May 30 2011

Spinster aunt: “white,” perhaps, but not white

Skin color

A selection of hues from the skin of my left forearm. The next time I have to check a race box on some form, I’m gonna tick “other” and write in “aubergine.”

UPDATE: I realize that this post may need a bit more explanation. Here is how I got these swatches. I took a photo of my arm with my iPhone, and put it in Photoshop, and moved the little eyedropper around. I got a buttload of different CMYK values, many of which I suspect I have in common with most everyone else on the planet (as someone said in the comments, alluding to the purple swatch, yeah, if you mean the planet Obstreperon).

I did this in response to a comment suggesting that skin color/ethnicity can be objectively determined (as opposed to, say “whiteness,” which a construct). My point — not breathtakingly original, perhaps, but a point nevertheless — is that a person’s actual measurable skin color is not necessarily always what one would expect based on the ethnicity with which that person is identified. Also, ethnicity is totally a construct.

ArmHere is the original photo, and yeah, it looks like maybe the white balance is skewed a wee bit toward the blue end of the spectrum. Also, I should maybe have rinsed the hay particles out of my arm hair before taking the picture. The purple swatch came from a freckle, not from the shadowy part of the photo.


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  1. Belle

    Oh, I like it! Aubergine… hmmm. I think I’m more caramel. Pale caramel. If we all do our ‘real’ color(s), that’ll screw ’em up good, eh?

  2. MPMR

    “Mottled wheat” here.

  3. humanbein

    Isn’t white a social construct invented to oppress people designated as non-white? It’s like being born with a penis: It makes it possible to enter into a world of privilege whether you like it or not, if a person who identifies herself as non-white calls you on it. The defined extent of whiteness is vague around the edges. Like children who have both parents.

  4. Comrade PhysioProf

    You better start using some fucken sunscreen!

  5. TotallyDorkin

    I actually think that’s a beautiful color palette. New website layout?

  6. Tigs

    I had a cracka-ass-cracka epiphany one day a while back that relates to this somewhat.

    I was sitting in a class on Black Feminisms, and it was the third week of class, and I realized my professor was Black! We had been talking about standpoint theory, and how the black woman standpoint has a great deal of salience, but how it’s not an essentialist position. Rather, because there are so many intersections of power, black women are often situated such that they are cognizant of a great deal about power relationships–because they are subject to them, and if they are not cognizant of them, they have tended to get screwed over (even more so than they might have otherwise).
    This discussion turned to being attuned and knowledgeable about racial status–and the women of color in the room all related experiences of both reading and being read as women of color, and how that, in turn, made them very aware of the power relationships that are implicit in these spaces.

    Now, I am a cracka-ass-cracka. Blondish, blue eyes, pale, rosy cheeked–I’m like that coppertone kid with her ass hanging out (though, rarely is my ass hanging out), and I have noted many times in the past that I can’t tell ‘what’ anyone is.
    Greek, Arab, Latino, light-skinned black, deeply-tanned German, I never know what race/ethnic assignment anyone has. And what occurred to me in this class, when I realized that my prof was Black (I didn’t really have a thought as to her race/ethnicity–she’s quite light-skinned and I thought I didn’t know her race/ethnicity, and I didn’t really need to know), I simultaneously realized that it is utter privilege that I didn’t.
    Being lily white means that I automatically know my place on the racial hierarchy–it’s at the top–therefore, I don’t have to think that hard about my relative place. I don’t need to navigate those relationships because when it comes to race, I am automatically in the dominant position.

    Race/ethnicity/color, they’re all code for hierarchy, and the code isn’t actually based in material reality–it’s based on a set of relations of power that have material consequences if you don’t recognize them.

  7. Lady K

    White not being white aside, methinks someone needs to check their white balance unless Twisty is secretly the Grimace.

  8. Mary Tracy9

    Is Aubergine the skin colour of the people from Obstreperon?

