Category Archives: Family and Community

My Happy Place

My Happy Place

By Keira Kelly, age 17, Missouri.

The all-consuming monster that is anxiety has ruled over my mind for my entire life. Growing up “shy” is cute, but staying a quiet, on-edge shell of a person loses its charm with age.

“Just take deep breaths, count to ten,” my mother would say.

“Calm down, it’s nothing to get worked up about,” my father would say.

“You can’t avoid everything that makes you a little anxious, Keira,” my teachers would say.

Nothing they said worked; anxiety comes as naturally to me as breathing, and no amount of deep breaths or mental perseverance could calm the storm once it decided to hit; those who say otherwise have never experienced such a dreadful feeling.

I started therapy in my freshman year of high school, due to my parents growing worried when I was getting too old for the “cute, shy little girl” routine. Dr. McBride was the first to understand that my anxiety was a real disorder, not just a little emotion I had to overcome. I was prescribed medicine, and she gave me a place to talk about my issues. She understood me, more than anyone else. She listened to what I had to say and validated my emotions, and understood.

Then, she offered a coping mechanism that worked for me.

“Find your happy place.”

What a cliché. Just like the deep breaths and counting to ten, I assumed this to be another useless measure that others thought helped with anxiety, yet held no merit. The extent of my anxiety tended to cause depressive episodes, so, originally, my “happy place” was only my bed, where I could curl away and hide from the real world. Warm, cozy blankets surrounding me seemed like absolute bliss, when, realistically, they sprung me deeper and deeper down a lonely spiral.

“No, Keira, find the place. The place where worry does not exist, where it is impossible to feel unsafe or insecure. That’s your happy place.”

It took some time to think it over, but I soon came to the revelation that I was capable of being happy outside of my bed; in fact, I could be even happier.

Ever since then, whenever I’ve gotten too stressed or worried or sickly anxious to cope with my everyday responsibilities, I take a moment to imagine myself in a field full of wildflowers, with birds chirping quiet songs in my ears, sunshine warming my skin, fresh flowers surrounding me. Around the field would always be a forest, which granted me a sense of safety, symbolizing that the unknown could surround me all it wanted, but I still had my beautiful space, one that belonged to me, and to me only.

West Boulder River Valley, with Absaroka Mountains in the Background, Montana. Photo by Paul Dix, Oregon.

The fictional safe haven I created in my imagination is represented by this image, which resonates deeply with me, granting an inherent sense of calm. I can imagine myself walking down the paved path, allowing my senses to absorb the beauty surrounding me, and the terrible monster inside of me dwindles.

One day, I’d like to visit my happy place. I have yet to find it in the real world, so, in the meantime, I can continue to travel there in my mind, living amongst nature and forgetting the horrors of reality.

—Keira Kelly, age 17, Missouri. She adds: “My goal… is to become a published author, hopefully one day, of a fiction novel. What I enjoy most about writing is the artistic creativity available in carefully choosing and stringing together words to create a beautiful piece. I’ve adored writing ever since I was little, and I am ecstatic to explore how far I can reach with this passion. I wish to continue Creative Writing programs in college, and depending on my success rate, pursue a career as a full-time author. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to begin my journey.”

A S.T.E.M. Woman from India

A S.T.E.M. Woman from India

By Saroj Pathak, originally from India, now lives in California.

My 50 years of professional life have been a series of challenges, failures, triumphs, and also a few shattered glass ceilings. I would like to share my experiences and describe some of the twists and turns, and the choices I made.

I grew up in Indore, Central India. We were six siblings growing up in a middle-class family. In the 1960s, my high school, St. Raphael H.S., did not offer math major to girls! I was exceptional in Math and wanted to pursue my passion. My father talked to Mrs. Jagdale, who was the head of a small public school nearby. Mrs. Jagdale, an early Women’s Rights pioneer, said, “If our girls want to take math, we have to start math classes.”

Now retired, Saroj Pathak Recently Visited the Historic Site of Mandu, near the city of Indore, Madhya Pradesh (Autumn 2023)

So my sister and I moved to Mrs. Jagdale’s school. In the nurturing environment of this small school, I ranked third in the state’s high school board examinations, an exceptional achievement!

