From the first episode, in which Kamau, an African-American man, attended a KKK cross burning (or “cross lighting,” as they corrected him) to learn about the group and their rationale for their bigotry, the show has shed a light on some of our country’s most deep-seated problems. It makes for some powerful television. Fortunately, Bell’s background as a comedian can bring some much needed levity — his affable personality lets him be comforting to those who have faced hardships and allows him to be restrained enough to calmly talk with some of the nation’s worst bigots, like white nationalist Richard Spencer.
On Sun. May 13, CNN will air an episode of United Shades of America that focuses on the experiences of the Gullah Geechee people in South Carolina. Kamau travels to the Gullah Heritage Festival on St. Helena Island where he learns about the unique culture of the Gullah Geechee, including their music, art, food, and language, from local members of the community.
In the episode he also travels to local landmarks, like the Angel Oak, the Penn Center, the Charleston City Market, Gadsden’s Wharf (the future location of the International African-American Museum), and McLeod Plantation Historic Site to learn about the history of Gullah culture and enslaved men and women. A particularly powerful moment comes as Kamau stands in the slave quarters at McLeod Plantation and a historian describes the realities of slavery. The episode remains hopeful, celebrating Gullah culture and talking about preserving that history for future generations.
The parts of Gullah culture that Bell uncovers will prove, as he says, “the idea that black people are not a monolith.” The episode celebrates a version of black culture that differs from other regions of the country, and its premiere on a nationwide news channel will allow a wide audience of people to learn about the important history of the Gullah Geechee people.
On March 27, 2018, Arizona State University’s Annual Distinguished Lecturer program hosted Alondra Nelson, a prominent humanities scholar whose work highlights the importance of humanities research. Alondra is an award-winning author, Professor of Sociology, and Dean of Social Science at Columbia University, where she has served as Director of the Institute for Research on Women, Gender, and Sexuality. Nelson is celebrated for her work exploring the intersections of science, technology, medicine, and inequality. Her most recent book, The Social Life of DNA: Race, Reparations, and Reconciliation after the Genome (Beacon Press, 2016), traces how claims about ancestry are marshaled together with genetic analysis in a range of social ventures. Professor Nelson was greeted by members the Black Family Genealogy and History Society of Phoenix that were in attendance.
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DNA modifications that do not change the DNA sequence can affect gene activity. Chemical compounds that are added to single genes can regulate their activity; these modifications are known as epigenetic changes. The epigenome comprises all of the chemical compounds that have been added to the entirety of one’s DNA (genome) as a way to regulate the activity (expression) of all the genes within the genome. The chemical compounds of the epigenome are not part of the DNA sequence, but are on or attached to DNA (“epi-“ means above in Greek). Epigenetic modifications remain as cells divide and in some cases can be inherited through the generations. Environmental influences, such as a person’s diet and exposure to pollutants, can also impact the epigenome.
Epigenetic changes can help determine whether genes are turned on or off and can influence the production of proteins in certain cells, ensuring that only necessary proteins are produced. For example, proteins that promote bone growth are not produced in muscle cells. Patterns of epigenetic modification vary among individuals, different tissues within an individual, and even different cells.
A common type of epigenetic modification is called methylation. Methylation involves attaching small molecules called methyl groups, each consisting of one carbon atom and three hydrogen atoms, to segments of DNA. When methyl groups are added to a particular gene, that gene is turned off or silenced, and no protein is produced from that gene.
Because errors in the epigenetic process, such as modifying the wrong gene or failing to add a compound to a gene, can lead to abnormal gene activity or inactivity, they can cause genetic disorders. Conditions including cancers, metabolic disorders, and degenerative disorders have all been found to be related to epigenetic errors.
Scientists continue to explore the relationship between the genome and the chemical compounds that modify it. In particular, they are studying what effect the modifications have on gene function, protein production, and human health.