July 28, 2016

Ever wondered why do we the Irish burn in the sun, yet the Scandinavians tan? Summer thoughts from South Africa on skin colour, factor 50 and yer man, the Salmon of Knowledge

Posted in Irish Independent · 44 comments ·

Today, my column comes from Johannesburg, written in the café of the Apartheid Museum close to Soweto. Here is an example of what the great German philosopher Hannah Arendt, reporting on the Adolf Eichmann trial, described as “the banality of evil”. The sheer effort the Apartheid regime put into keeping people segregated is phenomenal in its tedious attention to the smallest detail, snooping, spying, humiliating, terrorising and, ultimately, losing.


When the change came, it came swiftly and largely peacefully.


Twenty years on, South Africa no doubt has its economic problems. The upper echelons of the ANC have turned large parts of the productive economy into, if not quite a kleptocracy, something of a cronies’ free-for-all. But the big picture shouldn’t be forgotten. The country survived. There was no civil war and large swathes of the population benefited.


What is it about race that so divides humans?


When you are sitting in this museum here in Africa, or looking at the black/white tensions in the US, or even reading about the caste system in India, one strange human weakness reappears over and over again, and it is racism. Why do/did many whites feel superior to blacks? Why are darker people in India considered to be from a lower caste and discriminated against? Why do African and Indian women spend millions of euro each year on “whitening” products?


Why do we have different skin colours in the first place and why does it matter to so many people?


Let’s leave Africa and go far north from here to just south of the Arctic circle and a small Swedish town of Matfors. Mat in old Swedish means food and fors means stream. Matfors is full of salmon. The river is bursting with these fish and that is what the people have been eating for years. However, by the late 19th century the people had reached ‘peak salmon’. By then, the town was operating a successful paper mill and wanted to attract more workers. As well as good wages, one of the perks of the job — written explicitly in the job advertisement — was a commitment from the management not to feed the workers salmon more than three days a week. The Swedes were simply sick of salmon.


How could that be, particularly today when all doctors tell us to eat more, not less fish?


And critically, what relevance has this ‘peak salmon’ story (which I came across for some other research) got to do with race and skin colour and Apartheid?


Permit me a bit of a digression here.


As you head to the sun for a week or two, have you ever asked yourself why Scandinavians tan in the sun and Irish people don’t? There are far fewer hours of sunlight in northern Scandinavia than Ireland and yet when the Swedes go abroad on holiday to the sun, these very blonde, fair people go a deep bronze colour in a matter of hours. The Irish, who in the winter look like Scandinavians and share a preponderance for red hair, fair skin and blue eyes, are burnt to a crisp on the beach. Why is this?


The reason is Vitamin D.


The reason we have black, white and yellow people is because of Vitamin D. We all need a minimum of Vitamin D, which we get by either absorbing it through our skin from sunlight or we ingest it in certain foods. We need Vitamin D for our bones to strengthen. This is why people with a Vitamin D deficiency can get rickets. (The science is a little more complicated and involves Folic Acid as well as Vitamin D; for a more detailed, yet accessible, explanation see ‘Skin’, a biography by Dr Sharad Paul.)


Black skin is a protector against the sun. It repels sunlight and this obviously helped the first humans not to ‘overdose’ on the abundant Vitamin D that they were getting from the sun’s rays.


We were all black when we walked out of Africa about 120,000 years ago and headed on a slow march North and East. But as we moved north from sunny Africa to less sunny Europe, our black skin began to lighten to allow it to absorb more Vitamin D from less sunlight. The more sparse the sunlight, the whiter the people became until you went to northern Europe, to Ireland and Scandinavia, where the people’s hair and skin lightened in order to eke out the maximum Vitamin D from the very few hours of sunlight we were exposed to.


But what explains the Swedes tanning and the Irish burning? This is where the salmon comes in.