From 1965 to 1969, I attended S.G.S.I.T.S., the only engineering college in Indore (M.P.). There were only five female students in the entire college. We had to fight for a small private bathroom and a tiny women’s room. I excelled in my chosen field of Electronics and Electrical Engineering and held the first rank in all branches of engineering throughout the four years. I was like a sponge; I absorbed everything offered. There was so much to learn from all my professors.

As graduation approached, I started looking for options for further studies. My parents were liberal but still would not send their daughter away for higher education out of state. And, I didn’t have the audacity to argue.

Dr. Dasgupta, the head of the college, recognizing my potential, and created an opportunity for me to pursue higher education in collaboration with the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (I.I.T.) at Bombay (now, Mumbai), while working as a lecturer at G.S.I.T.S. in the Electronics Department. While satisfying my drive to excel, this enabled me to live at home. I taught for three years while completing my Master’s degree in Engineering in Control Systems from I.I.T. Although this experience was challenging, I wanted more.

I reached for a moonshot and applied for and was awarded a Rotary International Scholarship to study abroad. It was an easy decision to select University of California at Berkeley for further studies. I dared to dive head-on into the unknown, knowing only one person in America; a graduate student who had graduated from S.G.S.I.T.S. a few years ahead.

It was shocking for me to realize that I was the ONLY female student in the graduate school of electrical engineering, even at this prestigious university. The students and the professors were friendly and treated me with the utmost respect and kindness.

After graduating from U. C. Berkeley with a Master’s in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, I worked as a semiconductor design and development engineer at American Microsystems in the Silicon Valley of California. When I came in for the job interview, the manager and engineers were shocked to see a female candidate. Women engineers were rare.

The Silicon Valley was full of type-A men, hungry for fame and wealth. It was a norm to “pull all-nighters.” All the engineers were transplants from somewhere else, and without family obligations; we worked hard and played harder. We created a family regardless of skin color or gender. We were on an endorphin high from the success of our innovations.

From 1975 to 1983, I worked with a small group of engineers at Intel Corporation; that’s where we invented and produced the first ‘non-volatile’ memory chips. These were the first chips that retained data (information) after unplugging the power supply. This was revolutionary! We published international papers, had numerous patents, and enjoyed the glory of success. I was a manager by this time and always felt respected and valued. My opinions counted, and I had the center seat at the table.

In 1983, I was offered a job at a Startup company to set up a non-volatile product line. My initial response was NO. I had an eight-month-old son and a three-year-old daughter. I was unwilling to work long hours. Since the company’s CEO wouldn’t take NO for an answer, we negotiated. I agreed to join the company, understanding that I could go home at 5 p.m. every day. The company provided flexibility, and I used my professional judgment to balance work and family needs.

Two years later, the room was packed with engineers from around the world when I presented a research paper on the First High-Speed Non-Volatile Memory at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC). My children sat in the front row. By then, I was confident and assertive enough to invite my children without asking.

When a Vice President position opened up, I did not consider it because I knew it meant working very long hours, and I did not want to sacrifice time with my children. Later, when the children were older and busy with school activities, I accepted a position as Director of a multinational research and development group in a different company. Most often, I was the only woman in the room where the decisions were made. Yet I also attended most of the swim meets, music lessons, cross-country running events and other activities with my children.

After 45 years in business, I decided to follow my lifelong goal of helping the younger generation in STEM field. I am passionate about the accessibility of primary science education to all children. To that end, I have started a non-profit that teaches science fundamentals to children of all socioeconomic statuses. I mentor through Stanford Mentorship Connections and other non-profit organizations. I am also the president of a local Kiwanis club whose mission is the education and well-being of children.

Advice to My Younger Self:

* Enjoy the ride. The trailblazing path is littered with obstacles, but there is no greater joy than facing challenges and finding solutions.

* Discover your core values and be true to them. Define your goals on your terms. Do not let others decide who you should become. Sort through the clutter of cultural baggage and embrace that which gives you joy.

* Be like a river flowing constantly towards the ocean, soft and flexible, but always focused on the destination. Change directions, detour if necessary, or carve a new valley, but keep flowing towards your goal.

* Be confident. You are stronger than you feel, smarter than you think, and braver than you know. Use any fear as motivation to be successful. That fear will then turn into confidence.”

* Educate yourself and acquire indispensable skills.

* Take chances. Inventions are just a step away from failure. Become comfortable with failure and learn from it.

