The Scientific Indian

i-7f98967860f6e3f6528ae82d1be6af1b-250px-Albino_boy_tanzania.jpg Evolution is directed blindness, a muddling-through in the direction of survival and procreation. Very early on, evolution acquired a shopping bag: the Skin. A piece of astonishing molecular engineering that is protective, flexible, regenerative, self-healing, vitamin manufacturing, and porous to a precise degree. But, there is one catch. It is colored: we call it black, white (colorless, actually), brown, and various shades in between. Unlike a shopping bag which is deliberately colorful to attract buyers, the color of our skin has little to do with consumer behavior (there’s some sexual selection, but we’ll let that slide for our present rhetorical purposes). It is a function of the amount of sunshine that one’s ancestors had. This shining fact, ironically enough, escapes most of us, principally because we are not color blind. I am no expert in biology or consumer behavior, but I am sure you’ll agree that a shopping bag is one of those things that is very overrated, it’s contents judged purely by its cover.

Human skin is a shopping bag that evolution has filled with great many things: bones for occasional cracking, heart for spasms, kidneys for unease, brain for farting through the mouth, and more. While shopping through the aisles of biological organs, the skin acquired a black-colored pigment called melanin. It’s a useful varnish so long as humans stick around their place of birth. Unfortunately, humans have a penchant for wandering all over the place, losing the pigment in the process (or perhaps, never managing to pick it up in the first place while shopping). You may think that losing color is a unremarkable event, an event that deserves only a biological curiosity and no cultural analysis. Sadly, as you know, when it comes to skin color, evolutionary reasons are elbowed out by ignorance – ignorance that is ably assisted by cultural and racial prejudices.

So, after millions of years, the shopping bag of evolution is an explosive package that froths and foams with much angst and protests at its own color. The protests are necessary for our times, though, because while evolution has filled us with great many useful things, it has curiously under-filled a few things like reason, rationality and decency that one may consider more important than, say, hair around the genitals.