Sunday, October 24, 2010

A Strange Color Combination

Years ago, when I read about Blackfoot Indians (or the members of the Blackfoot Nation, for those who are more current and politically correct), I wondered what the basis of the name might be. It seemed to suggest the existence of people whose feet were black even though the rest of their bodies were not black.

I thought, "Surely that can't be right." I had never seen such people with my own eyes.

Regarding the name of the Blackfoot "Indians", Wikipedia says, "The name is said to have come from the color of the peoples’ leather shoes, or moccasins. They had typically dyed or painted the bottoms of their moccasins black, but one story claimed that the Siksika walked through ashes of prairie fires, which in turn colored the bottoms of their moccasins black."

O.K. That makes sense. But here's what's weird. A few years back, I met a resident of the building in which I lived, and in which I still live, although the other resident has subsequently moved to another building. (I still see him occasionally when riding the bus.)

If you saw him fully dressed, you'd think nothing of it. He looks like any other white man, unless you see his feet, which I did on a couple of occasions, because he lived on my floor, and I sometimes saw him, in the shared men's room, with his shoes off. They were as black as the feet of any black man I've ever met! I kid you not. And I don't mean that they looked as if they'd been artificially turned black (e.g., with tattoos). They looked completely natural.

Now, of course, I've always known that there are numerous people of mixed race. But I always thought that it only manifested itself physically by creating people whose skin color is a single color which is a middle tone (usually about the color of coffee with cream), neither "white" nor "black". A lot of people who identify themselves as "black" would actually fit that description because they have white ancestors or parents. If not for the historic "one drop rule", it would be deemed ludicrous to call them black. For instance, I've seen white people, with a good tan, who are about the same color as Halle Berry. But she still calls herself a "black" woman.

At any rate, this was something altogether different. It was as if they'd surgically performed a foot transplant. Either that, or the guy had used the same kinds of chemical treatments and/or dyes that were used by John Howard Griffin, the author of "Black Like Me".

The second idea seems more plausible than the first one, but even if it was possible to do such a thing in a manner which only affected certain parts of one's body, it's hard to imagine why anyone would deliberately do so to his or her own body, especially if other people almost never saw the body parts in question. So I have to assume that his feet were just naturally black.

Did I ever ask him what the explanation might be? Are you kidding? Talk about an awkward question to ask! So I was left to ponder the mystery.

Has anyone else out there seen or heard of such a thing? Is there a name for the phenomenon?