intrinsically better than light-skinned humans, and who cannot even be bothered to take a look at the Wikipedia page for melanin, wherein we find that melanin isn't carbon.  It contains carbon, but after all, so does chalk, which last I looked was white.

The ironic thing is that when you talk to actual anthropologists and geneticists, most of 'em will tell you that the biological basis for race is tenuous at best.  Race is a cultural phenomenon, not a genetic one.  If you want your mind blown on this topic, consider the following quote from Alan Goodman:
Richard Lewontin did an amazing piece of work which he published in 1972, in a famous article called "The Apportionment of Human Variation." Literally what he tried to do was see how much genetic variation showed up at three different levels. 
One level was the variation that showed up among or between purported races. And the conventional idea is that quite a bit of variation would show up at that level. And then he also explored two other levels at the same time. How much variation occurred within a race, but between or among sub-groups within that purported race. 
So, for instance, in Europe, how much variation would there be between the Germans, the Finns and the Spanish? Or how much variation could we call local variation, occurring within an ethnicity such as the Navaho or Hopi or the Chatua? 
And the amazing result was that, on average, about 85% of the variation occurred within any given group. The vast majority of that variation was found at a local level. In fact, groups like the Finns are not homogeneous - they actually contain, I guess one could literally say, 85% of the genetic diversity of the world. 
Secondly, of that remaining 15%, about half of that, seven and a half percent or so, was found to be still within the continent, but just between local populations; between the Germans and the Finns and the Spanish. So, now we're over 90%, something like 93% of variation actually occurs within any given continental group. And only about 6-7% of that variation occurs between "races," leaving one to say that race actually explains very little of human variation...
But, for the most part, you know that the basic human plan is really the basic human plan, and is found almost anywhere in the world. Most variation is found locally within any group. Why don't we believe that? Because we happen to ascribe great significance to skin color, and a few other physical cues... And, in fact, though, these may happen to be a few of the things that do widely vary from place to place. But, that's not true under the skin. Rather, quite another story is told by looking at genes under the skin.
Which should really inform us about how we treat people who don't look like us, shouldn't it?  We're all human.  We have a vast overlap in our genetics, even if you choose two people who look very different from each other.  And at our cores, most of us want the same things -- food, shelter, love, security, compassion.  When we start claiming that people of different ethnicities deserve different levels of privilege, we're engaging in a mindset that is not only destructive, it's counterfactual.

And that applies to all racists equally, whether they're neo-nazis or cranks who claim that anyone without much melanin in their skin is an evil hybrid clone.

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