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Coloring and identity, Part 2.5: How inheritance really works

April 18, 2011

World indigenous skin color distribution map, based on von Luschan's scale

Scientic Racism Aid OTD: a rendering of von Luschan’s chromatic scale, and map based on data gathered using his glass tiles to eyeball people around the world.

 von Luschan's chromatic scale

I’d intended to continue the neglected vitamin D series, but the next post up–on frequency and consequences–will actually take more digging up of references and information analysis/stringing together into something coherent than this one. The brain fog has continued to lift, but I’m still just not up to that one today (or yesterday, when I tried to start it). So, here’s this instead. (ETA: Yeah, the brain fog is improving unevenly. I thought I’d finished and submitted this post a couple of days ago, but here it is sitting in a browser tab, saved as a draft!)

In Coloring and identity, Part 1: Intro, I briefly talked about my own complicated relationship with my skin color. (Yes, that could have been much longer. ;)) In Coloring and identity, Part 2: Some bizarre ideas about “race”, there’s a bit of an introduction to some of the peculiar significance placed on skin tone and odd ideas about how it’s determined and distributed. In this post, let’s look at how human pigmentation (skin, hair, and eyes) is really inherited.

A good, fairly brief overview:  Human pigmentation genetics: the difference is only skin deep (PDF).

I won’t go into the development of colonial racism out of more nationalistic notions of “race” here–that would take volumes upon volumes–but the combination of colonialism and the Enlightment emphasis on rationalism led inevitably to scientific racism. Europeans had to figure out ways to classify the other people they’d found, and base value judgments on perceived physical differences. This required exaggerating said differences, much like is still happening with sex- and gender-based differences.

With the unique development of colonial racism in British North America–and more specifically what’s now the US–that eventually turned into an obsession with skin color.

What most people still think of as skin color is the kind of base melanin levels scientific racists tried to measure and plot in the fairly recent past. One good piece on how this ball really got rolling: “Scientific Racism” in Enlightened Europe:Linnaeus, Darwin, and Galton. Note the obsession with hierarchies–and how well-regarded these names are today. We are still using racial categories derived from Blumenbach‘s 18th century work, with some modifications (e.g., lumping his American and Malayan “races” into the Mongolian.) From Mann’s Iroquoian Women: the Gantowisas (p. 256–no escaping it ;)):

The “science” of racial myth, as initiated by the eighteenth-century Carl von Linné (“Carolus Linnaeus”) and Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, color-coded Europe as “white,” Asia as “yellow,” Africa as “black,” and America as “red” without the slightest regard to the facts.30 (Neither Linné nor Blumenbach had ever seen any of the people they presumed to describe and classify.)

And it went from there, and it’s still going with some modifications. (More on the what the quoted partial paragraph leads into–how North American reality may or may not fit into that descriptive framework–in a post of its own, BTW.) We still define categories of people based on perceived skin color, in a prescriptive rather than descriptive way.

In the last post, we saw some of the ways skin color inheritance doesn’t work; the general public-aimed sound byte from an actual geneticist suggesting that kids might inherit more skin color genes from one parent than the other (?!) reflects just what kind of ignorance is out there. In this one, let’s look at what is known. I’ll be doing a lot of quoting, since I’m just a curious person and not a geneticist.🙂

From Human pigmentation genetics: the difference is only skin deep (PDF):

Differences in these human color traits can be graded between individuals of darkest to those of lightest pigmentation along a continuum. Rather than recognition of such subtlety, however, distinct groupings are commonly spoken of as black, white, red, or yellow with a predominant black/white dualism in popular categorization. Many genes contribute toward producing these different color shades by taking part in the synthesis of different amounts or kinds of substances that give rise to the visible color differences. In the case of skin and hair color, such differences are produced by virtually one pigment known as melanin,(2) which has a variety of functions,(3) including photoprotection, routing of the optic nerve tracts, and possibly the scavenging of free radicals. By incorporating different chemical subunits, the melanin polymer can vary from black/brown to red/yellow, which can account for some of the color qualities, with melanin particle size, shape, density, and distribution contributing to the degree of opacity.

