How did we get here?
If you are like me, you may be wondering how we arrived at this point. Until recently, I truly believed that the concept of racism, although still prevalent in our society, was not truly at the core of our issues as a school, as a city, and definitely not as a nation. I mistakenly believed that we were simply more evolved as a society. As a white female with a biracial niece and nephew, young kids in my life of color and a social media following of diverse perspectives and experiences, I felt that we were beyond a time period when we were considered more than or less than because of the color of our skin. As 2020 progressed, however, I realized that perhaps the question isn’t, "How did we get here?", but rather, "Why are we still here today?"
Like any good educator, I sought out to do some work. Realizing that the fate of an entire school community fell into my hands, I had to dig in and start grappling with the truth. Let me tell you friends, the work thus far has been rough. I don’t consider myself ignorant in many areas of life (outside of cooking, y’all - I can barely crack an egg), so digging into the deep racial divide that exists in our country, in our state, in our city, in our school, and yes, even among my family and friends, was insightful. Hurtful. Riveting. Dreadful. Suddenly, the processing I was doing on a daily basis as I read the next book, followed the next advocate or talked with my fellow friends was exhausting. Exhilarating. All-consuming. Shameful. I have never questioned my identity to this extent in my entire life. This work is legit. It is difficult. It is transformational, if you will allow the discomfort that true transformation and evolution requires.
I am setting out to prepare a reflective series that is going to marry historical fact with scientific reasoning and Biblical truth. To be honest, I am not sure that I am the person equipped to lead you all on a journey such as this; however, I feel compelled, and I am learning not to argue when I am called. Please do me a favor and note, however, that I am simply an imperfect human who is evolving and striving just like you. I am not an industry expert. I have no credentials and no merits other than my meager humanity and hungry curiosity to seek the truth. I definitely haven’t uncovered it all just yet, but I am honored that you are joining me in the deep, rich soul work I have been engaging with over the course of several texts, many late nights, and more than a few heartbroken sobs.
The section that follows is my preliminary attempt to make sense of how we got here. And I am starting at the very beginning of mankind.
Genesis 1:26-26 states, "Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."' Friends, we were made, from the very beginning, in the image of God. Chapter 5:1-2 continues, "This is the written account of Adam’s family line. When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God. He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created." In the first few pages in the book of life, it is confirmed that we - as in ALL of us WE - are made in the image of God.
“Imago Dei” is a Latin term translated into English as “image of God.” Throughout scripture, we can see evidence of how man was made in the image of God. That means you. That means me. The first chapter of the Bible doesn't talk about race, or the color of our skin. We were simply created in His image, with the intention of ruling over creation, propelling it forward. Thus, we are all descended from Adam - the world's first man - made of one blood, members of one human race. Acts 17:26 further explains, "From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands," (NIV). Even after the flood, the world repopulated. So how did we become so scattered? So different looking? So culturally unique?
The Tower of Babel
If you remember, although we were made in God's image, mankind is prone to sin. That's what led to the flood in the first place. Unfortunately, man continued to disobey the commandments of God. At the Tower of Babel, God's frustration led to the confusion of language, making the intermingling of people groups more difficult due to communication challenges. Groups separated and spread out geographically, leading to the genetic isolation of various people groups. Eventually, these groups developed their own unique cultures and ways of being. Some physical traits, such as skin, hair, and eye color, became more prominent among certain groups. These ethnic characteristics should not, however, be confused with race. All mankind was, and still is, born from one singular father, Adam, and one singular mother, Eve (see Genesis 3:20).
Genetics and Scientific Reasoning
Let's take a look at how various skin colors may have come to be. First, a brief lesson in melanin - the pigment responsible for the color of our skin. Melanin comes in two forms - brown to black (called eumelanin) and red to yellow (called pheomelanin). The amount of each in a person's DNA determines each individual's skin tone. That, my friends, is simply the way it is.
So, why do some of us have very dark skin, while others' skin is very pale? Geographic dispersal after the sin committed by the people at the Tower of Babel seemingly caused skin color variation to occur. For example, people living closer to the Equator had darker skin than those living in northern regions, potentially protecting them from the intensive sunrays of a tropical geographic environment. Higher levels of melanin may protect these populations from a greater risk of skin cancer due to high exposure to the sun. People living in the north experience lesser degrees of sunlight, thus needing lighter skin (and lower levels of melanin) in order to soak in as much Vitamin D as possible. By the need to survive, darker skinned individuals had a greater opportunity to thrive in regions near the Equator, and lighter skinned individuals had a higher probability of thriving in regions with lesser light. As individuals whose skin was not as conducive to survival in the geographic region died out, favorable characteristics were passed on through the gene pool while less favorable characteristics died out.
So what would cause some people to have very dark skin while others’ skin is lighter? Where they live makes a difference. For example, darker skin on people living in regions near the equator protects them from intense sunlight, reducing their risk of skin cancer. People in higher latitudes where there is less intense sunlight need lighter skin to produce vitamin D efficiently. In each case those who had the characteristics conducive to living in the region stayed and reproduced. Those who didn’t either moved on or died out.
The moral of the story? We all have melanin - the same skin pigment - just at varying levels. Some of us have more and some of us have less. People with higher levels of pigment are called Black, and those of us with lower levels of pigment are called White. We are truly varying shades of the same color - brown. (Adam and Eve were most likely of this middle shade.) We can conclude that humanity flourishes with the diversity in skin color, and would be weakened by forced uniformity.
We will continue to further how we got here and what we can do to be humans towards each other this week on the blog. Today, however, it merits reflecting on the beginning, who we are, and how we came to be.
Linger a Little Longer:
1. What goes through your mind when you read that God created humans in his own image? What does that mean to you?
2. Read Genesis 3:20. What is the significance of this verse?
3. Explain how science and Biblical truth are married as evidence for one human race. How has your perspective changed after marrying these two truths?