  9. M

    How’d you harvest them?
    I have a sneaking naughty urge to attempt to measure myself with the office Spectro-Eye tomorrow, now. I don’t think the aubergine-y scar on my left elbow is big enough to fill the aperture, even if I could balance the damn’ thing there – but I might be able to get it to read blue.

  10. M

    Ah! Me = slow, sorry:

    “…if I were to take a photograph of the skin on my arm, and put it in Photoshop, and move the little eyedropper around on it, I’d get a buttload of different CMYK values, many of which I’d have in common with most everyone else on the planet.”

  11. janna

    @M: That would be an interesting project.

  12. Frumious B

    @Tigs: Privilege is really confusing sometimes. No, scratch that. Privilege isn’t confusing at all – it’s fucking easy. Suddenly seeing the world through the eyes of the non-privileged is confusing and scary and makes you want to run screaming back to privilege, where everything is easy.

  13. AFAIK

    Whiteness as a American social concept doesn’t have much distinct content, arguably no distinct content, other than privilege itself. Much of “white” culture is either really limited by region (hockey, country music) or is not really separate from the culture of designated “non-whites.”

  14. Lara

    Thank you. Ethnicity and skin color cannot be used as concepts interchangeably. I have very light skin, and sometimes pass as white, but my ethnicity, and most certainly my race as well, are not white at all. So this blather about “objectively” determining someone’s ethnicity (through their skin color???) is, well, blather. But these ridiculous concepts hold incredible weight in not only American culture, but I think in the rest of the world (albeit in somewhat different ways).

  15. nails

    A post from sociological images from awhile back featured people in China trying to figure out the races of American people based on photographs. Race is fuzzy as hell.


  16. yttik

    The thing is Jill, only “white” is a social construct, there is no such thing as white. It’s a category used to Other the rest of the population. Individual countries in the world don’t even agree about what white is, it’s somewhat fluid and dependent on the culture you live in. But that is simply not true for other races and ethnicities. There are physical characteristics, identifying markers that connect you to the part of the world where your ancestors originated from. The only people who can truly change their identity are those who are white, because white doesn’t really exist.

    It’s all well and good to photo shop whiteness and show the obvious silliness of declaring somebody white, but the same is not true for other categories. Those identifying physical characteristics, those lived experiences, the way you are perceived in society, are all very real and much more complicated than simply perceived skin color.

  17. Nora

    @humanbein: “Isn’t white a social construct invented to oppress people designated as non-white?”

    And how.

  18. vitaminC

    Also, photography as we understand it was developed by Kodak corp. with the baseline standard of rendering white women two stops/shades whiter than they actually are.


  19. vitaminC

    Er, sorry. No intro on the link.

    It’s a great book that traces some histories of whiteness in visual arts/culture.

    Richard Dyer, “White: Essays on Race and Culture.”

  20. Nzesi

    Skin color to determine race. So what happens if I take a pic of my arm in January and another one in August. Which pic should I use to determine what I am?

  21. tmi

    @Tigs I had a few years of school where I was the only white student in a class of 30+. I didn’t notice until school pictures came out and my family went, “Are you really the only white kid there?” and I couldn’t think of anyone else. They were some of the least-bullied and most pleasant years I had — talk about privilege.

    As far as “Aubergine,” that’s especially funny given the Italian-American term for black people.

  22. Someone Else

    I just assumed you had a bruise. I am familiar with those shades as my aggressively friendly great dane leaves them on me with regularity. I figured with a horse you were at least equally likely to experience clumsy, possibly bone-breaking affection.

  23. Triste

    Are people really surprised by/skeptical of these colors? This is sort of how colors work, guys. In nearly any given object in reality there will be light of various colors reflected back. If you have before you, as I do, a blue bag of Quaker Rice Snacks (don’t judge), you could probably find, if you had a real life Photoshop Eyedropper thing, colors ranging from reddish to greenish to orangeish. Your brain processes these various lights and basically averages them all together into one giant smear of color, which is why you look at the bag and think “blue” or Jill’s arm and think “cracker.” Your brain is capable of making generalizations so quickly and efficiently that you’re not even capable of perceiving it. A computer, on the other hand, doesn’t see an arm – it sees thousands and thousands of individual pixels.

