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October 22, 2013


Indeed, you've neatly described my own observations in the Philippines. Bleaching parlors instead of tanning parlors, all the celebrities are much paler than the average population, (Except for some comedians.) and I can't get my wife to go out in the sun.

As for a cure, why is a "cure" needed?

Straight haired girls all want curls; brunettes all want to be blonde.

Maybe this is life's reaction to the Monty Hall problem, except in that specific instance there's a mathematical case to be made for switching.

There's more to it than simply preferring what someone else has. In many parts of the world, shade of skin color can negatively narrow a person's options in marriage, job, housing, and other fundamental choices. This is particularly true for women who find themselves denied options due to gender.

That's why the need for a cure.

Having said that, my impression is that those places where skin color and gender narrow options significantly and in affect play as a way to support he power hierarchy have serious problems across the board including access to education, health care, or routes out of entranced poverty. In other words, when it is useful to lighter skinned elites to slot people into lower classes and keep them there, then skin color is one way to do it.

I read "Behind the Beautiful Forevers", a book about an urban slum in India a few months ago. The people of the slum are marked by darker skin but they are also marked by small stature due to chronic malnutrition. One of the characters, a teenage boy, realizes accurately that he has to become involved in crime in order to eat enough to grow.

I don't know much about Africa either although I just stumbled upon a series of mysteries written by a Ghanan author that are quite interesting. The author doesn't mention skin color except to describe various shades of brown while depicting characters; the impression is that the darker shades are just as handsome or beautiful as paler ones. But I am not making a generalization based on a murder mystery written in by one African author!

As for a cure, why is a "cure" needed?

Because people are treated poorly because their skin is dark.

And the cure that is needed, obviously, is inside people's heads, not on their skin.

This reminds me of a conversation I had with an Indian co-worker. He had a small picture of Indian deities on his desk. I asked him who was who, and in the process of explaining it to me, he pointed out that you could always identify Krishna because he was blue.

Why blue? I asked.

Because it is dark, and the dark color makes him handsome, was the reply.

I don't know if that is a common thought, or how it fits into this discussion. But, it was an interesting exchange, I thought.

Does anyone know more about why Krishna is blue? And/or whether in some contexts darker skin is seen as more beautiful?

Well, the word Krishna means black or dark or dark-blue in Sanskrit, which I think is connected via Indo European to Russian chyorny, German Kohle and English coal.

The bizarre thing is the English 'black' is actually related to 'blaze' (being the aftermath of something blazing, I suppose), so the original meaning of 'black' is actually 'bright' or 'blazing'. Still, this is run of the mill, when one thinks of how words on the extreme ends of the spectrum often 'flip' in meaning with things like 'cool'/'hot' or even wicked/bad as adjectives of quality (as in 'his bbq is wicked, you have to try it').

I'd love to know the name of the Ghanan author.

Well, the word Krishna means black or dark or dark-blue in Sanskrit

I guess my question is, how does the association of Krishna's dark skin with his handsomeness or attractiveness fit with otherwise general preference for lighter skin?

"Because people are treated poorly because their skin is dark."

Well, obviously that's bad, but the answer to people treating folks they consider unattractive badly isn't changing what they consider unattractive. That would just result in somebody else getting treated badly. The answer is persuading people that attractiveness shouldn't bear on how you treat other people.

The answer is persuading people that attractiveness shouldn't bear on how you treat other people.

Works for me. Well said.

...and thus explaining why the Irish were destined to RULE THE WORLD with an iron shillelagh

Hasn't worked out all that well, so far.

Had the Irish only subscribed more eagerly to the benign leadership of their English lords, they could have shared more fully in the Pax Britannica and the Empire On Which The Sun Never Set.

(FWIW, the anti-Irish propaganda of the 19th century, in both the UK and the USA, tended to depict them as dark, in fact: not black, obviously, but clearly darker and more "animalistic" than "normal" Brits or Americans. QED.)

The "out in the sun" hypothesis works for me as a first-order explanation.

I do think that the history of conquest counts for a great deal.

We happen, for guns germs and steel reasons, to live in a world where most conquerors of the last few centuries have been somewhat less pigmented than those they conquered. Where the difference is pronounced, you get discrimination based on skin color. Where that's not true, or where it's not pronounced, other status markers are the stuff of prejudice -- the famous class signifiers of Great Britain, for instance, or the early 20th Century American prejudices against Irish and Catholics.

I'm under the impression that Japan's Ainu are less pigmented (and hairier) than the general run of Japanese, but have lower status.

My ignorance of these matters intra African peoples is nearly complete, but I'm under the impression that occasionally very dark Africans have conquered lighter Africans. I'd be very curious about the status value of skin color in such situations.

The maxim I heard is that God invented whiskey to keep the Irish from ruling the world.

(FWIW, I am of mostly Irish ancestry myself, or so I am told.)

WRT variations on a theme: one Southeast Asian (Filipino?) origin myth has the gods "baking" the first humans, like bread or cookies. Some were burnt - too black; some were undercooked - too pale; and some came out just right - true humans, better than the others.

Joel Hanes is right about "other status markers," but it may be noted that these often slide into questions of tint as well - e.g., the Irish as darker than "normal," the working classes as "dirty" ("grimy"), Southern Europeans as "oily," etc. Religion may be a start, but it isn't sufficient to fully demonize the Other.

This all explains why we idolize the fishbelly-white Scandahoovians, yah?

Google Fight!

The author's name is Kwei Quartet. He was born in Ghana but got his advanced education in the US, is a doctor as well as an author and lives in Los Angeles. The Book I read is titled "Wife of the Gods." He's written two more.

I don't think the issue is one of attractiveness or lack thereof. It's more that a set of assumptions can build up around a certain kind of appearance. It's kind of like the way word have connotations. For some people shade of skin has connotations. The connotations can relate to position in a power hierarchy, and then be detrimental to the people with the "bad" skin and beneficial to the people with the "good" skin.

I think Vitruvius also describes a medium -- central Italian -- skin-tone as `just right'.

I wonder if there isn't another guns-germs-steel reason, if cold climates aren't particularly good for exploitation by industrial technology. It's sure nice not having the bugs get ahead of us every year, etc.

Google Fight!

Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

I'm not an expert and it's been a long time since I studied this, but if I remember my college classes and conversations correctly, the preference for paler skin was not common in much of sub-Saharan Africa or the Americas prior to the colonial period. However, that may be because they were less likely to have elites that spent large amounts of time inside. Your theory sounds correct to me, so it would be interesting to see if anyone had any data comparing aesthetic preferences between areas where urbanization occurred versus areas where it did not. Of course, since writing often accompanies urbanization, it's probably difficult to get solid data on the latter group.

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