#WakandanSTEM: Teaching the evolution of skin color

Estimated reading time: 3 mins  (608 words)

February has been a good month.

I got featured on my friend Alexis’ blog for her: ‘Sully Asks A Scientist’ series.

My birthday brought me some major wardrobe upgrades:

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This jacket <3

And, most importantly, I went to see Black Panther. TWICE. And it may have resulted in me acting a little extra since…

Plenty of people have talked about how amazing this movie is and there’s a lot of great analysis on the story and aesthetics.

But what I want to talk about is the impact it’s had.

The memes, the outfits, the pure joy!

Black Panther has gotten so many of us to dream about a glorious Afrofuturistic world and I think that’s just magical.

I for one, want to see #WakandanSTEM happen.

I want Shuri to be our patron saint.

 

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Nothing but respect for MY princess

 

Next time someone asks me what I’m doing after this PhD, I’m gonna say I’m applying to be a professor at the University of Wakanda.

If I were a professor at U of Wakanda, I would, of course, be teaching Biological Anthropology and about 60% of my curriculum on Human Variation would be African Diversity (instead of the traditional 0%).

My favorite part would undoubtedly be teaching about the evolution of African hair diversity (but that’s going to have to wait until I actually have some results from this PhD).

A close second would be teaching about the evolution of skin color and African skin color diversity (which I’ve talked about before).

Even outside of the fictional realm of Wakanda, I love teaching about the evolution of skin color.

It’s one of the most amazingly diverse human traits and it has such a cool evolutionary history.

This summer, when I was teaching at the Genetics & Genealogy summer camp, I had the opportunity to teach the kids about the evolution of skin color.

It’s the most fun I’ve ever had teaching!

I loved watching these kids be amazed and excited at how evolution had generated all of the diversity that they see around them today.

 

And on a more personal level, I was really happy to be able to tell all the children of color in that room a story about skin color that was happy…

When I was growing up, the only time I was made aware of my skin color was when we were reading books discussing racism and the history of slavery.

Don’t get me wrong, these things are very important, and they should be taught.

But these were the only times I ever heard about and saw dark skin.

This means that throughout my time at school, kids (of all backgrounds) only learnt about dark skin in negative contexts.

Can you imagine how hard it is to think about your skin and only associate it with pain, injustice, and shame?

So, I’m really happy that after teaching them about the evolution of skin color, these kids will be able to associate dark skin with the wonders of natural selection.

They’ll know that dark skin is excellent at protecting you and your folate from the sun!

They’ll know that this is a trait that evolved in many different groups after generations of living in a sunny environment.

They will be able to look at dark skin and think about how amazing melanin is!

And I hope that knowing all these things will bring them joy and make them smile.

 

If you want to have a look at me teaching this lesson here is the video and I have links to the teaching resources below.

 

Link to the teaching resources on fyrclassroom.org

 

Tina Lasisi
Tina Lasisi
Postdoctoral Researcher in Biological Anthropology

My research interests include human phenotypic variation in hair morphology and skin pigmentation.

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