A smiling yellow face has been synonymous with the LEGO Minifigure since its inception in 1978. Still today, LEGO’s staple themes like City, Creator, and Ninjago all have yellow Minifigures. It used to be that only monsters and aliens came in any other colour. Nowadays, all licenced themes based on real people or characters with established race in other media are produced with their actual skin tone. But, that was not always the case. When Star Wars LEGO was first produced in 2000, followed by Harry Potter in 2001, all the Minifigures were yellow (with notable exceptions like Darth Maul and Professor Snape). The first Minifigs with real-life skin tones were only produced in 2003 when LEGO created characters in the likenesses of NBA Basketball players. Afterwards, licenced themes began to do the same.
A quick jump over to LEGO FAQ reveals: “We chose yellow to avoid assigning a specific ethnicity in sets that don’t include any specific characters. With this neutral color, fans can assign their own individual roles to LEGO Minifigures. In some sets, such as movie themed ones, we want to represent the characters as authentically as possible. Some figures included will therefore be represented in different ethnic roles to stay true to their characterisation.”
Given that race and ethnicity are the root of many problems in the world, I have always appreciated that LEGO characters are largely race free. It adds to the happy and harmonious feel of my LEGO city. The only people who are not happy in my city are the criminals and super villains (and the occasional terrified citizen in their vicinity).
As a scientist and teacher, I like to spend time each year discussing the concept of race in my classroom from a scientific standpoint. “Race” is actually a man-made concept. From a biological standpoint, it does not exist. When you look at human DNA, what differentiates you from anyone else on this planet is only 0.5%. That means your DNA is 99.5% the same as any person you will ever meet, or ever have met.
If humans existed naturally as just another animal species on the planet, we would not see pockets of race dotting the Earth. What we would see is clinal variation. This means that if you were to undertake the Herculean journey of walking from the equator to the North Pole, you would see a gradual change in skin colour from very dark (where there is the most sunlight) to very light (where there is the least sunlight). This is because skin colour is nothing but an evolutionary adaptation that helps increase survival in different habitats. Darker pigment helps to stave off the harmful effects of UV radiation from the sun, which is useful for survival in sunny places. On the other hand, lighter pigmentation allows sun rays to penetrate the skin more easily, which is essential for the production of essential vitamin D. Therefore in places with less sunlight, it would be more favorable for survival to have less melanin (the pigment responsible for darker skin tones).
What we as a species need to remember is that once you strip away the superficial features on the surface, we are all the same. When our time is up in this universe and we go the way of the dinosaur, the fossil remains of our species will be indistinguishable from one another regardless of what “race” we belonged to in life.
This post was written as part of the April A-to-Z blogging challenge. You can read more about the challenge by visiting the official website. Be sure to check back tomorrow for the thrilling conclusion to my LEGO themed foray into blogging my way through the alphabet!
Until next time,