The Oduno Scale was “gratefully” named for Tarik A. Oduno. He is so honored because, he had the presence of mind to ask us a question which led to the scale’s creation. While we were still gathering our awareness around the idea melanin, the aromatic biopolymer and organic semiconductor that makes people black is worth $300 a gram more than gold, he posed a question. We encountered him that day in Sankofa Books (which is really more like a community center.)
Many times before, Baba Oduno had appeared in our presence with some little dose of needed information or an idea that altered our whole frame of reference. Then we would not see him again for months. This was one of those occasions when he materialized like some towering African ange bestowing a blessing.
After mentioning to Baba Oduno melanin was worth $353 a gram, he asked how much melanin is worth compared to coltan. We sought an answer to his question on our laptop. To our surprise it was revealed the value of melanin is worth over $350 a gram more than coltan. That inspired us to do a little digging. From there we saw that melanin was, at that time, worth over $300 a gram more than gold. A similar ratio of value exists between melanin, silver, platinum, palladium and rhodium. To our great surprise melanin is very, VERY valuable.
Seeing the quantitative value of melanin on a scale relative to the value of other valuable commodities led us to compare it to the Fitzpatrick Scale. The Fitzpatrick scale is the model for the Oduno scale. Developed in 1975 by Harvard dermatologist Thomas B. Fitzpatrick, the scale was intended to determine the correct amount of UVA sunlight required for a patient being treated with oral Methoxsalen. That is the same drug used by journalist John Howard Griffin to increase melanin levels in his skin as he traveled through the American south to research his 1961 book “Black Like Me.” The 1964 film of the same name that starred James Whitmore.
Fitzpatrick found the scale necessary as people undergoing treatment for psoriasis using oral Methoxsalen who had a “dark” phenotype (brown or black hair and some with brown eyes) reacted severely with symptoms of phototoxicity. Their conditions developed as a result of photochemotherapy (PUVA). When being treated with Methoxsalen, different people, although all classified as “white”, had different reactions to exposure to UVA radiation. Their hair and eye color alone was not enough to determine their UVA tolerance.
Fitzpatrick determined that interviewing patients to gain knowledge of their experience with sunburn and suntan would provide a means to determine the proper level of UVA for the individual patient.
The Oduno Scale developed in a similar way. By interviewing Baba Oduno we were given a different perspective on something which, at that time perplexed us. What exactly did the dollar value of melanin mean? Was it significant in any way? How could we objectively determine the significance of melanin having a dollar value?
Since then, we have come to learn that knowing the quantitative worth of melanin opened a door to a whole other world. Shortly after our blog post about melanin being worth $353 a gram, commenters began informing us of something of which we had no knowledge of at all. That was when we learned there were people claiming there were “melanin thieves” or “melanin harvesting” taking place.
The Oduno Scale was the evidence against that urban legends credibility. At the time we knew the Fitzpatrick Scale developed for no other reason than that oral Methoxsalen exists and results in increased levels of skin melanin. We knew there was no reason to harvest melanin from Black people for any reason, let alone to inject in someone else.
We later learned of Melanotan. Melanotan is a synthetic form of α-Melanocyte Stimulating Hormone. There are two versions Melanotan-I and Melanotan-II. Melanotan is illegal in the USA according to the FDA, but it can be purchased over the internet. Pictures of people who had taken melanotan were being used to claim so-called “white” people were injecting melanin.
Now we know urban legends succeed or fail based on the emotions they invoke. We see that the melanin harvesting or melanin thieves urban legend was intended to create disgust related to melanin. What is intriguing to us is how we became connected to all this. We came to be part of this drama for no other reason than the idea that melanin is a chemical and as a chemical it must have a dollar value formed in our neural network, nothing more. Now we find ourselves in the midst of a dram of global proportions. Simply because we talked with Baba Oduno one day.