Race in Material Culture

Some resources I use to teach a lesson about race woven into the lived material world for my STS classes:

Lorna Roth (Communications, Concordia University,  Canada) wrote a read-worthy open-access article for the Canadian Journal of Communication in 2009 “Looking at Shirley, the Ultimate Norm: Colour Balance, Image Technologies, and Cognitive Equity” wherein she documents how “light-skin bias embedded in colour film stock emulsions and digital camera design” despite attempts at correcting such matters during the 1990s.

The crux lands on, in the Western world, our cultural preference for lighter skin and, as Roth demonstrates, this translates to the world of photography (examples here). I was first turned onto this idea by Richard Dyer‘s work, especially The Dyer Straits of Whiteness and his observations about the history of film (a decent summary and critique is free here).

Some of Roth’s other work on skin color steeped in the readymade detritus of everyday life includes research on the origin (disappearance) of skin color tones in coloring crayons, but this extends to all sorts of topics such as mannequins, bandages, prosthetics, dolls, and cosmetics

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