Many of us have pre formed ideas, based on our experience, of the importance, and meaning of race,; which is usually identified first by skin color. North America is a region that is transitioning to a darker population in terms of skin pigmentation. While this has caused stressors in society, Jablonski shows that the pre-historical and evolutionary evidence better fits the idea of one humanity, regardless of color. See of you agree with her.

Why you should listen:

“Much of what we consider our humanity is imbued in our skin,” Nina Jablonski tells us. This insight came to her in 1981, as she observed a jittery anatomy class warm to a cadaver only after cutting through its skin. As it turns out, marvels abound of this sweaty, hardwearing, social — and underappreciated — organ. Many are collected in her book, Skin: A Natural History, a look at what makes our skin unique and, perhaps, more important than we realize.

Who is she:

Nina Jablonski is a truly eclectic scientist. In addition to being an anthropologist, she’s also a paleontologist and primatologist, studying the form, behavior and diet of mammals in light of climate change and evolution. She teaches at Penn State and recently found the world’s oldest chimpanzee fossil.


  1. What are the health problems related to skin color, both light and dark?
  1. She mentioned that skin color has had social consequences? Discuss what those consequences are. Has there been a change in those consequences?
  1. She says that the skin we live in is evidence for evolution (even though Darwin thought not). Discuss whether she has made an adequate case for her statement.
  1. Let’s try to look at the evidence for her hypothesis (geography is related to skin color). Go to the Internet and locate photographic images of people from various geographic locations and compare them. Write up your results and present them to another person. Do they agree with you? Are there other conclusions that could be drawn? If you were going to improve your study, what changes would you make?
  1. Do some research on words used to describe skin color at various locations in the world (hint, people in the Southern Hemisphere have a different number of word labels than people in the Northern Hemisphere).

Skin color is an illusion with Nina Jablonski


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