FULL SPECTRUM GO!
In seriousness, I’m almost always in favour of understanding things in spectral terms rather than binaries. And really, the more axes and parameters you have, the more identity and self can become a large amorphous smudge or cloud that can’t be judged or pinned down or subjected to expectations and prejudice.
To round it down to just race/colour, it becomes more difficult. It’s a tricky form of identity. It’s specifically region because it’s a question of biology, and something that already posesses a full range of variation, and a full range of prejudices and expectations wrapped up in it.
One problem that immediately comes to mind is that already there are a hell of a lot of beliefs about what sections of the spectrum are more desirable for different groups. For white people, skin colour indicates a number of things. Darker is often seen as more desirable, a deep tan being attractive, as long as it doesn’t make you look too orange, which probably gives away an element of fakery (which attaches you to a certain class identity that is one of the few things privileged middle class groups still think they can get away with being prejudiced against). And of course, for women, the china white look still indicates a certain kind of privilege.
Then there’s other cultures. The existence of skin whiteners point to the fact that many black/brown cultures still hold a pale skin as an ideal. The pressure to be as pale brown as possible is seen in the magazines and models of the Indian subcontinent just as the need to be tanned and stick thing is seen in Europe and the US.
Skin colour is a symbol of so many different thinks. As we’ve just shown, as well as indicating race or ethnicity, it can be used to indicate privilege, upbringing or class. It’s just another thing to aspire to make perfect.
I don’t know whether describing it as a range of different possibilities will ever lift that, unless perhaps (and I’m descending into potential absurdity) we find a way to literally go full spectrum. Let’s stop living on a fine line of colours, striving to push one way or the other. Let’s open up the full range. This is the real world, we aren’t even restricted by our bit rate.
Holi, as depcited in that link. Is a festival of colour where everybody dyes themselves a million different colours. A rainbow festival where everything is bright and colourful.
The technology involved, colourful powders, are available to all. This isn’t some expensive elitist body modding. This is just a riot of colouration.
Maybe that would be a better world. A world where skin isn’t one colour per person, it is just a decorative canvas for all. It’s a way to express mood and heart and soul. It’s just colourful.
I’m being idealistic and absurd at the same time.
But fuck it. Why can’t we all be colourful?
Paint your face someday.
Illustration by Henry.