  24. Ottawa Gardener

    Now you have me wanting an iphone just so I can find out what colors I am. This has to be the most effective advertizing campaign that I have been subjected to in a while. Besides that, I can give concrete examples of the cultural determination of whiteness. In Britain, my significant other was called brown because he is Spanish though his skin, hair and eye color are all relatively fair. In airplane line ups, he is a favourite for searches as he has a vaguely non-white, I-might-be-a-terrorist look. There is something middle eastern about his grab bag of genetics BUT relatively fair skin. In Canada, where we currently reside, he is considered not just white but Anglo because his first language is not French.

    Every single time I have to fill out a census questionnaire regarding my self identified ethnicity, I scowl a bit. Afterall, I look white but there is a soup of genes from various regions swimming around me. Granted, the world treats me as a white woman and it is the only honest answer. I am not ambigious like my partner. I am not even annoyed by my whiteness (except in the deep south) but I find boxes confining.

  25. Jezebella

    nails, thanks for the link to that video. I particularly noted the moment where the young Chinese men get all nervous and leave when the African-American guy puts his arm next to one of theirs, and they’re almost exactly the same color.

  26. M

    Well, expanding individual pixels of a photo gives more visually exciting results than spectro-photometry on the scale available to me: the aforementioned bit of workplace kit (which is, admittedly, set up to assess print rather than flesh, but there’re limits to what I can easily do to the thing) is of the opinion that my left arm is a neutral-to-warm mid-grey all over. The CIE-Lab values did move in expected ways, though (lower b* value at the wrist, where my veins show through; lower L* value when I balanced it over a mole; etc) so I’m decently confident it was working as it’s supposed to.

    What the machine’s designed to do is replicate human vision as Triste describes it (“average them all together into one giant smear of color”, that is) giving a single set of three (CIE-L*a*b*) co-ordinates for an area of about 3mm diameter. Looking at my skin in detail, I see mostly (very low chroma) yellow, pink and blue, which I figure would account for the neutral-to-warm reading if the visually-appearing-blue areas read greenish through the layers of pinky-yellow skin.

    Returning to the lesson in hand, I learned from this that, rather than “so white I’m practically blue”, I am, in fact, slightly yellow. Even when I did my best to fill the aperture with the bluest area of my inner wrist, the b*-axis reading was positive, and just above 5. From this I gather that the visual consensus about my skin-tone is based on comparison to expectations rather than unbiased assessment of hue (duh) and from that, that the expectation is for a “white” person to be darker-and-yellower looking than I am.

    This has left me wondering why I very rarely get called “green”, despite the low level of red in my skintone (both visual-by-comparison and measured). My best guesses at the moment are: that people (people who feel the need to comment on the colour of my skin, that is) associate redness with emotional states, so expect its level to vary in a given individual; that the same people notice the presence rather than absence of redness (in which case they can be presumed to approach blushers to tell them about it, which is nice); that by “pale”, people commenting mean: “not very pink”.
    On balance, I suspect the second. Just because it’s so bloody irrational.

  27. Jezebella

    M, you have cool toys!

  28. tinfoil hattie

    Sidetrack: I need an intervention. Someone here make me stop banging my head against the funfem wall.

    I am over at Feministe arguing that the Rude Pundit’s repeatedly calling Ann Coulter a “c**t” is misogynist. I am being funfemsplained to that no, it’s totes okay that he says it! Because he’s a total women’s advocate! And funny, & stuff!

    Except for that calling women “c**ts” thing. Which is totes not as bad as “n***er,” by the way. That word is inexcusable. But “c**t”? Fine if a dudebro uses it against someone we hate! And I need to get a life and live in the real world.

    AUUUGGGHHHH. Why? Why do I bother? WHY?

  29. Nepenthe

    @tinfoil hattie

    Well, clearly you have to stop playing the Oppression Olympics. Because pointing out that making racist remarks can get one fired from a high profile job (see Imus, Don), while making sexist ones doesn’t stand in the way of being promoted to a Cabinet position (see Summers, Lawrence), is both false and oppressive!

