In humans, melanin is the primary determinant of skin color. People whose ancestors lived for long periods in the regions of the globe near the equator generally have larger quantities of eumelanin in their skins. Melanin theorists assert that the possession of greater quantities of melanin gives black people inherent superiority. Conversely, its lack demonstrates the alleged inhumanity and inferiority of white people.
Science and the melanin theory
Expanding upon known scientific properties of melanin, adherents of melanin theory claim that melanin bestows upon people of color superhuman abilities, with some contending that melanin is a superconductor. It is, in fact, a semiconductor. Some assert that it can absorb electromagnetic radiation; others that it can convert light and magnetic fields to sound; that it can process information without reporting to the brain; and, further, that it is the chemical basis for what is commonly called "soul".
It is also claimed that, because neuromelanin, which is found in the substantia nigra (in Latin, literally "black substance") of the human brain, plays a role in the transmission of neuronal impulses, higher levels of melanin in skin enable nerve synapses to fire more quickly and efficiently as well, thereby enhancing the natural athleticism of dark skinned people. However, no direct correlation between skin color and the level of melanin in the substantia nigra has been observed.
There is, however, a correlation between cutaneous melanin and the substantia nigra vis-a-vis Parkinson's disease, a neurological disease condition in which there is a loss of melanin-pigmented cells of the substantia nigra. Blacks have a significantly lower incidence of Parkinson's than whites, and it has been suggested that this observation, combined with the depigmentation, suggests that the reduced risk might be related to their increased melanin pigmentation.
Claims of melanin theory
White people as albino mutants
One of the notions of melanin theory is that white people are mutants, that white skin is an aberration, a form of albinism. Melanin theorist Wade Nobles takes this even further, stating that only Black people are fully human because of their higher levels of skin melanin:
That in the evolution of the species, in what some people call the Ontogenetic evolution of humankind, that in the evolution of the species the human family separated in a sense that one branch of the family stopped its evolutionary path and simply depended upon the central nervous system as the total machinery for understanding reality. Whereas, the root of the family continued its path and not only evolved a central nervous system but developed what I called at that time an essential melanic system. And that I even went so far as to try to develop a little formula and suggested that CNS + EMS = HB. CNS (Central Nervous System) + EMS (Essential Melanic System) = HB (Human Being). That the central nervous system combined with the essential melanic system is what makes you human. That, in fact, to be human is to be Black. To be human is to be Black. (Nobles 1989).
Others, such as psychiatrist and writer Frances Cress Welsing, express the same idea by their use of the term "hue-man" instead of "human,". Welsing is the author of "The Cress Theory of Color Confrontation" and "The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors". The Isis Papers ascribes certain purported, inherent and behavioral differences between black and white people to a "melanin deficiency" in white people:
On both St. Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, the white male gives gifts of chocolate candy with nuts…. If his sweetheart ingests "chocolate with nuts," the white male can fantasize that he is genetically equal to the Black male…. Is it not also curious that when white males are young and vigorous, they attempt to master the large brown balls, but as they become older and wiser, they psychologically resign themselves to their inability to master the large brown balls? Their focus then shifts masochistically to hitting the tiny white golf balls in disgust and resignation — in full final realization of white genetic recessiveness.
Welsing also posits that, because it is so easy for whiteness to be lost genetically during interracial breeding, light-skinned peoples developed an aggressive colonial urge, and their societies militaristically dominated others in order to preserve this light-skinned purity.
Melanin theorist Carol Barnes writes in his book Melanin: The Chemical Key to Black Greatness:
Melanin is responsible for the existence of civilization, philosophy, religion, truth, justice, and righteousness. Individuals (whites) containing low levels of Melanin will behave in a barbaric manner. Melanin gives humans the ability to FEEL because it is the absorber of all frequencies of energy. Since whites have the least amount of Melanin, this is why they are perceived by People of Color as generally being rigid, unfeeling (heartless), cold, calculating, mental, and "unspiritual."
This hypothesis is supported by black academic Leonard Jeffries, who was dismissed in 1992 from his post as chairman of the Harlem's City College Black Studies department for having allegedly made antisemitic statements. Jeffries claims that the pigment melanin is the source of intelligence and creativity. He divides humanity into African “sun people” and European “ice people,” the latter being not only melanin-deficient but born cold and greedy, militaristic, authoritarian, and possessed of a host of other racially determined defects.