* Dare to shatter glass ceilings, even if that means cuts and bruises. The pain of cuts and bruises is the price you pay to help your daughters and granddaughters.

* Most importantly, find a mentor. Find several mentors. Surround yourself with your cheerleaders. Find inspiration from the life stories of the pioneers who paved the path before you. From mythological women to recent ones, our (Indian) history is full of women who advanced humanity through their ingenuity, courage, and persistence.

* Be a mentor. You are standing on the shoulders of giants. Later, you can offer your shoulders to those following you.

* Be ready to choose. Most successful people have made difficult choices to get there.

* Find a supportive spouse. Sheryl Sandberg, author of “Lean In” and ex-CTO of Facebook, said, “The single most crucial decision you will make in your life is whom you marry, for this will determine the rest of your life.” She was talking to graduates of Harvard Law School.

* “Start the conversation before committing to marriage, not after.” Did you know that the Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg credited her husband for her success?

In Conclusion, as a young adult in STEM fields, I would like you to be brave, explore, and take chances. Show up daily, sit at the table, and speak up in a firm, clear and compassionate voice. Act like the fate of humanity depends on you because it does.

—Saroj Pathak, originally from India, lives in California. She shared this advice with engineering students at her Alma mater in Indore, India, in November 2023.

Photo: Saroj in Indore, Nov. 2023.

Balance


Balance

“Girl Riding A Horse” by Aadya Agarwal, age 12, New Jersey.          

 

As the wind weaved through my black hair,
Flying in the golden sunshine,
A sudden gush of independence rushed at me.

On top of my slender caramel horse,
I measured north to south, east to west,
All painted with a rural landscape.

I was on top, on top of my mighty world,
I could have done anything!
Yet, riding along with my jovial spirits, I felt something.
A ball of fear knotting up in my stomach.

Freedom and Independence were new, they were fresh.
Alas, they did not come free!
In front of me, loomed a bridge,
A bridge between Protection and Freedom

While protection offers security,
It’s also a locked cage.
While freedom demands responsibility,
You are the person you choose to be.

And then there is a balance between the two.
As on my slender caramel horse,
I ride free, the gentle strap safely protecting me.

Aadya Agarwal, age 12, New Jersey. She writes: The inspiration for my poem came from a horseback riding adventure I went on while vacationing in India this past summer. The entire experience filled me with a range of emotions of independence, confidence, fear and anxiety and my attempt to balance it all in that moment. It was truly an experience that I will never forget and something that unraveled an important question about freedom and responsibility for me.”

Fear of Failure

Fear of Failure

By Olivia Macy Leonard, age 15, New York.

It’s just a line
All you have to do is draw a line
A straight, plain, normal line
Nothing more
Just take your pen, pencil, marker
Doesn’t matter what you use
Doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect
Doesn’t matter what color
Doesn’t matter if it’s short or long
But you hesitate for a second 
And then a minute
Then 5 minutes
Now 10 minutes
And that turns into 30 minutes
Soon it’s been an hour
5 hours pass
You realize it’s been a day
Finally, it’s a week later
And you still haven’t drawn that one line
The simple line

Why?

All because you were scared
All because you didn’t want to mess up
All because you wanted it to be perfect

All because you didn’t want to fail.

—Olivia Macy Leonard, age 15, New York.

Mariana on the Night Shift

Mariana on the Night Shift

By Ann Malaspina, New Jersey

 

Mrs. Benton called out from the front of the classroom. “Are you with us, Mariana?”

Mariana lifted her head from her desk. She had fallen asleep in history class. How embarrassing!

“Sorry, Mrs. Benton,” she murmured, sitting up straight.

A boy giggled. Abby, who sat next to her, leaned over. “Don’t worry,” she whispered. “Everyone falls asleep at least once in this boring class.”

History class wasn’t boring to Mariana. She loved learning about the past. Mrs. Benton made history interesting by talking about ordinary people, not just presidents and other famous men. This week, they were learning about Dolores Huerta, the labor leader who helped farmworkers earn better pay and improve their living and working conditions.

The lunch bell rang, and Mariana walked slowly out of the classroom.

“Are you okay?” asked Abby, coming up from behind.

Abby lived down the street from Mariana’s uncle and aunt, Tia Luna and Tio Miguel. Mariana had been staying in their house since the summer.