  30. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Tinfoil Hattie: I was taken to task for pointing out that calling Ann Coulter a man is misogyny. Maybe on Shakesville? Man, I hate Shakesville. Why? Cliqueish, smug, dudebro-infested, full of shame-on-youism and funfemsplanation.

    Sista Twisty, please anoint the Spinster Hide with sunscreen before taking in the rays. Not to stay smooth, silky and baby-soft, but to ward off you-know-what.

  31. Jill

    Worry not about my sunscreening ways. I have this hi-test zinc oxide stuff that I apply with a spatula as though I were frosting a cake. Ironically, it turns my skin white.

  32. tinfoil hattie

    Zinc oxide – the stuff lifeguards of the 60s used to paint onto their noses. Aaah, the good ol’ days.

  33. tinfoil hattie

    & PS: Thanks, commentors. That’s what I needed. SPINSTER reality!

  34. SKMs

    Tinfoil Hattie: I was taken to task for pointing out that calling Ann Coulter a man is misogyny. Maybe on Shakesville?

    Well, it’s fine if you hate it overall, but there are no gendered slurs allowed there, so if someone defended calling Ann Coulter a man, they were violating the comments policy.

  35. TwissB

    Apologies for off-point or point-skewed message addressed to IBTP residents in Portland or St. Johns OR. A Portland resident sent this appeal to a well-known feminist organization:

    “I am retired and I thought you would like to know about this, however small it is. I have not been well for a few weeks and, last week, stopped by the Sultan Hookah Smoke Shop on North Lombard Street in St. Johns, to buy an espresso. They advertise they sell espresso and I wanted one to take home with me. They refused to sell me one, saying they “didn’t have a machine” or something. I have asked another friend to stop by there in the afternoon and ask to buy an espresso or coffee. I saw a young man stirring a coffee. I want to know if they are served. I thought, perhaps, you would have women living in St. Johns who go by there as well. just to see if they are discriminating against women who wear pants and have the “temerity” to ask for an espresso. They advertise that they sell drinks and “espresso” is listed on the outside. I may go to the BBB if I don’t hear from them. I wrote them with no response. This is a small thing, but, still, anyone with money, who behaves themselves and wants to buy a takeout drink they offer should be able to buy it.”

    Any investigatively-inclined Portland or St. Johns residents out there who would like to check on this oddly-named shop and its espresso-selling rules? Contact me for more info at my web-page address – or to report the rfruits of yur research.Thank you.

  36. K.A.

    Is it just me, or did “Barn Tableaux” (or Tableau?) disappear altogether? I wanted to follow up.

  37. ginger

    It’s not just you. Post’s gone. I trust Aunt T had her reasons.

  38. Ginjoint

    K.A. – so I’m not crazy. Perhaps Twisty wanted to protect her friend.

  39. tinfoil hattie

    Ginjoint, that could be it. Or perhaps she grew tired of the Oppression Olympics.

  40. K.A.

    Yeah, I was just wondering if it was a privacy-related thing, or if I missed the thread devolving into the kind of trainwreck I’ve come to expect/live for in my blog-centric life.

  41. Must Think of a Name

    The eternal dead end – the devil’s crossroad. There was even a suggestion that the inevitability of the revolution wasn’t a foregone certainty and furthermore, its effectiveness wasn’t assured either (and not in the “it’s all hopeless, give up now” inspirational tome/cross stich sampler way that Jill does it). The implication was that Twisty would morph into a Stalinesque or Robespierre style figure because this is what has always happened in the past. I thought about that and have decided that even if Our Dear Leader does indulge in a bit of fascist totalitarianism come the post revolution, I’m still up for it.

  42. Someone Else

    Oh whew, not just me then. Well, that discussion was devolving rapidly. IBTP.

  43. pheenobarbidoll


    Am I the last person to see this shit or be aware of it?

    jesus h christ.

  44. magriff

    Wow TwissB! St Johns- we be neighbors!