A lot of different genes control melanin properties/quantity, and they’re finding more all the time:

To date, many genes have been identified in the skin pigmentation biochemical pathway. This suggests that the evolution of human skin color is multifaceted. Some of the genes you may have heard of before are ASIP, MC1R (more info), SLC24A5, TYR, KITL, HERC2, and the OCA gene family. To add a layer of complexity, many different alleles of each gene exist and ultimately affect the functionality of the gene product in the pigmentation pathway. Projects like the HapMap initiative have identified that certain populations have unique distributions and frequencies of skin color alleles. [Goes on to discuss a new study identifying more affecting hair and skin coloration in European populations.]

To some extent, it’s additive. A somewhat simplified explanation of what’s really happening in a case like the Daily Mail so sensationalistically reported, from the last post:

Typically, the child is a “blend” of genes that can be either dark or light because skin color is determined by multiples of the same gene (we aren’t sure how many, but the latest estimate is about six). Skin color is an example of an additive trait, in which multiple genes add up to a certain dosage, so the sum effect depends on the number of genes that express the trait. For example, if skin color is determined by six identical genes, and we have two copies of each gene, then there are twelve possible contributions to the skin color trait. So, any one person can have from zero to twelve “dark” genes that give varying dosages of color. (Light skin is the mutant form of skin color, so most people have at least one or two dark genes.) When two people have a child together, the child receives half (or 6 of 12) of each parent’s skin color genes randomly. So, if the child randomly receives all dark genes from a parent that has 6 of 12 genes that are dark and all light genes from another parent that has 6 of 12 genes dark then the child will look exactly the same skin color as the parents (6 dark and 6 light). But with random assortment of genes, realistically the dosage could be anywhere in between or outside the parent’s traits. For example, if the child received all 12 of the 12 possible dark genes in this example (6 from one parent and 6 from the other), then the child would be darker than either parent. Conversely, if the child received all of the 12 light genes then the child would be much lighter than either parent.

Based on statistics, the child will be somewhere between the parents, especially if one parent has a majority of light genes and the other parent has a majority of dark genes. However, realistically, the gene dosage could be anywhere on the spectrum.

To answer your question directly, the child could be as “dark” as the sum of all of the dark genes possible or as “light” as all of the light genes possible. To carry on our example, if a white person with 10 of 12 genes light (2 dark genes) married someone dark with 10 of 12 dark genes (2 light genes), then the “lightest” the skin could be is 6 + 2 light, or 8 of 12 light; the “darkest” the skin could be is 6 + 2 dark, or 8 of 12 dark. (This is assuming that the child received all 6 genes from one parent as the major trait and all possible genes of the minor trait of the other parent.)

In reality, things don’t seem to be totally straightforwardly “line them up and add them together”. I am including a bit of the history of understandings of how the inheritance works; though knowledge is progressing, we still don’t know anywhere near everything about how this works, from Human pigmentation genetics: the difference is only skin deep (PDF):

As an extension of their work on these traits in Caucasians, the Davenports also began an analysis of skin color inheritance in the children of marriages between people of black African and white Caucasian descent, suggesting that as little as two gene pairs would be sufficient to explain the phenotypes of the offspring of these unions which was always of intermediate pigmentation. [Sound familiar? – U.] Further work by Stern,(10) in 1953, by Harrison and Owen,(11) in 1964, and by Kalla,(12) in 1969, raised the number to 3–6 gene pairs. These classical studies, however, were based on the hypothesis that the genes involved worked in simple and equally additive ways, which is clearly an inadequate model for how genes act and interact.