Welsing also claims that the prevalence of high blood pressure among African Americans is because melanin picks up "energy vibrations" from people who are experiencing stress. Thus people with dark skin will absorb the effects of stress in others resulting in higher blood pressure. In fact, higher rates of hypertension among Blacks are linked to norepinephrine, a substance that the body produces under stress and which constricts blood vessels. Recent studies by Roger Allen at the University of Maryland show that, after being subjected to stress, Blacks exhibit elevated blood pressure at least ten times as long as do Whites.
Race and drug addiction
Barnes has charged that white scientists deliberately created drugs, such as cocaine, structured to bind chemically with melanin. Barnes claims that melanin and cocaine have a high affinity for each other because both are alkaloids, and that Black people get addicted faster, stay addicted longer, can test positive for cocaine even a year after its most recent use, and suffer more from these drugs because cocaine co-polymerizes into melanin.
It has been argued that when hair samples are used to test for drug use, people with darker hair may be more likely to test positive for cocaine use, because the binding with melanin ensures that traces persist for a longer period. This would apply to people with dark hair of any race. A 2005 study by Tom Mieczkowski and Michael Kruger suggests that the binding effect is minor.
Despite such apparent discrepancies, and while there is no evidence of a White conspiracy to compound addictive substances in order to target Blacks, there is an established link between one aspect of melanin-related biology and drug and alcohol addiction. However, this refers to melanin in the brain. No evidence exists that the amount of melanin in internal organs correlates with melanin in the skin; albinos, who have no skin melanin, have normal levels in the substantia nigra of the brain. The evidence is that melanin concentrating hormone (MCH) binds chemically to receptors in the brain to amplify addiction response. A 2008 study of cocaine addiction in rats conducted by researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine found:
Drug addiction is mediated by complex neuronal processes that converge on the shell of the nucleus accumbens (NAcSh). The NAcSh receives inputs from the lateral hypothalamus (LH), where self-stimulation can be induced. Melanin-concentrating hormone (MCH) is produced mainly in the LH, and its receptor (MCH1R) is highly expressed in the NAcSh. We found that, in the NAcSh, MCH1R is coexpressed with dopamine receptors (D1R and D2R), and that MCH increases spike firing when both D1R and D2R are activated. Also, injecting MCH potentiates cocaine-induced hyperactivity in mice. Mice lacking MCH1R exhibit decreased cocaine-induced conditioned place preference, as well as cocaine sensitization.
Additionally, researchers in the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior concluded that, while the mechanism for nicotine addiction is not fully understood, melanin has a "biochemical affinity for nicotine," and that the "greater the amount of melanin people have, the harder it could be for them to quit smoking." Other evidence indicates that "even though African Americans smoke fewer cigarettes than some other groups, they have a higher intake of nicotine from each cigarette."
The tobacco industry has been criticized by civil rights and health advocacy organizations for "aggressive" advertising and promotional campaigns targeting African-Americans. Furthermore, research also indicates that people with darker skin as a result of suntanning, regardless of inherited skin color, also have an increased risk of nicotine addiction. People "with the darkest skin tended to smoke the largest number of cigarettes."
In the arts
In 2006, the views of adherents and critics of melanin theory were dramatized in Cassandra Medley's play, Relativity.
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- Duncan, Elizabeth A.; Rider, Therese R.; Jandacek, Ronald J.; Clegg, Deborah J.; Benoit, Stephen C.; Tso, Patrick; Woods, Stephen C. (2006). "The regulation of alcohol intake by melanin-concentrating hormone in rats". Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior 85 (4): 728–735. doi:10.1016/j.pbb.2006.11.004.
- Chung, Shinjae; Hopf, F. Woodward; Nagasaki, Hiroshi; Li, Chun-Ying; Belluzzi, James D.; Bonci, Antonello; Civelli, Olivier (2009). "The melanin-concentrating hormone system modulates cocaine reward". PNAS 106 (16): 6772–6777. doi:10.1073/pnas.0811331106.
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- Neil Genzlinger, "Science and Race Issues Clash in Cassandra Medley's 'Relativity'", The New York Times, May 2, 2006