Living Color - The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color (Anglais) Broché – 4 novembre 2014
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As a scientist (she is the Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Pennsylvania State), Jablonski understands race to be purely a social construct, and she devotes the first half of her book to explaining the biological origins of skin color and the effects on human health of the diaspora from Africa. Much of this information is also ably conveyed in Jablonski's earlier book, Skin: A Natural History.
The second half of Living Color tackles the harder issues of our responses to skin color. Humans are "highly visual" and mostly learn through imitation, Jablonski asserts. "We are hard-wired to be receptive to visual differences and responsive to the reactions of authority figures" and thus easily influenced to adopt the prejudices of our families and larger cultures (94). She incorporates fascinating studies to support her argument, including an experiment conducted by elementary school teacher Jane Elliott in 1968 (p. 95). Having established our tendency to attribute significance to skin color, Jablonski reminds us that we are not "neurologically predestined to be biased . . . . [because] Our attitudes are constantly subject to change through experience and, importantly, conscious choice" (99). However, "Most people are not aware of the influence of stereotype on their own thought processes, and this lack of awareness . . . has had profound effect on human history" (102).
The fascinating chapters that follow trace the development of the concept of human races and its often horrific influence on human behavior. Jablonski succinctly examines the histories of India, Egypt, the Mediterranean, Brazil, and the Islamic world to show how all peoples begin with the unexamined assumption that their own culture is both the norm and the ideal. She traces the process by which this assumption, complicated by many factors, led to race being established as "an institutional fact" that made slavery possible . I was surprised to learn that Immanuel Kant was "one of the most influential racists of all time," whose reputation as a philosopher gave his writings about the superiority of lighter-colored races inordinate influence (134). Sidebars document some of the most egregious justifications of slavery but also contemporary refutations by abolitionists. Throughout, Jablonski buttresses her historical discussion with citations from modern studies of the effects of racial attitudes.
The historical chapters are followed by investigations into what color means in societies today. Tanning and skin lightening are considered in essays illustrated with photographs and depictions of advertising campaigns. In fact, the whole book benefits from well-chosen illustrations. Also commendable are the extensive end notes and bibliography.
This excellent book should be widely read and influential. Jablonski puts her faith in human intelligence and our ability to incorporate new information and perspectives. Yet she is under no illusion about the struggle reason may have with entrenched and unexamined beliefs. "The diminishing of a human being on the basis of skin color lays bare the worst aspects of our visual orientation, suggestibility, imitativeness, and status consciousness"(197). Fortunately for us, Jablonski has determined that, at least in the scientific community, "We live in an Enlightenment of color," (2) to which she contributes this clear-headed and profoundly encouraging book.
Nina G. Jablonksi explores this in her new book, "Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color". As a distinguished professor of Anthropology and named one of the first Alphonse Fletcher St.Fellows for her efforts to improve the understanding of color, Jablonski's words and her study on this topic is what drew me first.
First, the book is broken down into two parts: Biology and Society. The biological aspect is explained in laymen can understand and answers the questions of where shades of color come from and where does skin come from specifically. According to Jablonksi, "Although hemoglobin contributes to skin color, the most important substance...is melanin"(Jablonksi, 2012, p. 10: Living Color).
The melanin and eumelanin, found below the skin reacts to exposure in the sun. So those born near the equator will be dark or at least tan and able to tan very well. The author goes very deep into pigmentation, faulty melanin radicals (albinism), and the reason why vitamin D deficiency occurs in those with paler skin- this was due to migration shifts and hunting for game leading humans into Eurasian colonies. In other words, we all began in Africa and then there was a spread of colonies and humans lightened or darkened according to biology and region.
Moving from biology to society, the book gets interesting. In fact, if you are African American, African, or of another race with dark pigmentation, the information that flows can be disheartening and it makes you wonder how could intelligent species even think like that? For example, Immanuel Kant, a well known philosopher "was convinced that skin color denoted qualities of personality and morality"(134). He published books that Europeans read and took as law. He believed that if you are tanned or dark, something is wrong with you- as in your psychology, well being, morals, health, etc.
Another writer/philosopher, Voltaire believed in polygenism- he postulated people came from Adam and Eve generally but where did Africans come from? I can say that Voltaire was just plain stupid or ignorant- either way, once again, many lighter skinned people took what he said as law as well.
Other travel journals were written by explorers who never "explored" Africa at all, but came up with hilarious, frightening stories about "ape people" with large eyes and limbs and guess what? The Europeans bought that garbage as well.
Jablonksi further explores how skin coloring affected the slave trade, modern tanning, and skin lightening problems we have today. It is much to go through and explain here, but after reading her book I am further convinced that there is only one way to cure racism-
Love yourself and get to know people outside of the books.
I rate this book 4.5 stars.
But "Living Color" is far,far more than sufficient: it is provocative without being polemical. Jablonski marshalls an astonishing academic literature that sheds light on the historical development of skin color -- why and how it developed -- and then illuminates the various ways that culture have attributed meaning to visual difference. So deeply was the instinct not just to "see" but to "evaluate" that the travel literature from early European explorers confirmed prejudices that they had brought to their voyages. "Color" thus became an integral feature of colonization. Being "color blind" was never an option.
But everyone already knows this, right? What was new for me was how "color" was as a signifier within the same color group -- not just between groups. I didn't know about the differences between genders either. The adjectives that we have learned to name races are just that -- and very imprecise at that. (I am old enough to remember a Crayola named "flesh.") Who knew that Vitamin D plays such an important role in human development and health? I didn't. Where would I learn about the impact of "tanning salons" for cultures that value a particular hue or "skin whitening" for cultures that seek to avoid it?
The book is lavishly illustrated and carefully indexed -- a rarity in books written for a general audience. It even has a first-rate bibliography. I cannot imagine a more helpful or humane introduction. The author is erudite but wears her learning lightly. The use of side boxes is a bonus for clarifying complex issues, and there is not a single illustration that I would omit. I do wish, however, that the publisher had reprinted all of the plates found in the 2006 volume in this book -- they are relevant here as well.
Serious readers? Read both books, but if you have time for only one, I strongly recommend "Living Color."
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