Despite these numerous formal genetic studies, there is no definitive understanding of the ways in which genes
determine human pigmentation. Insight into the process is now coming from the new genomic strategies and genotyping technologies that use comparative genomics to identify mammalian pigmentation genes, the study of hypopigmented human phenotypes to characterize dysfunctional genes, and polymorphism studies on variation within these genes in diverse human populations. The goal of understanding the differences of human pigmentation, so often reduced to the single index of color, becomes one of much higher complexity in identifying and understanding the nature of the genes expressed in the melanocyte cell and how they interact. Only upon this understanding will the heritable basis of the physical trait of color be revealed

Here is a description of what one gene variation which causes a change in one protein can do: One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish: What the colors of fish have taught us about human skin color. (Though I doubt the “responsible for 25-38% of the skin-color difference between Europeans and Africans” claim, as many different genes as are involved and interacting with one another.) At last check, there were at least 10 genes known to be affecting melanin in humans; more have probably been identified by now. To quote from the last post: “Reduction of polygenetic additive traits to straight dominant/recessive single-allele Punnet squares is somehow less confusing to the kiddies?!”

Another piece I ran across which is very relevant to my interests lately, from Razib Khan’s Gene Expression: Skin color & Vitamin D & folate. I am still not sure about some of the usual explanations offered for how and why the range of human skin tones developed and got distributed around the world, but this is a pretty good introduction to distribution.

Hair and eye color are similarly complex. To avoid quoting even more heavily, here are a few links with more info on that:

I will quote a bit from Razib Khan’s Genetics of Hair Color (again):

Bruce Lee one once said his son Brandon was the only “blonde Chinaman” in the world. If you know what Brandon looked like as an adult, he had dark brown hair (which could be perceived as black). Most European blonde children become non-blonde adults. It stands to reason that a half-Asian “blonde” (again, “blonde” can be relative, I have met many self-described blondes who I would not describe as such) would have dark hair as an adult. A similar pattern can be seen with blue eyes (note that skin, hair and eye color are not tightly linked). The saying that “all babies have blue eyes” is dependent on parental phenotype. In my family, the saying would more appropriately be that “all babies are born white.” Though we have brown eyes at birth, our skin is white until we are 6 months to 1 year old (I once talked to a friend of Korean origin who thought that all babies were born with the Mongoloid blue spot, and I have been told that black babies do not develop kinky hair for a few months). Additionally, there are also other eye colors besides blue and brown. Hazel and green for instance can be confusingly classified sometimes. I have known a few people who are half-Asian (of various kinds, east and south) who have hazel and green eyes. If that is classified as “non-blue,” then blue can be confirmed to be recessive. If it is interpreted as a more continuous trait, it gets complicated. If it is interpreted as a color caused by a different gene, well….

You get the point. People look different at different ages. Men and women are affected by the different levels of testerone and estrogen. The coloration of South Asian field-workers is often black, that of the Brahmin caste is lighter, some of this is genetic, but some of it is environment. Gay men often have blonde tips (thank you fashion!). Surfers are often very blonde (thank you sun & chemicals).

I was a blonde kid. The eventual darkening is not an unusual state of affairs, but the level of significance a lot of people seemed to place on it is amazing in retrospect. BTW, I’m glad that people are used to seeing Mongolian spots on babies where I’m from, because apparently where they’re less common they sometimes get interpreted as evidence of abuse. And from the photo on that page, I can understand why.😐 Also, in the “loosely linked traits” category, one of my great-grandmothers somehow turned out with naturally almost platinum blonde hair and darker skin. Nobody else in that part of the family had blonde hair as an adult, most not as kids, and her mother’s family was part of the Trail of Tears refugee contingent–considered a “full-blood”. (Though, judging by family surnames, James Adair was in the mix way back, and Osceola apparently considered himself a “full-blood” by traditional reckoning.)

Working from the idea of skin color as a fixed, immutable trait with all kinds of weird social significance attached, one thing that gets pretty much totally neglected in the popular imagination: the very loosely linked attributes of “Constitutive Pigmentation” (what I’ve been calling base melanin) and “Facultative Pigmentation” (a tan).

This is one of the things that has confused me, not having done a lot of research on this kind of thing previously. I could tell that there was a pretty wide variation in how people’s skin reacts to the sun, which can lead to “skin tone fluid” results like with my own. In my own family–and well beyond–a person’s visible melanin levels starting out seem to have very little to do with how dark they will get with UV exposure.  Before running across some info on this, I didn’t even know what terms to look for.