Mariana yawned. “I guess so.”

“My dad said he saw you at the factory the other night,” Abby said. “Were you visiting your uncle?”

Mariana’s uncle worked at the cereal factory, just like Abby’s parents. Her mother worked in the office and her father drove a truck for them. Almost every family in town had someone who worked at the factory.

“Yes,” Mariana lied.

But she could hear her mother’s voice. “Never lie, mi hija. A lie always comes back to bite you, like a mosquito.” Suddenly, she missed Mami, who lived in Mexico City, many miles from Mariana.

The two girls sat at a picnic bench. Abby began eating her lunch, but Mariana wasn’t hungry. She took a deep breath.

“I wasn’t there to see my uncle,” she said. “I work the night shift.”

“The night shift?” Abby put down her sandwich. “You’re not even fourteen! My mom said I can’t work until I’m sixteen.”

“My uncle got me the job. I help pack the cereal on the line,” said Mariana. “It’s easy.”

“Easy” was another lie.

The first hours of her shift weren’t so bad. Mariana pushed bags of oat squares into cereal boxes as they traveled past her on the conveyor belt. An older worker helped Mariana if she fell behind. But, by 11 PM, her feet hurt. Her back ached. And her head pounded from the noisy machinery. She still had three hours to go.

Before Abby could ask more questions, Mrs. Benton walked up them.

“Can you come see me after school, Mariana? There’s a book I want you to read.”

 

When Mariana stepped into Mrs. Benton’s classroom, her teacher asked her to sit down.

“I hear that some of our students are working at the factory!”

It was true. Mariana had seen a half-dozen other children working the night shift. Mariana felt like she might cry. Her uncle had told her not to talk about her job to anyone, and she’d already told Abby.

Mrs. Benton quickly said, “You don’t have to answer. I just want you to know the facts. It’s not safe—or legal —for children your age to be working in a factory. There are labor laws that protect children. The laws were written to keep children safe from harm.”

Mariana looked down. Her right thumb was bruised from two nights ago. It had gotten caught under conveyor belt. She overheard someone say Mariana was too small for the job.

Mrs. Benton pulled a book from the shelf. On the cover, a girl stood at a conveyor belt like the one at the factory.

Mariana put the book in her backpack. Ever since she started working, Mariana could barely finish her homework, much less read extra books. Luckily, today was Friday, her day off.

That night, Mariana read stories from history about a farm girl who operated a loom in a cotton mill, a boy who worked in a coal mine, and a boy who sold newspapers in New York City. A shiver went up her back when she read about the girl catching her finger in the cotton loom. “Even though laws protecting children from unsafe work were passed in the 20th century, child labor continues to the present day,” she read.

Tio Miguel woke her up early on Saturday. “I got you a day shift today,” he said. “Hurry and eat your breakfast.”

Mariana sat down at the kitchen table. She stirred her scrambled eggs, thinking hard. Her teacher’s words —“It’s not safe or legal”—kept swirling in her head.

But the problem wasn’t so simple. Tia Luna had hurt her back while lifting heavy boxes at the factory. She hadn’t worked for a whole year. The family needed Mariana’s help to pay the bills. Still, there must be another solution.

Mariana put down her spoon. “I’m not allowed to work at the factory. I’m not old enough. It’s the law.”

“What?!” Tio Miguel’s coffee cup spilled. “I need you to work. Otherwise, you can’t stay here.” 

Mariana touched the angel on her necklace. Mami had given it to Mariana when she left home. The angel made her feel strong.  Maybe Mariana would be a writer when she grew up. A writer like the one who wrote about the mill worker, the coal miner, and the newspaper boy. To be a good writer, Mariana couldn’t fall asleep in history class.  

Tia Luna rushed into the kitchen. “What’s all the arguing about?” 

Mariana told her the same thing she had told her uncle. She added, “I fell asleep in class yesterday!”

Her aunt’s eyebrows went up. 

“She’s right, Miguel,” she said, briskly wiping up the spilled coffee. “Mariana is a smart girl. She needs to be awake at school. Anyway, my back feels a lot better. I’m ready to go back to work.”

Tio Miguel sighed deeply. “Life is not easy. All I want is to pay our bills.”

Tia Luna hugged Mariana. “We love having you here. We made a big mistake. From now on, your job is to go to school.”

