Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color First Edition
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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."
Top international reviews
Living Colours is an excellent work which Dr Nina G Jablonski has done. It is a well compiled historical evidence on the prejudices and stereotypes that has been costing precious human life and damaging human relationship over the centuries.
In this book, Nina clearly evidences the social value system attached to pigmentation by exploring this matter from various streams of inquiries including biology, anthropology history and religion.
Part Two of the book- Society, is perhaps the most profitable one for a reader eager to quickly see what the writer says on the social effect of colour prejudice. As I argue elsewhere, the "white" vs "black" prejudices stem from a specific reading of the Bible within Euro-American ecclesiastical circles/western Christianity. For those unaware of the so called "Curse of Ham", a wishful, hypothetical, myth-based, yet influential, western religio-political ideology and propaganda concept. Nian touches on some of the influences of Puritanical interpretation of the Bible in the west, specifically in North America, where "the negro" is viewed as an embodiment of all evil, a soulless beast as a result of this exagerated "sin of Ham" (Genesis 9:18-27). Nina gives a quick read and summarises that the historically biased reading of the Bible in Western Christianity gave rise to racism and skin colour obsession and prejudice. Down the centuries, this reading of the Bible with pre-conceived ideas within the Western ecclesiastical circles fomented ongoing social problems within families of hmanities.
Nina has made an excellent contribution. The book is an easy read with clear line of evidence and discussion. I very much recommend this book. There is another excellent piece of work that can be added to your reading list together with this one, and that is the one by Fay Botham on American Antimiscegenation Laws and the so called "interracial marriage", the title is something like "Almighty God created the races: Christianity, Interracial Marriage &American Law" (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 2009). It shows the long battle for individuals' freedom of choice and the errors of Puritanical, western Christianity's hegemonic doctrines on marriage in which marriage between a "white" and "black" person was perceived and portrayed as a sin against God and a criminal act against civil government. The state of Virginia, for instance, forbade such marriage for over 300 years. Though far from suggesting that society is perfect now, it just shows how social concepts have changed with such amazing results despite the ranting of western christianity's clerics and their bigotted worldview.
The book is well worth it.
Well done to Dr Nina Jablonski (and also to Fay Botham for the other book).
Live and peace to all,