From an overview of how skin itself works (emphasis mine):

When exposed to ultraviolet radiation, the melanocytes release extra melanosomes thus making the skin darker and completing melanogenesis which is defined as the UVR-induced production and oxidation of melanin, i.e., the process of developing facultative pigmentation, better known as cosmetic tanning. Facultative Pigmentation is simply the level of an acquired tan developed by an individual exposed to ultraviolet light where as Constitutive Pigmentation is our natural skin color.

Every individual has only a given amount of melanin which is determined by an individual’s skin type. Although a person may gradually increase the amount of melanin production through tanning, the person cannot change from one skin type to another

Ultraviolet B initiates the tanning process by stimulating the melanocytes, releasing melanin into the surrounding cells. As these melanin granules migrate to the skin’s surface, there is a chemical reaction that occurs between the tyrosine, the melanin and the UVA rays that turns the skin a light brown or brown giving us the tanned appearance.

The degree of coloring achieved depends on the amount of melanin one has, the duration of the exposure and the individual’s reaction to the ultraviolet rays.

Sounds like that’s an important dimension of “natural skin color”. It doesn’t make sense to me to set up acquired protective melanin levels from sun exposure in opposition to something described as “natural”. (Terminology quibbling, yeah, but given the social context? It’s not necessarily trivial. Especially when the lighter state is “natural”.)

From Human pigmentation genetics: the difference is only skin deep (emphasis added):

Problems arise in defining an individuals true pigmentation however, because skin color can be influenced by environmental factors or may change with age, and hair can be bleached or simply dyed. Even brief exposure to sunlight may result in persistent changes in the amount of cutaneous melanin; hence evaluation of these traits can become quite subjective if not properly analyzed and will introduce a confounding variable when attempting to link genotype with phenotype.

From another section of the same training material for people who are dealing very practically with how human skin behaves in reality, a couple more terms explained so that the UV response skin typing scheme will make more sense:

The tanning process or increased pigmentation occurs in two phases. The first one is immediate pigment darkening (IPD). IPD is a rapid darkening of the skin which begins during exposure to UV radiation and its maximum effect is visible immediately. It is caused by a change in melanin already present in the skin. IPD is most obvious in skin where significant pigmentation already exists. It occurs after exposure to the longer wavelength of UVA or visible light. IPD may fade within minutes of small exposures or may last several days after longer exposures and blend in with delayed tanning.

Delayed tanning, induced mostly by UVB exposure, is the result of increased epidermal melanin and first becomes visible 72 hours after exposure. Both UVA and UVB radiation start delayed tanning by creating an excited condition in the melanocytes which in turn releases more melanin into the skin. The degree of IPD is primarily a reflection of the person’s skin type. Delayed tanning demands larger doses of both UVA and UVB for any given response.

So, what about the skin typing they keep talking about? They’re using the Fitzpatrick Scale, developed by a dermatologist at Harvard in the ’70s. I didn’t know, but this seems to be the scale most commonly used without credit to categorize skin tones and their behavior in the sun in the US (and beyond, judging by this Norwegian sun exposure and vitamin D synthesis calculator). I didn’t know that it was developed specifically to determine appropriate exposure to medical UV therapy, but apparently so.

In past, I’ve had problems with descriptive grouping systems based on the Fitzpatrick Scale, with practical things like figuring out what SPF to start out using. The way this is usually presented, I do not seem to fit into any of the categories. Very Eurocentric nutshell, reformatted a bit (and once again, what ends up at Wikipedia reflects especially US-common presentations of the information):

The Fitzpatrick Scale:
Type I (scores 0-7) White; very fair; freckles. Always burns, never tans
Type II (scores 8-16) White; fair. Usually burns, tans with difficulty
Type III (scores 17-25) Beige; very common. Sometimes mild burn, gradually tans
Type IV (scores 25-30) Beige with a brown tint; typical Mediterranean Caucasian skin. Rarely burns, tans with ease
Type V (scores over 30) Dark brown. Very rarely burns, tans very easily
Type VI Black. Never burns, tans very easily