  45. magriff

    Wait, I got too excited when I saw “St. Johns” and didn’t read the post thoroughly, sorry TwissB. I would be happy to help investigate the hookah joint for gender discrimination, which is entirely within the realm of possibility.

    Also within the realm of P, is that many hookah joints in Ptown are also in the wacky tebacky biz and thus a bit cagey.

  46. Nolabelfits

    Pheeno, thats the scariest thing I’ve read in a long long time.

  47. Holly

    “Pheeno, thats the scariest thing I’ve read in a long long time.”

    It seems that most of the population actually agrees with it.

  48. K.A.

    Anyone who believes men don’t hate women should read the comment section, wherein only one man in a thread of 635 comments (many of which justify rape as note a big deal, but say women cheating on men is far worse and the end of the world) takes exception to the misogyny.

  49. K.A.

    You know, when you look at how extremely imbalanced the misogynist-to-non-misogynist male ratio is, it makes you wonder why any radical feminist would even try to defend men by making the point, “well, not ALL men are misogynists!” It is so skewed so as to make the exceptions irrelevant. I am perfectly comfortable making this generalization about men. Just check out that thread if you have reservations.

    (Yeah, I know it’s a self-selecting population over there, not a random population sample, blah blah blah, but it’s not exactly an MRA website!)

  50. Jezebella

    I commend any of you who were able to read more than a screen-full of that nightmare that Pheeno linked to. My eyes crossed and I nodded off (or out?) in self-defense within a few paragraphs.

  51. pheenobarbidoll

    If you ever needed proof that men hate women, there’s the link you need.

  52. Fictional Queen

    Damn,if you ever need proof that men hate women read a history book.Or watch porn.Or,exist as a female.

  53. tinfoil hattie

    WaPo ran a piece a few days ago by Jessica Valenti about “Slutwalks.” The piece defended slutwalks, of course. The comments there are from basically self-admitted rapists who maintain that what a woman wears absolutely determines whether she will be raped.

    “Feminists hate men.” Just more patriarchal Orwell Speak.

  54. Adrienne in CA

    pheeno, thanks for the link, and the laugh. Why do they need think tanks if feminism is doomed anyway? Funny as hell.

  55. Holly

    Actually, Dr. Helen agrees with that Misandry Bubble article, and endorses it :


  56. Holly

    More people praising that same Misandry Bubble article (scroll down to jaseprobst’s comment) :


    It seems that men and women both love it. We are descending back to a MadMen type world!!

  57. ginger

    “It seems that men and women both love it. We are descending back to a MadMen type world!!”

    You’re getting a little carried away, there. Yeah, the site had 916,000 page-views over the course of the past 5 years, including the period between when that post went up in January 2010 and now, but that doesn’t mean many of those people *agreed* with him. After all, we all trooped over there to rubberneck.

    And “Dr. Helen” and that mixed-martial-arts forum are hardly the beating pulse of American cultcha.

  58. Holly

    Dr. Helen is certainly considered mainstream….

    and quick Googling came up with tons more places in agreement with that essay.

    Here, they say the essay is ‘balanced’ :

    Here, someone connects this essay to real-estate :

    Scary. Most of America agrees with this.

  59. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    If things are so rosy for females, why are exhibits like this one still being produced?:


    (I found this through the CDC’s website.)

  60. Fictional Queen

    It’s awesome that a movement of women supposedly hating men is complete and irrefutable proof that they’re wrong,but all the woman-hating men are Great Men and great artists and cool,admired role models,like rappers or rock stars or all of those philosophers who thought women were inferior.Imaginary man-hating is condemned and yet real woman-hating is celebrated.Why shouldn’t I hate men? Clearly they hate me and that impacts my life daily.

  61. Holly

    Dr. Helen is certainly considered mainstream….

    and quick Googling came up with tons more places in agreement with that essay.

    Here, someone connects this essay to real-estate :

    Scary. Most of America agrees with this.