Sweden and Ireland, although very far north, are distinguished by one major climatic difference. We get the Gulf Stream and they don’t. This makes our climate a lot warmer and wetter. This warmer climate allows cereals and grass to grow. This means that the cultivation of cereals, cattle and sheep is much more suited to us. This is how the ancient Irish derived protein. Because large parts of Sweden are too cold for grass, they had to find their protein in fish. Fish, and salmon in particular, are very rich in Vitamin D.


So over thousands of years, Swedes supplemented their meagre Vitamin D intake from the sun by gorging on salmon. As they did, their skin went darker because they didn’t need to be so pinkish white and open to sunrays to absorb the precious Vitamin D.


This is why they tan and we don’t.


Our cereal-based economy, due entirely to the warm influence of the Gulf Stream, may also explain why fishing in Ireland was never as developed as fishing in Scandinavia, despite our better Atlantic position.


So you see that skin colour is just the result of the great human battle for Vitamin D. The more constant your supply of Vitamin D, the less white you had to be to absorb it. In contrast, the more deprived of sun you were, the whiter you had to be — unless like the Scandinavians, you ate so much fish that you got sick of it!


As I walk around this museum, the horrific and very human results of the great battle for Vitamin D are all too evident and, in terms of the great march of humanity, all too pathetic to behold.

  1. McCawber

    Every system has it’s echelons so racism really has nothing to do with it – somebody always ends up ruling the roost.
    ie Some are more equal than others for whatever reason.
    Maybe too much Vitamin D makes people inferior in some, as yet undetected, way.
    There’s a doctorate in there so someone.
    Right now a lot of white people are fearful of other races rather than feeling superior to them.
    Fear is a great motivator………………………

  2. Subscribe from the lovely Isle of Man. Lashing rain here today, loads of sun yesterday though. This place used to be part of Norway.

  3. Very Jarred Diamond, David :)

    • Home Counties Girl

      Agree with Liam.
      I guess the other alternative to Vit D would have been Sunny D! Artificial – totally. Perhaps a safer option to Sunny B (Sun Beds). This article is way outta Davy (D’s) depth.

  4. Tony

    Yay! Science!

  5. Mike Lucey

    Now I learn that Ireland not using her natural fisheries territory has caused us to burn on the beaches of the Costa del Sol! If folks has know this sooner we would have a huge fishing industry ;-)

  6. Tony

    I used to blame joining the EEC for our dilapidated fishing industry. But now I see that as a nation we just didn’t give a shite. It was easier to grow veg and herd cattle, so that’s what the inland guys did. The fellahs on the coast obviously preferred to play GAA and become builders in London.

    Mystery solved.

  7. Mike Lucey

    I’m following the happening with Deutsche Bank and what Moody’s do rating wise.

    Some commentators are reminding us of what they did with Leman Brothers and could the same happen again. More commentators are suggesting that the Deutsche Bank and Leman Brothers (just before the crash) graphs are showing very similar trends except Deutsche Bank is ten times bigger.

    Folks here were wondering what will be the trigger for the next explosion! I’m wondering could Deutsche Bank be it?

    Lehman Brothers collapse: was capitalism to blame?

    Deutsche Bank AG Credit Rating – Moody’s

  8. Grzegorz Kolodziej

    In accordance with one of the main principles of Latin civilisation “Nemo judex in causa sua”, this is the other side of Nelson Mandela:


    I am curious what people think about the facts about Nelson Mandela and his family presented in this video (there are more thorough videos available, but I chose the shortest).

    I just do not understand one thing – how can the same person praise Nelson Mandela, who used violence to make his country poorer and less safe, while at the same condemning General Pinochet – who used violence to make his country richer and more safe?

    A food for thought: if Apartheid was so bad for black people, why:

    1. People from Africa tried to escape into apartheid, and not from the aparheid to non-apartheid African countries.
    2. Why 60pc of people – so considerable amount of black people – think their lives were better before Mandela?


    “what the great German philosopher Hannah Arendt, reporting on the Adolf Eichmann trial, described as “the banality of evil”. The sheer effort the Apartheid regime put into keeping people segregated is phenomenal in its tedious attention to the smallest detail, snooping, spying, humiliating, terrorising and, ultimately, losing.”

