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Why am I black? I want to know.
Question Date: 2016-02-29
Answer 1:

All skin tones get their color from the same brown pigment, called melanin. People who have lots of melanin are said to have "black" skin, although their skin may vary from dark to medium brown. People who have less melanin are said to have "white" skin, although it is really a light brown.

Melanin protects your body tissue from harsh sunlight by absorbing it on the surface of your skin. Your skin will make more melanin to protect you if you spend time in direct sunlight. This causes your skin to darken, called "tanning". Everyone's skin can tan, even if your skin is naturally dark.

Some people with lighter skin do not produce melanin evenly so they get many dark freckles instead of tanning. No matter how much melanin you have, lots of direct sunlight can damage your skin and give you a higher risk for diseases like cancer. That's why it is best to use sunscreen lotion and cover up if you plan to be outside for a long time, even if your skin is naturally dark.

Your individual skin color is based on your genetic background - mostly determined by the skin color of your parents, your parents' parents and that of your ancestors, but there is some variation in each generation. (This means that your skin usually looks like your parents' but it might be slightly lighter or darker too. That's natural!)

People with darker skin color have ancestors who mostly lived in areas with sunlight all year round, like near the Equator. There, it was very important to be protected from the harsh sun. People who have lighter skin tones have ancestors who mostly lived in places where the sunlight was less direct or blocked by weather, like in northern Europe or Asia. There, people who were naturally born with lighter skin had a lower risk for health problems so they could more easily survive to be our ancestors. (Some rare people, known as albinos, are born without the ability to make melanin at all so their skin, hair and eyes are very pale. They have to be very careful about going out in the sun.)

For a long time, people thought that skin color determined many other traits about a person and so people were often separated into groups based just on their skin color. However, as we learn more about genetics, we find that everyone has more genes in common than they have different, no matter how different individual people may look from each other. People with similar skin color are more likely to have common ancestors but your skin color doesn't say anything more about you than your hair or eye color do. All of your colors are determined by different amounts of the same melanin that everyone has, in amounts that you inherited from your family.

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