Compare to the earlier mentioned Calculated Ultraviolet Exposure Levels for a Healthy Vitamin D Status categories (which is, at least, Norwegian and reflects most groups you’d expect to find there these days):

Pale Caucasian, Blond Caucasian, Darker Caucasian, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Black

Most of the world gets left out. Am I some kind of strange, rarely burning Type II Pale Caucasian (sometimes described as a Celtic skin type) starting out, later magically turning into a Type IV Mediterranean person?* Remember, people “cannot change from one skin type to another”. My husband is a glowingly pale Swedish redhead who grudgingly tans, and really does fit into Fitzpatrick’s Type II. (And you can bet I was following him around with a bottle of SPF 30+ when we were in Spain in late summer–while using a little SPF 8 myself for lack of much of a base tan.) Our skin behaves very differently, but under common colonial racism-based understandings of what is intended as a very practical scale of UV response, we would get lumped together. Hopefully actual dermatologists, even in the US, do better applying this scale to patients in need of UV treatment.

Not surprisingly, in real application, it’s more nuanced:

Charts based on the Fitzpatrick system categorize humans into six different skin types, arranged from lightest to darkest coloring. Below is a typical skin typing chart. Skin type is determined by a person’s initial response to sun exposure after a long period of no exposure (winter). It remains the same, regardless of tan developing due to further exposures. [Not the chart, but the longer descriptions included–U.]

Skin Type 1 tans little or not at all; burns easily and severely; then peels. Skin reaction samples include most often fair skin, blue eyes, freckles, and white, unexposed skin. The skin of Type 1 individuals does not have the ability to create natural protection from ultraviolet exposure, and it is particularly susceptible to burning and damage from UV rays. These people should avoid UV exposure, and must not be allowed to go into a tanning bed. Skin typing should eliminate the possibility of a Skin Type 1 individual tanning in a bed. Sunless tanning options would be a good solution for these clients.

Skin Type 2 usually burns easily and severely (painful burn); tans minimally and lightly. Skin reaction samples include: fair skin, blue or hazel eyes, blonde or red hair, and white, unexposed skin.

Skin Type 3 burns moderately; gains average tan. Skin reaction samples include: average Caucasian, with white unexposed skin.

Skin Type 4 burns minimally; tans easily and above average with each exposure; exhibits IPD. Skin reaction samples include: people with light or brown skin, dark-brown hair, and dark eyes, and whose unexposed skin is white or light brown (Asians, Hispanics and Mediterraneans.).

Skin Type 5 rarely burns; tans easily and substantially; always exhibits IPD. Skin reaction samples include: brown-skinned persons whose unexposed skin is brown (East Indians, Hispanics, etc.)

The last category, Skin Type 6, tans profusely, never burns; exhibits IPD. Skin reaction samples include: persons with black skin (Africans and African Americans, Austrlians and South Indian Aborigines).

Non-“Hispanic” American Indian people still don’t exist, but we’re used to that by now.😐 And again with the “Hispanic” lumping, considering even the US government admits you can be Hispanic and of any “racial” background (or any combination thereof, I might add). At least this gives more information on skin behavior, and includes most of the world. Lumping all African-Americans into Type 6 sounds more than a little weird, given the huge range of base skin tones there. (It’s bad enough for actual Africans,  for similar reasons, but there are a lot of lighter-skinned people who get considered Black in the US particularly.) It’s still full of unintentional racefail, but actually usable.