    Hannah Arendt has also showed, in the very same book David refers to, how Israel implemented the very same tedious attention to segregating the Jews from non-Jews as the Nazis, comparing Israel’s marriage laws, which prevent a Jew marrying a non-Jew, to the Nuremberg Laws, which also forbade the marriage of a Jew with an ‘Aryan’.

    The really interesting question is – given what is happening in France and Germany (which is happening because Caroingian Europe listened to Mrs Merkel and not to Messrs Orban and Kaczynski) – what if Israeli’s are right in their Nazism a rebours? Not every country has – advantegous in this case – peripheral location like Ireland with its the Irish Sea/Atlantic Trumpesque wall built by nature.

    Perhaps, if you have terrorist enclaves in your own country (thanks God that the Irish authorities have more reasonable than their President, who rebuked them for letting in only 10 ‘refugees’ into Ireland – coincidentally, he also supported terrorist Arafat and called a ‘wanker’ a guy who did not support him), then cutting off water, electricity and targeting the families of the terrorist by demolishing their homes with bulldozers is the only way of dealing with terrorists?

    I am not saying it is, I am not saying it is not – I am just posing a question how should France and German deal with the terror they themselves brought onto their countries (I know – US and wars, but noone forced to invite a million without any controls or reflection, and violating the EU law)?

    I wonder how long would someone like that last in Israeli supermarket somone who would try a similar trick like the Munich before he would end up with a few holes in his head:


    “Why do we have different skin colours in the first place and why does it matter to so many people?”

    The answer to that question was given by David McWilliams in his February column:

    “Do you like foreign accents? If the answer is yes, you are in a minority. When someone with a heavy accent speaks to you, do you register the things he or she is saying in the same way as someone with the same accent as yourself?

    The subtle prejudices we have about accents are hardwired in our brains from thousands of years ago, when it was highly unlikely for a person with one accent to meet a person with another. It was even less likely for a person to hear a foreigner speak their native language with a foreign accent.”

    It matters to so many people because all major shootings in Europe in the last decade were carried out by non-whites, except for Mr Breivik (so generously treated by the social-democractic state), who was a freemason. So because it is so much more likely that someone would become a victim of terror if a non-white person enters a train or a shopping mall, we are now, thanks to Tsarin Merkel, prejudiced. Is it fair? No, but hardly anything in this world is. Is it rational? – yes it is (probability).

    The rest of David’s column is of course true. I did not know that the Swedes are tanning rather than burning (most Poles go red too, except for people from the very south, in physical anthropology books classified as Carpathian type – most Poles are subnordic types, and some nordic; of course the DNA research turned the bottom out of lots of physical anthropology – i.e. Hitler’s DNA was 1/3 African).

    A fascinating series of documentaries on white skin and Vitamin D:


    Btw, it follows from that series that 10pc of all Europeans come from the same mother…

    • coldblow

      Excellent link, I hadn’t realised Mandela had been so violent, indeed a terrorist. I knew Winnie was terrible. I am more convinced than ever that the only way to explain the inability of conventional wisdom and received opinion, at least to a big extent, is a psychological one. South Africa is the liberals’ Paradise on Earth, and of course that’s why we never hear anything about this. Vitamin D and salmon indeed!

    • HaHA, get to the back of the line. That is what I was told at the school canteen when I wanted second helpings!!! All the teachers were racist of course. !!!! They were all white and 90% female too. What do you expect? Discrimination was rampant the way they played favourites.

  9. survivalist

    Recognising a difference is one thing, what meaning is ascribed to that difference is a whole other ball game.

    But let’s not pretend that it is a mystery as to where the “X race(s) are inferior” beliefs came from, or what drives those ideas.

    Back in an earlier article, June 13, 2016 Brexit: Ireland needs Britain, Mr McWilliams referenced Maggie Thatcher’s Bruges speech. It is an important reference.

    Even then, all the way back in the pre-civilisation era of AD1988, the attitude that the conquest of various people (various races) was a positive experience for them as certainly they needed it and would eventually welcome the civilization process they were subjected to, was a firmly held conviction of the establishment.