  62. Holly

    Here is another blog praising that article, where a comment lists the ways women have it better than men :


    “Never mind the fact that the divorce laws are disgustingly slanted in favor of females.

    Never mind the fact that in the majority of cases females get child custody by default.

    Never mind the fact that all it takes is a mere accusation, entirely without proof, in order to incriminate a male with charges of sexual abuse or domestic violence.

    Never mind the fact that there are rather big statistics saying quite a lot of males are avoiding commitment for these reasons.

    Never mind the fact that ALL forms of FGM; even pinpricking, are illegal in developed nations.

    Never mind the fact that this is not the case for males.

    Never mind the fact that there is this unspoken cultural climate where other males are too uncomfortable with defending their own for fear of coming off as too “homo” or gaining the disapproval of females.

    Never mind the fact that at a glance while female emotions are sympathized with and encouraged, male emotions are usually mocked, ridiculed, told to get over it, be a man, etc.

    Never mind the fact that successful suicide rates for males are a lot higher than females.

    And you wonder why some men may be “misogynistic”? Don’t bother with that, it’s rhetorical.”

    Amazing. People actually believe this.

  63. TungstenVirago

    From the Misandry Bubble article;

    “hapless beta”
    “bitterati” (lol)
    “Venusian Arts” (wtf)

    These have poetry potential!

  64. Someone Else

    Wait – we lost http://Foreskin-Restoration.net?!

    Dammit. If we’ve lost Foreskin-Restoration.net, we’ve lost America!

  65. ginger

    “Dr. Helen is certainly considered mainstream….”

    No, she’s not. Dr. Helen’s only famous, to the extent she is, because she’s married to Glenn Reynolds (Instapundit, right-wing free marketeer blogger).

    Dr. Laura, now, she’s mainstream. Dr. Phil, Dr. Oz, Dr. Drew, Dr. Dre, Dr. Seuss, Dr. Who, Dr. Scholls. But not Dr. Helen.

  66. josquin

    I know the Barn Tableau is closed, but I still wanted to respond to the commenter who complained that IBTP is all talk and no walk:

    This blog is important to me. I like coming here. It won’t change my life or overthrow the Patriarchy (duh) but it helps me understand the world and gives eloquent voice to the daily confusions, resentments, anxieties, and frustrations I often feel about living here on earth as a woman. I’m grateful to Twisty for this blog.

  67. nails

    Wow, that article was a hoot. They equate socialism with tyranny AND cancer in the first two sentences, while asserting that it is rampant in the US today. Then you come to find out hollywood isn’t churning out Mr. T’s like they used to anymore, and that is the real actual problem. It became hard to read after that. I cannot believe someone put so much research into such poorly thought out assertions.

  68. buttercup

    TungstenVirago, don’t forget “HoeMance” for the “Bridesmaids” movie.

  69. cootie twoshoes

    That article sounds like further evidence for the urgent need for feminist revolution. Even those who benefit most can nonetheless be abused by oppression culture. In order to maintain the P, even men suffer from the expensive upkeep of status quo. Alas, all this is invisible to the self-described soothsayer who wrote that pile. It’s easier to just blame the womenfolk anyway, and it’s always a crowd-pleaser!

  70. eb

    The ‘Never mind’ guy that Holly quotes has somehow lost his way in Oz and merely has to click his red, dude shoes three times in order to make all that stuff come true.

    Being called ‘homo’ for defending other men is not something women conjured up. Straight men are homophobic because they hate women. If men would stop hating women, then homophobia would disappear.

    If men would stop hating women, men would see that their ’emotions’ are no different than women’s emotions.

    Men have the power to stop sexual abuse accusations. They have the power to stop circumcision, and only men have the power to stop killing themselves.

    You’ve had the power all along, Dorothy. But you don’t want to use that power because it would be all ‘homo’. And we can’t have that, can we?

  71. Holly

    The Future after the Death of Feminism.

    They appear to be getting violent (as men always are). Why can’t we just do as Mary Daly said long ago, and reduce the populaton of men by 90%?

  1. More man-hating fun « I Blame The Patriarchy

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