There was a knock on the door.

Abby held her soccer ball under her arm. “Can you practice soccer in the park?” 

Mariana looked at her aunt and uncle. They smiled and nodded. 

Grabbing her cleats, Mariana ran out the door. “Yes, let’s go!”  

The End

—Ann Malaspina, author and educator, New Jersey. Ann has published many picture books and nonfiction books on social issues, including on the important issue of child labor. Please visit http://www.annmalaspina.com to learn more about her literary work.

 

Betrayal

Betrayal

By Siah Giji, age 13, New York.

Betrayal, a word so bitter and cold
A stab in the back, a heart turned to stone
A trust once given, now broken and old
A bond once strong, now shattered and sold
The sting of betrayal, a wound so deep
A hurt so profound, it cannot sleep
The memories linger, the pain so real
A betrayal so cruel, it cannot heal
The world may move on, the pain may fade
But the memory of betrayal will never be made
A wound so deep, a scar so wide
A betrayal so profound, it cannot hide

By Siah Giji, high school freshman, New York, adds: “I am passionate about writing and determined to improve my skills. Despite English not being my first language, I’ve come a long way, and at just 13 years old, I’ve written a poem that reflects my growth. My first language that was taught to me by my parents is Malayalam and even though I do not know how to write in this language my family and I communicate using this language. 

My South Indian cultural background has deeply influenced my perspective and creativity. What’s important to me is embracing diversity, preserving cultural richness, and promoting inclusivity.

In crafting this poem on betrayal, my aim was to capture the raw emotions associated with a broken trust, specifically in the context of a betrayal of my trust by so many of my closest people. The poem delves into the complex layers of emotions and reflections that arise when those you hold closest prove to be unreliable. It’s a personal exploration of the feelings one goes through when faced with the harsh reality of trust shattered by those who were supposed to be the closest.”

Irwin Noparstak, Social Justice Advocate

Irwin Noparstak, Social Justice Advocate

Our long-time friend and social justice advocate, Dr. Irwin Noparstak, passed away in late October at the age of 84. He worked on mental health issues, and after retirement, he became involved in several interfaith organizations because he felt it was important for him to represent progressive Judaism in various settings. Over 200 people of various faith traditions attended the service. My friend, Marion Malcolm of the Community Alliance of Lane County, who worked with Irwin for several decades, spoke at the memorial service held for him at the Temple Beth Israel in Eugene. Here are a few excerpts from her talk:

“Irwin did an amazing job of educating, advocating and organizing on a range of social justice issues. I was among the many who were fortunate to work side by side with him. To all the causes that drew his energy he brought both passion, deep passion, but also precision. Precision is not always a hallmark of grassroots efforts, but the efforts Irwin was involved with benefited from his attention to detail and to his careful note-taking. He often circulated notes the same day a meeting happened. Irwin was never a passive participant. He always more than pulled his weight in any group that enjoyed his involvement.

Irwin opposed U.S. intervention in Central America, distressed by the parallels he saw to the Vietnam War in which he had served and which he had come to strongly oppose. Irwin would have traveled to El Salvador or Nicaragua on the delegations that were happening in those years, but he didn’t feel he could responsibly do that, as he was a single parent at that time, devoted to his adopted daughter, Jacquelyn.

Irwin’s values and political perspectives influenced his practice as a psychiatrist. He served many Vietnam veterans, helping them work through the impact of their wartime experiences on their lives. He was at the same time part of a community of anti-war veterans. He also worked for Alternatives to Militarism and became engaged in counter-recruitment work, challenging the hype of military recruiters and making sure that young people knew what they were getting into before they enlisted. We knew that young people received a barrage of glossy materials from all branches of the military about the time they turned 18, and that the military promised job skills, education, and travel. So, using lists of new drivers from the DMV (Dept. of Motor Vehicles) back when those were still publicly available, we developed a “birthday packet” that we sent to young people turning 18, pointing them to other ways to find jobs and to serve abroad, ways that did not involve militaristic intervention. I remember sitting at the table in the CALC office with Irwin, addressing those packets.

Irwin was a strong advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and a key activist in the Religious Response Network. The RRN existed to make sure that far right groups and congregations were not the only voices emanating from religious communities, that an interfaith community could send messages of acceptance and love, could offer safety and support.