    It should not surprise us to hear this attitude being expressed by one of the so-called ‘leaders of the western world’ for it is a condition of assuming that position that you believe in your own superiority. And chillingly that attitude was described as the establishments most commonly shared experience-superiority.

    In the end ‘racism’ like literally anything else will be used to further the agenda of the state/corp as and when it is needed.

    It was historically the justification to pillage resources and accumulate capital. Presently it is wielded over the people as a bugbear to undermine people’s feelings or inclinations towards Nationalism, but only insofar as that Nationalism represents any kind of opposition to total corporate take-over.

    As an aside it is worrying how many people have been so strongly captured by the libertarian/self-sovereignty and anti-state ideals that are being propelled through the various media. As though we all might all live indefinitely as Henry Thoreau’s did in his 3 year retreat.

    Not that there is anything inherently wrong with the ideologies of libertarianism but the reality is that the force driving people towards ever greater individualism is the corporate agenda as it seeks to privatize and monetize literally everything. Individuals are not any kind of opposition and easily overwhelmed.

    Over to Maggie, Bruges 1988:

    “surely what strikes us most is our common experience…the story of how Europeans explored and colonised—and yes, without apology—civilised much of the world is an extraordinary tale of talent, skill and courage.”

    • McCawber

      Substitute GREED for Racism and you’d be very close to the mark.
      Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s goods and chattels.

  10. Racism in its simplest form is love of ones own family before others.
    Then comes the extended family. Ones uncles and aunts , nephews and nieces. ( Family feuds take place of course as anti family interests. )Then there is immediate neighbourhood where all are known to each other.

    Enter the traveling stranger. Either treated with honour and fed and watered are treated with distrust because of the unknown or strange accent. The stranger may be from a neighbouring tribe , technically of the same race with even the same language. It does not take much to create warring tribes. Is this Civil (un-civil) war or racism. Neighbours morph into larger tribes and one is predominant over the others. Conquest and slavery are the result. Native north Americans slaughtered and enslaved their neighbours. Black Africans too. Is this rascism.

    Arabs traded Black Africans to White Europeans as slaves was this racism or business as usual. White Europeans went all over the world and subjugated others and compelled them to submit and or die. This behaviour has been exhibited for 1000′s of years. There is not a people on Earth who have not been subjected to another at some point. Racism or, conquest and pillage , business as usual.

    There is not a people on Earth who have not done this to anther. business as usual. It matters not the colour of skin, or the speech or dialect, if one can take advantage of anther they will.

    It is the way of the world in every aspect of life. It matters not whether it is animal, vegetable or mineral. (The electro-chemical series acknowledges that one chemical will supplant another given the opportunity).

    That is the reason that mankind has tried to change behaviour with the use of moral structures. It is an attempt to raise above the status of animal. It is the reason for the 10 commandments for example.

    Lets get off the racist soundtrack and concentrate on man’s inhumanity to man instead. I think we will all be better off.

  11. McCawber

    Then there’s sexism or not?
    I have to admit to being a male chauvanisr and I don’t have a problem with it.
    But I had to smile when I read this.

    Was I right all along.
    As David would be well aware – In NI you are advised to vote early and vote often.
    Don’t know if that worjs in the states.

  12. idij

    Ireland’s excessively wet climate is unsuited to cereals, and that is why Ireland was a pastoral rather than a cereal growing society.

    Did you know that the Old Norse for “clouds” is “sky”, it just took on it’s modern English meaning when they got to Britain (and we are worse).

    Have a look up at the “sky” there and you have all the reasons you need why we are pasty faced. Ireland may have more daylight hours, but Sweden has more sunlight hours.


  13. Criminal corruption riddles the democrats and the DEM convention as Clintons buy all the votes.


  14. StephenKenny

    Ever wondered why do we the Irish burn in the sun, yet the Scandinavians tan?
    First of all, no, and second of all. this is one of, if not the most, asinine pieces I’ve ever read on this blog.

