by Eleanor Mitten
Four times a year the virtual Project Center, facilitated by faculty Jeanais Brodie and Nicola Daniels, gathers current and past participants of the Wilmette Institute’s Anti-Black Racism in the U.S. course to learn from, and reflect on, participants’ meaningful creative initiative for racial justice and unity in their communities. Participants come from all over the country and a wide range of experiences, backgrounds, interests, and areas of expertise. These gatherings are open to everyone interested in learning more about projects that aim to contribute to a just, diverse, and united society. The Project Center strives to inspire each of us to nurture relationships and take action in our own sphere of influence.
Most recently, the Project Center hosted 35 people for the workshop The Science of Skin Color developed and offered by Khela Baskett. Building on what they had studied in the course, the participants investigated further how the concept of different races is a social construct with no basis in scientific fact. A former student in the Anti-Black Racism course, Khela has combined her work in chemistry and computer science at UC Berkeley and the Joint Genome Institute with her commitment to anti-racism education, especially regarding what we can learn about the unity of the human family from genetics and evolutionary biology.
In the interactive workshop, Khela presented groundbreaking new genetic and biological research by anthropologist Dr. Nina Jablonski of Penn State University, which explains a comprehensive theory of how our skin color is the result of evolution. Additionally, drawing on data from NASA, the workshop showed how Dr. Jablonski’s advanced research discovered environmental conditions over time necessitate variations in human skin color for the well-being of all of humankind. Participants learned about the evolutionary factors behind why our ancient human ancestors first evolved dark skin in Africa, and then how migration over the globe evolved a wide variety of skin colors. They examined what environmental conditions led to these changes, what environmental forces are still in play in the contemporary world, and considered the health implications for humanity facing modern changes in our environment, like climate change. Through facilitated discussions, they also thought about this innovative research in light of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings about the oneness of humankind.
Previously, Khela offered this workshop to over 70 youth gathered at Green Acre Bahá’í Center of Learning last summer for the Wilmette Institute’s Reconceptualizing Blackness: A Youth Call to Action. She has also presented it at the Colorado Winter School, and at conferences for professionals and Ph.D’s in scientific fields. As Khela explained, she has “yet to encounter a participant who comes in knowing the essential information taught in this workshop. This is because the research presented is so new, and because we tend to avoid talking explicitly about skin color in America.” The workshop gave the participants additional ways to consider in their own lives and in the life of society this moral imperative from the Universal House of Justice: “Every believer, as the promulgator of Bahá’u’lláh’s central principle of the oneness of humanity, should deeply meditate upon it and weigh its demanding implications for the profound alteration of thought and action required at this time.”
If you are interested in Khela offering this excellent workshop– bringing together science and justice in service to humankind–to groups in your community, you may contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
More information about Dr. Jablonski’s pioneering work here can be found here: https://www.psu.edu/impact/story/the-evolution-of-skin-color/
Watch The Science of Skin Color on YouTube (36 minutes)
The video below is Part 1 of the presentation. Scroll down for links to watch Khela’s Zoom breakout room, and Part 2–the plenary closing session of the workshop.
Khela’s Breakout Room (19.5 minutes)
Science of Skin Color Part 2 (25 minutes)