So, according to this, I’m a Type 4 without the dark eye correlation: “burns minimally; tans easily and above average with each exposure; exhibits IPD…and whose unexposed skin is white or light brown“. Check, check, check, and check. The IPD comes from UVA oxidizing melanin that’s already in the skin so that it turns brown, suggesting that I’ve got a lot more unoxidized melanin starting out than one might have thought; my skin does IPD from the beginning. Also, light as my sun-starved skin looks, I’ve never blistered from sunburn. Really painful bright redness on occasion, yes; blistering and peeling, not so much. Even what seems like a moderate burn is gone in a couple of days at most. Mild burns are usually gone by the next day, leaving a temporarily darker tan from the IPD I didn’t even know what to call before.

My mother and me, side by side, with the head of an identifiably Indian person photoshopped onto my stepdad's shoulders on my other side

A purposely bad, snarky GIMP job recycled here. Both of us were pale here; my mom had been very sick and avoiding the sun for several years, still recovering from a mastectomy at the time of the photo.  I was on medication that made me overheat in the sun, and had just spent my first summer in the UK. I did not know my mom could get that pale, assuming this was pretty much the default; our skin tones aren’t so far off here. The other guy pasted onto my stepfather’s shoulders is a Genuine “Red Indian” (Eastern Band Cherokee), whose paint is starting to come off–to expose lightish skin.

Contrary to popular expectations based in an unhealthy fascination with base melanin levels, my mother and I would have the same skin type. I had certainly noticed this; the difference between our skin tones was always a week or two in the sun. Also, going along with observations, my skin type is much better adapted to the area I’m from–on a Mediterranean latitude, in Eurocentric terms–than to conditions above 50°N, where I’m living now. Though my base melanin levels when out of the sun are pretty low, quickly I do turn into a darker-skinned person with trouble synthesizing enough vitamin D without taking special care to get lots of UV exposure. The easy facultative pigmentation gets in the way at this latitude.

I’m also reminded of one woman on an expats forum I used for a while after moving here, in a discussion of “I’ve never been this pale before in my life.” She left South Carolina thinking she was a medium-brown person, but after a year or two in the UK turned into a light yellowish-skinned person with freckles she’d never known were there. A couple of weeks in the south of France, and she was almost feeling like herself again. The difference between  constitutive and facultative pigmentation can be pretty big.

I have been trying to find some information on what genetic factors are involved here, but am mostly turning up that what determines facultative pigmentation is even more poorly understood than constitutive. A slightly interesting bit from The Time Course of Photoadaptation and Pigmentation Studied Using a Novel Method to Distinguish Pigmentation from Erythema (again, emphasis mine) :

We show clear differences in the degree, but not the temporal pattern of pigmentation between different pigmentary groups. We also report that the relation between facultative pigment and constitutive pigment is incomplete, with a wide scatter of responses for the development of pigmentation irrespective of constitutive levels

Although a myriad of biochemical pathways have been identified that change in response to UVR (Campbell et al, 1993;Smith and Rees, 1994;Kulms and Schwarz, 2002b;Rees, 2002a,b,2003), the factors that lead to differences between persons are only partially understood. Humans are strikingly polymorphic in the degree of constitutive pigmentation (Rees, 2003), and this undoubtedly explains much diversity in acute and chronic UVR responses…

We also related the degree of increase of pigment on the test sites to constitutive pigment on the buttock, by UVR dose. These results are intriguing in that we see little relation between constitutive pigment and facultative pigmentation. It is also worthy of comment that even when grouped by pigment type (Group 1 or Group 2) that little difference in the increase in pigment is seen except at the highest dose (7.2 SED). The explanation for this, we believe, is quite straightforward: people able to tan (such as one thinks of in Fitzpatrick Type IV skin) are not more able to increase their pigment than some with Type I skin per unit of UVR, what they are able to do is tolerate a bigger dose of UVR to begin with, that enables a greater stimulus to be made experimentally. In our experiment this was not the case, as fixed doses of UVR were administered to all subjects irrespective of constitutive color. In our data, we see little evidence for anything but a continuous distribution of abilities to tan, just as there is a distribution of values for constitutive pigmentation. Of note is that the highest exposure dose of UVR we gave corresponded to exposure to 1 h of midday sunshine at latitude 40° North (e.g. New York) on a day in July. Nonetheless, it is obvious from experience that a different ceiling applies to the degree of development of pigmentation; the relation between the rate of change of pigmentation and the maximum pigmentation that can be developed requires further work.