  15. coldblow

    Stephen is right. It is terrible. “Racism” is the Great Sin of the times, whatever it is, and it is against it that all virtue is defined. David will obviously write anything that comes into his head (and on this occasion it’s all nonsense) when it comes to this. Ireland suitable for growing *cereals*?!

    • coldblow

      He was clearly moved by his experience in the museum. What about a decent piece about what is happening there in SA and forgetting about Apartheid for once? Is the country falling apart? Is Joseph (Bring me my machine gun!) Zuma still there? What about the vicious anti-immigrant riots in places like Soweto, against fellow blacks/ less vitamin D absorbent persons? How about Winnie Mandela and her campaign of terror while Nelson was inside? The burning necklaces? I remember this from my younger days but don’t hear about it now. Why is that, I wonder? Grzeg, I’ll read your post later,

    • goldbug



      -> AS WHAT?


      OF COURSE!


  16. bilimori


    Look around and weep for Africa, for you and your economist brethren, and not racism, are responsible for the failure of African nations to become modern and capable societies.

    Modern Economics should be a definer of what needs to be done so that each nation and particularly each African Nation can build a prosperous society capable of providing secure livelihoods for all of its people.

    Modern economists cannot do that, they just measure and pontificate,and justify the debasement of money while in harness with incapable politicians and Davos trotting economic academics.

    When will your profession grow up and become not measurers and tale tellers, but definers of all that has to be established so that each nation becomes a wealthy economy with employment and national finances all in perpetual balance?

    As Paul Ormond said almost thirty years ago, “Economics is Dead” Not quite, they are preparing the fill for our economic graves with trillions of digital dollars not worth spit.

    • And every one of those trillions of currencies issued as a loan to be added to the trillions of debts.

      Most yawn at the information as so they get what they deserve. a bunch of charlatans posing as experts while they allow the bankers to skin us dry.
      David can’t be that stupid as to not understand so therefore he must agree with the policy while pretending to debate issues that solve nothing.

      Remember all the advice and warnings when you lose your shirt to the fat cats . Watch the banks steal your savings. Watch the politicians be bribed in to inaction.

      Those who hear, take care of yourself. Get solid assets and get your savings out of the banking system.

  17. David NZ

    And here was me thinking that the Irish sent the wheat to England and ate the potatoes for themselves. I suppose that’s only 300 years of potato eating as opposed to 3,000 years of salmon eating by the Scandinavians.

    Could it not be that the Celts are long-limbed and red-haired (as described by the Romans) not to mention freckly, and the Scandinavians are actually a Germanic race? Quite a few of the Germans tan quite well in the sun also. Do they have adequate access to salmon?

    Didn’t the Vikings bring longboats to Ireland? Surely the Celts must have thought that’s a better vessel for fishing than a coracle. Maybe cod has less vitamin D than salmon. Mind you the Irish hermits are supposed to have got to Iceland by coracle before the Vikings. Do the Icelanders tan half as well as the Swedish because they are half Irish?

    Do the inhabitants of Waterford (former Viking settlement) tan better than than those in other parts of Ireland?

    Do the Welsh of the Tom Jones variety not tan well? More Silurian in the Celt I guess.

    Many holes in this article, very Jared Diamond indeed.

  18. Deco

    I did some thinking about this article, before being able to figure it out. Yes, Mandela saved South Africa from implosion. But South Africa was not actually the most extreme example

    The worst incidence of racism in the 20th century did not involve very Vitamin D. And by that I mean what followed Operation Barbarroso in 1941, when militarists mostly from Germany, but also with collaborators in Belgium, Latvia, Croatia, Ukraine, etc.. decided murder all in front of them. And that was inspired by a theory of superiority. The theory was that the Germanics were superior to all others – particularly the Slavs. The slavs were occupying the living space of the Germans.

    The theory advocated that the Jews were to be murdered because they were preventing Germans from achieving a destiny of greatness. The leading advocates of that barbarity, seemed to have a particularly nasty opinion of Jewish people. Their holy book was a bitter twisted peice of vindictiveness by a deluded fool who viewed everything through military conflict.

