Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color

Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color

Nina G. Jablonski

Language: English

Pages: 280

ISBN: 0520283864

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

Living Color is the first book to investigate the social history of skin color from prehistory to the present, showing how our body’s most visible feature influences our social interactions in profound and complex ways. Nina Jablonski begins this fascinating and wide-ranging work with an explanation of the biology and evolution of skin pigmentation, tracing how skin color changed as humans moved around the globe, exploring the relationship between melanin and sunlight, and examining the consequences of mismatches between our skin color and our environment due to rapid migrations, vacations, and other life-style choices.

Aided by plentiful illustrations, this book also explains why skin color has become a biological trait with great social meaning—a product of evolution perceived differently by different cultures. It considers how we form impressions of others, how we create and use stereotypes, and how prejudices about dark skin developed and have played out through history—including as justification for the transatlantic slave trade. Offering examples of how attitudes toward skin color differ in the United States, Brazil, India, and South Africa, Jablonski suggests that a knowledge of the evolution and social importance of skin color can help eliminate color-based discrimination and racism.

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has increased over time. The complexity of our homes, transportation systems, means of food procurement, and the “essentials” we carry with us every day is staggering. Early Homo sapiens living 50,000 years ago or so had almost none of these things. At that time all humans were gatherers and hunters. We had great technological wherewithal and could make many useful things out of objects found or animals hunted, but we carried little with us as we moved from place to place. 60 | Biology The

up to 50 percent of UVA can penetrate deeply into the dermis in people with light pigmentation and little protective melanin pigment. People whose ancestors evolved in sunny places with lots of UVR have naturally darker skin and are capable of darkening more deeply through tanning than people from cloudier or more northerly places with less UVR. During their lifetimes, people in prehistory did not move around very much, and the skin of indigenous peoples all over the world adapted by evolution

people, especially African Americans, who live in low-UVB environments or who spend a lot of time indoors experience higher rates of some cancers than lightly pigmented people under the same conditions. LI V ING W ITHIN FOUR WA LL S Throughout most of our history, we have lived outside. No buildings, in the broadest sense, existed until about 40,000 to 50,000 years ago, and the earliest examples of these were small and poorly ventilated enclosures where people did not spend a lot of time. Cities

involving hundreds of thousands of people. Beginning around 300 BCE, the combined effects of tremendous losses of Roman lives in military campaigns and the prodigious needs of the larger Roman cities and army for food and raw materials drove the capture of large numbers of war prisoners and their sale into slavery. Slaves were taken as spoils of war from newly conquered lands, and many thousands more were enslaved when they revolted against central Roman authority and were captured and then sold

considered the darkness of Africans to be due to a “disease of the skin.” 2 1. Jefferson 1787, 145–151. 2. Quoted in Bay 2000, 78. THE TITR ATION OF V IRT UE In chemistry, titration refers to the process of determining the concentration of a substance in solution by adding another substance to it until it changes color. I adopt it here because it precisely describes the process whereby European admixture transformed the treatment and fortunes of many African American descendants. Despite rigid

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