Isn't it about time to understand shades?

Published July 23, 2020

By Joe Mavretic

Every human being is packaged the same way. We have inner "skins" and an outer skin. The inner skins enclose vital organs and they are different colors. There is no mistaking the color of your liver from that of your heart. Our paper-thin outer skin, which keeps our whole package together, is a different matter.
Our outer skin, called the "Epidermis," has five layers from top to bottom; the Stratum Corneum, the Stratum Lucidum, the Saratum Granulosum, the Stratum Spinosum, and the Stratum Basal. This bottom layer is where "Melanin" is formed to protect  us against ultraviolet radiation. Melanocytes are the special skin cells that make Melanin. Everyone has the same number of melanocytes but some humans make more melanin than others. Melanin is responsible for determining skin, hair, feather, scale, and eye coloring in animals. There are at least four other positive characteristics of melanin: #1 Tends to absorb heat (good for snakes), #2 Helps concealment (good for leopards), #3 Helps visual acuity (good for eagles), #4 Helps resist skin abrasion (good for professional wrestlers). I can find no evidence of a characteristic that should enflame society! Skin shade is not important unless you need it for UV protection or you want it to matter in our customs-and we do!
All the 21 countries that I have visited have, imbedded in their culture, some form of belief that shade matters. It matters in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, in the East End of London, and if you think that Asia is exempt, you have never been in Okinawa. I have seen it in New York, San Francisco, Charlotte, Raleigh and Tarboro.
I have observed shade with a critical eye since I passed my class in "The Negro in the United States," taught by Guy B. Johnson, PhD, in the Spring semester of 1955-the same year that UNC-CH enrolled LeRoy and Ralph Frasier and John Lewis Brandon as the first African-American freshmen. Dr. Johnson’s class prepared me for my twenty-one years in a Corps where all Marines are green. My Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) in the Third Battalion Ninth Marines (3/9) had chaps named Eagle, Nunez, Jones, Lepic and Nava whose shades never got in the way of their mission. I spent fifteen years in our General Assembly where I chose my political allies based upon their intelligence and reliability-not the shade of their skin.
Over the years I’ve written about the ignorance surrounding the melanin in our epidermis. Now I’m  watching that stupidity fragment our society. The latest turbulence is a reflection of what went on culturally for centuries in places like Athens, Rome, Istanbul, and Bethlehem.
Over one hundred and fifty years ago the following passage was printed in Boston, "What is difficult, while it is perhaps more important, is to recognize the movement of the great heavy masses of men in the same direction. We have advanced to a period of the world when an idea without a people is as powerless as a general without an army. Where in the past it required centuries to incarnate the idea, henceforth we must look to the quickened hearts of the millions to realize it by their million eyes and hands. That is what liberty means, that is what popular education means….cultivated thinkers are sometimes alarmed at the signs of intellectual and moral movement among the masses….such signs are sometimes rude. The rebellion of a populace against ancient errors is apt to show itself in ridicule …but those are the signs of a growing perception of the ideals in whose light idols become grotesque."
I hope that this is where we are today. 
In America, we address the fundamental errors in our social contract by revolution. We revolted against the British for their oppression. We revolted amongst ourselves against slavery and America still hasn’t decided why we fought a civil war or how we should commemorate it. We have revolted against whiskey and for suffrage. We revolted about being drafted for a war we should never have waged and about where we sit on buses. After each revolution some things changed. I wonder, what is changing this time that will matter? Is race as a political advantage becoming a cultural liability?      Will breaking irreplaceable antique storefront windows change social attitudes? Will removing, or relocating, some statues change history? Will defunding law enforcement stop people from shooting each other? Will Federal programs that are intended to divide us begin to unite us? Will policy, power, and position replace shade or just intensify it? I do not know. Perhaps shades are a world-wide human affliction that will cause social conflict until we are all the color of sweet iced tea.
So….I ask myself, "What can I do in a positive way to help the change?" I am reminded of this Native American story
"Once there was a great forest fire, and all the birds and animals rushed to escape. Humming Bird went to the river and collected a drop of water. The other birds laughed. "What are you doing?" They asked. Humming Bird replied, "I’m doing what I can."
So should we all.