    This was not the first incident of systemic military racism in the 20th century. That occurred in Anatolia, and was inspired by “holy men” and “scholars” of a collapsing Ottoman Caliphate. Again, they had a text loaded with vindictnessness towards Jewish people.

    To this day the Turkish government refuses to accept what happened to Armenians as a Genocide.

    There is a very high level of racism currently against Jewish people in France and Sweden in particular. And it is fed by a supremicist approach. Synagogues are protected, by police – because they in danger, to a sever degree.

    There is always a flawed concept of “special” at the root of racist behaviour.

    Last example – also in Africa. Col. Gadaffi is a rather unusual mix of ideas and feelings. He believed in himself as a pan-African. And thought in terms of Africa, rather than in the Arab worldview. And he was tolerant of darker skinned Africans.

    After his death, the jihadis decided to murder black African in a manner that was very similar to earlier genocide.

    Usually, racism is deeper than Vitamin D. It is merely a superficial expression of a very dangerous approach to power. Based on aggression and control, and the submission of all to the power structure.

    It starts a totalitarian political solution. A military code for young men, that connects sexual success with forcing others submission. A concept of one category of human being who will rule, and all others being forced into control. A grievance that justifies revenge. And absurd concepts of glory.

    It is love of power, and perverted routes to acquiring it, and abusing power, are the roots of racism.

    Now, think again about Libya, and the reluctance of the Western media to describe what occurred, for fear of offending Gulf sovereign wealth funds.

    Silence is usually bought in such circumstances.

    For evil to triumph, all that is necessary of for those with principle to shut up for the sake of money.

  19. AlfieMoone

    “Racism is a subset of Otherism. All manifestations of human cruelty emerge from the biological ideology of Otherism. Compassion, not Politics, is the antidote to Otherism.” Andy Mooney

    Jungian psychology is a better guide than PC fulminations on this topic.
    The Shadow. Self & Other. Anima. Animus, etc.

    And Shakespeare. Some people still think ‘The Merchant of Venice’ is ‘anti-semitic’ when, in fact, it totally debunks racism centuries before 2Tone rose in nearby Coventry here in the Mercian Shires:

    Paterson Joseph as Shylock: ‘You call me misbeliever’


    • AlfieMoone

      “The whole world is Africa, but it’s divided in continents…”

      ‘Whole World Is Africa’- Black Uhuru


      • AlfieMoone

        Racism is like bindweed, you have to dig it up in it’s entirety and that’s not done with slogans and Guardian articles about ‘microaggressions’.

        The worst racism in the world is in Africa: the plight of Albino Africans chopped up for witch-doctor medicine has absolutely nothing to do with post-colonial trauma, it’s been going on since the dawn of humanity. So next time Ntokozo Qwabe starts up with the Outragetarian (hat-tip: Deco) pontificating about ‘Rhodes Must Fall’- whilst luxuriating in his Oxbridge Privilege: tell him to fcuk off. There are several chapters on Racism & Otherism in my soon-come book. It also deals with Peak Fish and Stop Plastic Pollution in the oceans.

        “The Herbivore-Free Diet:
        From the Anthropocene to the Empathocene-
        Ethical Eating,Peak Cheap Oil, Abrahamicism,Biblicanism & Post-Veganism”

        I met Jiddu Krishnamurti at Brockwood Park

        ‘First we ought to look, I think, at the consciousness of mankind. Why this consciousness, which we are, why it has become what it is. Each one of us thinking that our consciousness is ours, our particular inheritance, our particular evolution.’

        ‘What Can We Do in this World?’

        ‘Krishnamurti: First Public Talk at Brockwood Park’
        - August 1982


  20. Doggerybaw

    Hi David where did you do get your research regarding the salmon and tanning? It doesn’t make any sense to me. Would be great to do further research

  21. Doggerybaw

    Hi David where did you do get your research regarding the salmon and tanning? It doesn’t make any sense to me. Would be great to do further research on this topic

You must log in to post a comment.
× Hide comments