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Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color Hardcover – September 27, 2012
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From the Inside Flap
"Nina Jablonski is a world-renowned expert on human pigmentation, and one of the leaders in the science of anthropology. In Living Color she has done a brilliant job of explaining the biological and cultural significance of our skin tones in non-technical terms. Living Color should be required reading for every high school and college student." Paul R. Ehrlich, author of The Race Bomb and The Dominant Animal
Grounded firmly in the science of human history, this groundbreaking book brings the biological and social meanings of skin color into dialogue with one another, creating an open, rich, and essential conversation about this fact of life that differentiates us from one another but that ultimately, and profoundly, unites us.” Henry Louis Gates, Jr., author of Faces of America and Tradition and the Black Atlantic
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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."