Irwin opposed bigotry of all kinds. He and his wife Joan were partners with us, in founding the Understanding Antisemitism Project… It involved vulnerability and a bit of courage. And I know that Irwin often did not feel safe in Eugene as a Jew. I know that he felt haunted by the cross that used to stand on Skinners’ Butte, where KKK crosses once burned. He may not have felt safe, but that did not stop him.

I want to say a few words that go beyond all Irwin’s work for human rights and social justice, all his challenging of militarism and bigotry, to talk about the way he did the work, to talk about the comradeship he built among those he worked with, the way he became a sweet, thoughtful, supportive friend to his colleagues. If you collaborated with Irwin, you knew he saw you, you knew he cared about you. You probably received some of his personal notes on cards that he made with his photos. He lent his love and strength to many of us who were fortunate to become his friends. He helped us all keep going.”

I knew Irwin for about 25 years. We saw each other at our Interfaith Dialogue group every month. He was a strong supporter and contributor to Skipping Stones. Each year he gave gift subscriptions to many people he knew—young friends, educators, rabbis, and ministers. We will miss him dearly.

Irwin touched so many lives and we’re sure, saved some lives too. So, in sorrow but with deep gratitude, we want to say, “Irwin Noparstak, presente, presente, presente.” Irwin Noparstak is still with us, still with us, still with us.

—Marion Malcolm and Arun N. Toké, editor.

Skin Pigmentation, Skin Cancer and Vitamin D Deficiency

Skin Pigmentation, Skin Cancer and Vitamin D Deficiency

By Parnian Derahvasht, Grade 11, Ghods Girls High School, 8th District, Tehran, Iran

Humans have been migrating throughout history. It is believed that the first Homo sapiens migrated out of Africa about 50 to 70,000 years ago, likely due to climate changes in Africa. [1]

As they left Africa to settle in other regions of the planet, they also interacted with other archaic human species such as the Neanderthals and Denisovans who were already living in those areas. [2]

Factors such as UV exposure, altitude and latitude, food sources, the overall climate, etc. vary from location to location and each species that inhabits those areas must have the biological qualities that are required for its survival and reproduction in that environment. Our ancestors did not have those qualities when they first migrated out of Africa and it took many generations to gain those traits and for natural selection to take part in this process although interbreeding with the Neanderthals and Denisovans did speed up the process and was advantageous for our survival in the new environment.

Our adaptive introgression inherited from Neanderthals has affected genes associated with body fat distribution, muscle contraction, brain size and functioning, keratin filaments, enamel thickness, sugar metabolism, as well as oocyte meiosis. Humans inhabiting in various locations on Earth adapted to those places and, as a result, the genes related to variation in skin pigmentation and hair morphology showed signs of positive selection. [3]

Melanin, which provides the skin with pigmentation, is also a filter for the ultraviolet radiation (UVR) that we are constantly exposed to. Long-term exposure to the sun’s UVRs can damage our DNA and lead to the development of skin cancer. In order to resolve this issue, we evolved to have particular amounts of melanin according to the environment we live in.

For example, in places with high latitude and low UVR, it is more favorable to have lighter skin. This is because of the fact that there is not much UVR to damage the DNA, so having skin that allows these rays to penetrate the skin to produce vitamin D is crucial for the individual’s well-being in that environment. It is a similar situation for darker skin populations that live in low latitudes (near the equator) where there is high UVR. It is best to have highly pigmented skin for a protection against the sun’s high levels of UV radiations.

The Fitzpatrick scale is a numeric chart for human skin color classification. It was developed in 1975 by Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, an American dermatologist, as a way to guess the response of different types of skin pigmentation to UV light.[4] In the Fitzpatrick scale, there are six major skin color categories:

Type I: Always burns, never tans (palest; freckles)

Type II:  Usually burns, tans minimally (light colored but darker than fair)

Type III:  Sometimes mild burn, tans uniformly (golden honey or olive)

Type IV:  Burns minimally, always tans well (moderate brown)

Type V:  Very rarely burns, tans very easily (dark brown)

Type VI:  Never burns (deeply pigmented dark brown to darkest brown)

The potential of skin cancer varies between the categories, with the highest being in Type I, and the lowest chance being in Type VI. To put it simply: the lighter the skin the higher risk of developing skin cancer and burning. The darker the skin, the lower the risk of developing skin cancer and burning.