This turned even more long and sciency than I was expecting, but it’s an interesting topic.

Next up, with any luck:  how colonial racist misconceptions about how skin color works and is distributed get applied to North America. That’s both an interesting topic on its own, and the question/experience of privilege partly depends on it.


* This is very much to the point with particularly US-based colonial understandings of skin color and some other racialized traits (“Ethnic hair”?). Just look at all the mostly “Mediterranean” stories people made up to explain the looks of some Southeastern “mixed” and other Native people–yes, I’m looking at you among others, Dr. Kennedy. (Hell, half my grandmother’s family still thinks they’re from a strongly Jewish background, a story used in past to explain away some of their physical traits as more acceptable in that time and place!). Again, from Wikipedia:

Most modern-day descendants of Appalachian families traditionally regarded as Melungeon are generally European American in appearance, often, though not always, with dark hair and eyes, and a swarthy or olive complexion. Descriptions of Melungeons have varied widely over time; in the 19th and early 20th century, they were sometimes called “Portuguese” to “Native American” to “light-skinned African American.”

This is a reasonable description if you don’t know what real live Native people look like, including “mixed” ones. If we don’t look overtly “Mexican”, we look White or Black.  By now, an awful lot of folks–if not most of the US population–would read the people drawn here as “European American in appearance”:

Drawing in purple and white wampum colors of an elderly woman and a young girl with a wampum belt in front of them

Cover art from Barbara A. Manns Iroquoian Women: the Gantowisas: "Iroquoian Women" by Raymond R. Skye, Tuscarora Artist, Six Nations of the Grand River (Brantford, Ontario, Canada)

That actually struck me the first time I saw the book cover. (Well, besides the thought that I’ve never seen anybody with wrinkles quite like that.) Maybe the wampum belt would be a sufficient clue, but probably not given the amount of appropriation accepted as normal–plus, it’s not something associated with Plains cultures.😐 It’s kind of like some white-by-default perceptions of manga and anime artistic styles, but with real people.

I mentioned that my mom, living where there were fewer visibly darker Native people, kept getting assumed to be of recent Italian descent; Kathryn Lucci-Cooper, from the same river system we grew up on but further up into the WV coalfields, mentions in
Genocide of the Mind that her own Cherokee mother identified with her 2nd-generation Sicilian husband’s culture and passed as Italian herself whenever possible.  My own paternal grandmother described my skin as much more “olive” than her own when I was a kid, not having a better term for it.

Outside a filter of colonial racism–with encouraged ignorance and paucity of descriptive terms to apply–there is a significant difference between the appearance of most people from around the Mediterranean and most indigenous people in the Americas. Duh. There is also a significant difference between Mediterranean “olive” skin and  that good old spectrum of “intermixture of the copper colour” # common in the Americas.  It’s not the same kind of skin color at all, other than in terms of pigment saturation levels as compared to what’s common in Northern Europe. Yet, after centuries of weird racism, we will describe our own complexions as “olive”. This general theme will be coming up again.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. April 20, 2011 11:02 pm

    Psst! I am an 18! (false enthusiasm)

    P.s: LOVED Genocide of the Mind

    • urocyon permalink
      April 21, 2011 4:59 pm

      ATM, the inside of my arm looks like a 16 or 17 in saturation if not tone, the way that’s rendered on this monitor at least. From I’m guessing a winter 5 or 6.

      I still haven’t been doing so well at commenting lately, but enjoyed your blood quantum post.🙂

      • April 23, 2011 2:56 am

        Oh thank you!❤

      • April 24, 2011 7:03 am

        Oh! Thank you! you know, I am still not used to receiving so many compliments from strangers about my writing, lol.

  2. URGroovy permalink
    August 5, 2011 6:27 pm

    Thank you muchly for the posting.. I needed to read this today 🙂
    I also enjoyed reading GOTM.


  1. Melanin

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