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Melanin theory

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Melanin theory is the name given to various pseudoscientific claims made by some proponents of Afrocentrism, that a higher level of melanin – the primary skin pigment in humans – is the cause of an intellectual and physical superiority of dark-skinned people, and provides them with superior or even supernatural abilities.


Melanin theory posits that individuals' responses to social stimuli are determined by the prevalence of the skin pigment melanin.[1] Historian Stephen Ferguson describes melanin theory as a component of "strong" Afrocentrism, which assigns biological causes to social phenomena such as white supremacy.[2]:66 Proponents of melanin theory argue that insecurity among European males leads to efforts to socially dominate and emasculate African males, taking the form of unemployment, incarceration, and political and social marginalization.[1]

Proponents of the theory, including professor of black studies Leonard Jeffries[3][2]:56 and psychoanalyst and black supremacist[4] Frances Cress Welsing, argue without evidence that higher levels of melanin give black people inherently superior qualities to white people, including supernatural abilities such as extrasensory perception.[2]:67 According to Bernard Ortiz de Montellano, "the alleged properties of melanin, mostly unsupported, irrelevant, or distortions of the scientific literature, are [...] used to justify Afrocentric assertions. One of the most common is that humans evolved as blacks in Africa, and that whites are mutants (albinos, or melanin recessives)".[5]

Welsing states that Africans possess dominant genes in comparison to the recessive genes of Europeans, which, she posits, leads to a struggle by Europeans to maintain their genetic distinctness.[1] Welsing derived her hypothesis partly through a neo-Freudian analysis of cultural symbols rather than scientific evidence, arguing that the motivation for white supremacy is an unconscious response to white genetic and sexual inferiority. Ferguson equates this argument with "white male penis envy" toward black men.[2]:67–68[further explanation needed]

Melanin theory has been described as racist.[6][7]

In popular culture

In 2006, the views of adherents and critics of melanin theory were dramatized in Cassandra Medley's play, Relativity.[8]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Asante, Molefi Kete; Mazama, Ama, eds. (2005). "Melanin Theory". Encyclopedia of Black Studies. SAGE. pp. 328–329. ISBN 978-0-7619-2762-4.
  2. ^ a b c d Ferguson, Stephen C. (2015). Philosophy of African American Studies: Nothing Left of Blackness. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 56, 66–68. ISBN 9781137549976.
  3. ^ Morrow, Lance (24 June 2001). "Controversies: The Provocative Professor". Time. Vol. 138 no. 8. p. 19.
  4. ^ Newkirk, Pamela (September 2002). Within the Veil: Black Journalists, White Media. NYU Press. ISBN 978-0-8147-5800-7.
  5. ^ Ortiz de Montellano, Bernard (Winter 1992). "Magic Melanin: Spreading Scientific Illiteracy Among Minorities: Part II". Skeptical Inquirer. Vol. 16 no. 2. pp. 162–166.
  6. ^ Ortiz de Montellano, Bernard R. (2006). "Afrocentric Pseudoscience: The Miseducation of African Americans". Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 775: 561–572. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1996.tb23174.x. S2CID 84626939.
  7. ^ Mehler, Barry. "African American Racism in the Academic Community". Institute for the Study of Academic Racism, Ferris State University. Retrieved 12 August 2016.
  8. ^ Genzlinger, Neil (May 2, 2006). "Science and Race Issues Clash in Cassandra Medley's 'Relativity'". The New York Times.

Further reading

  • Ortiz de Montellano, Bernard R. (1 January 1993). "Melanin, afrocentricity, and pseudoscience". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 36 (S17): 33–58. doi:10.1002/ajpa.1330360604. ISSN 1096-8644.