Although skin cancers can occur in any type of skin color, it is more likely to be seen in white populations as their skin is not well protected against the sun’s UV radiations. The most common type of skin cancer among white individuals is BCC (Basal Cell Carcinoma), followed by SCC (Squamous Cell Carcinoma). Both are non-melanoma skin cancers and can be cured if detected early. Lastly, the third most common kind of skin cancer is melanoma which can spread to other parts of the body and can be fatal.[5]

As said earlier, the human race has been migrating to new environments since our species first emerged. As human beings became more advanced, environmental factors became less of a reason for migration; instead, social and political factors such as wars, conflicts and government persecutions have been the main reasons for migration during these past centuries. Whatever the reason may be, not many people acknowledge the long-term health risks that come with migration to a completely different environment.

For years, there has been a skin cancer crisis in Australia. According to the website “World Cancer Research Fund International,” Australia had the highest overall rate of melanoma of skin in 2020, followed by New Zealand. [6] This could be because of a number of reasons including Australia experiencing high levels of UVR, resulting from the reduction in their ozone layer since the 1970s or the culture of tanning that has gained a lot of popularity over the decades. It is interesting to know that most of these cancer cases are in white Caucasian immigrants, and this is mainly because of the low levels of melanin that are produced in the skin, and thus having less protection against the sun’s UV rays than other races with darker skin tones.

On the other hand, some ethnic groups with darker skins, especially African Americans who live in North America are at greater risk of vitamin D deficiency.[7] Again, this could also be because of a number of reasons such as diet, health conditions that prevent the absorption of vitamin D and the overall increase in indoors time. A major amount of vitamin D that is produced by our body comes from the sun’s UVB rays, so it is obvious that skin types with high levels of melanin will have a hard time absorbing those UVB rays, thus producing insufficient amounts of vitamin D. The melanin in dark skin is twice as effective in blocking UVB compared to White skin. While the Black skin epidermis allows only 7.4% of UVB and 17.5% of UVA to penetrate the skin, 24% UVB and 55% UVA passes through white skin.[8]

If it has not become apparent by now, both of these cases (skin cancer and vitamin D deficiency) are more likely to be seen in immigrants from different countries and continents. Racial groups look different for a reason that has a lot to do with the race’s environment of origin; the relocation of those individuals might result in the health issues stated above.

As social and economic concerns are becoming more prominent every day, more people are choosing to emigrate to other countries; which means more people are going to be living in completely new environments that their biology has not adapted for.

To conclude, the best strategy for dealing with these issues is to take precautions. For light- skinned individuals living in tropical or subtropical areas, it is best to apply sunblock creams and avoid ‘tanning beds’ completely, because there is no such thing as “safe tanning.” People with darker skin living in polar and sub-polar zones should have a vitamin D rich diet along with other nutrients, and it might be better for them to be slightly more exposed to the sun than their light-skinned counterparts.

References:

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_human_migrations#:~:text=Around%201.8%20million%20years%20ago,around%201.9%20million%20years%20ago.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interbreeding_between_archaic_and_modern_humans#:~:text=Genes%20affecting%20keratin%20were%20found,cope%20with%20non-African%20environments

[3] Dolgova O, Lao O. Evolutionary and Medical Consequences of Archaic Introgression into Modern Human Genomes. Genes (Basel). 2018 Jul 18;9(7):358. doi: 10.3390/genes9070358. PMID: 30022013; PMCID: PMC6070777.

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitzpatrick_scale

[5] Bradford PT. Skin cancer in skin of color. Dermatol Nurs. 2009 Jul-Aug;21(4):170-7, 206; quiz 178. PMID: 19691228; PMCID: PMC2757062.

[6] https://www.wcrf.org/cancer-trends/skin-cancer-statistics/

[7] Harris SS. Vitamin D and African Americans. J Nutr. 2006 Apr;136(4):1126-9. doi: 10.1093/jn/136.4.1126. PMID: 16549493

[8] Brenner M, Hearing VJ. The protective role of melanin against UV damage in human skin. Photochem Photobiol. 2008 May-Jun;84(3):539-49. doi: 10.1111/j.1751-1097.2007.00226.x. PMID: 18435612; PMCID: PMC2671032.