Film Brochure: 1960 -  Design: Allen Porter

Study Guide:
THE COLOR OF MAN 10 minutes, 16 mm., sound, color
    From a scientific point of view color is neither a standard by which to judge people nor something to be completely overlooked. Science is the never ending search for why things happen as they do, and to the scientist color is only one among many things in nature to be thoroughly studied and carefully analyzed.  When we want to learn the real facts about something we go to the scientists for them, and in such an important question as the color problem, only through considering the most reliable evidence available can we gain a true understanding.

   Illustrates the latest scientific theories on the development of skin color differences in the pre-historic past.  This accompanying study guide provides a means of answering the questions most usually generated by the film.  In addition to discussing the genetic - environmental basis of color differences, this study guide also contains the latest facts as to what having light or dark skin really means today.

What the Film Shows:
Through an exciting combination of animated drawings and live action photography the film presents a simplified summary as to how different skin colors came to be. Traveling back in time, we see those conditions which are thought to have brought about the development of color differences among primitive men. Returning to the present, we are shown how many people still inhabit the same areas where their skin colors originally developed. 
     The film points out that the very dark and light examples shown resulted from extreme conditions of strong and weak sunlight. Between them there are almost infinite degrees of shading. 
     The film concludes by demonstrating that the forces which brought about color differences long ago have been all but overcome by modern science and transportation.

     There is a great need to help students become aware of the dynamic and important role played by the life sciences. This film has been successfully used to point out how the biological structure of the skin and its coloring material, along with the physiological functions involved, rather than being dry, esoteric bits of information, are really the keys to understanding one of the basic human problem facing our nation today. The principles presented here are basic not only to skin color, but to all other hereditary differences as well.

What Causes Skin Color Differences?
     The presence of different amounts of pigments scattered through the basal layer of the epidermis causes skin color differences. The most important of these pigments is the brownish-black substance called melanin.  Melanin is present to some degree in all people. Individuals who lack melanin completely are called Albinos.  Those of us with dark brown or black skin have a great deal of melanin. Others of us who have medium or light brown skin have less of it, while those people with very light brown or "white" skin possess very little melanin.  The different skin colors are seen because, while the color of the melanin in different people is the same, the amount of it is not.

What is the Function of Melanin in the Skin?
     The skin is protected from sunburn by the grains of melanin in its middle and lower layers.  The melanin absorbs the ultraviolet rays in the sunlight before they can injure the sensitive sweat glands, blood vessels and nerve endings in the lower layers of skin.

Does the Amount of Melanin in the Skin Ever Change?
    If we stay out in the sun too long, we risk getting more ultraviolet than can be absorbed and thus get painfully burned. If the skin isn't burned too badly, however, it reacts to the ultraviolet by producing more melanin than it had before. This increase in the skin's melanin that follows a sunburn is called suntan. By building up a tan through a series of sun baths most people can develop enough protective melanin to permit them to stay out in the sun for longer and longer periods without burning.

Why Do Different People Tan to a Different Degree of Darkness?
     Both the skin color at birth and the amount of melanin that one can produce as suntan are determined by one's heredity. Depending on the skin color genes we inherit from our parents, some of us who are born with very light skins can become deep brown after a summer in the sun, while others of us can't get a tan no matter how hard we try. Yet no matter how deep a tan a person gets, it never becomes permanent. It is but a temporary protection which fades away after a few months out of the sun, leaving only the original skin color.

How Do We Inherit Our Color From Our Parents?
     Skin color, like all other heredity traits, is carried in the chromosomes and genes and follows the basic laws of genetic inheritance. It is thought to depend upon some six to eight gene pairs. Although it affects the skin - the largest single area of the body - skin color is a relatively simple trait when compared to the shape of the nose, or other such complex inherited characteristics.

Is There Any Relationship Between Skin Color and Other Physiological Characteristics?
     Despite a great many attempts to establish some connection between dark skin color and physiological characteristics such as physical weakness, lack of coordination, deficiencies in the brain or nervous system, or lack of resistance to disease, there has been no valid information to support such theories. In many places poor living conditions have caused a higher incidence of disease and undernourishment in certain peoples. This sometimes coincides with differences in color because, in such places as the South of the United States, and even in New York City, dark skinned people constitute the poorest economic class. This is because, although slavery was abolished more than a century ago, the descendants of the slaves have been kept in a low economic condition. In those places where dark skinned people enjoy an equal living standard no significant differences in the incidence of disease or other undesirable characteristics has been found between them and their lighter skinned neighbors.

Sociology, Anthropology and International Relations
     The same vast distances and differing geographical and climatic conditions which produced skin color differences between large groups of people were responsible for the development of differences in language and culture. The further away people came to live, the greater the differences in both their physical and social characteristics could become. Today modern means of transportation are bringing people from every part of the world into direct contact. Both within communities and nations, and on an international level as well, people of different languages, cultural background and skin colors share mutual problems and responsibility. Understanding how our skin color differences originated can help the student to understand better how all the other human differences came to be.

Why Did Different Colors Develop in Different Areas of the World?
     All the evidence found to date seems to indicate that all human beings came from one common ancestor, and that we originated in some tropical or sub-tropical area, perhaps in Africa or Asia.  It is also believed that the color of the first human being was medium brown. Most people in the world today are still of medium color. The dark and light extremes are in the minority. 
     As the descendants of the first human slowly wandered out over the face of the earth, they came to live under extremely different climatic conditions. Through the action of natural selection, their skins became darker in those lands where darker skin was best and lighter in those other places where light skin was most advantageous.
     Despite the vast migrations of the past, especially during the 500 years since Columbus, a great many people still live in those regions where their skin colors originally developed. In general, the darkest peoples are in those latitudes with the strongest sunlight; the lightest men in those with the weakest sunlight; and most of mankind, being some medium hue, in those areas of medium sunlight intensity.

Is There Any Connection Between Intelligence, Imagination, Emotional Stability, Or Cultural Achievement and Skin Color?
     Skin color differences are inherited physiological traits. Cultural achievements, imagination, etc. vary depending on the society in which one lives and the opportunities in education and career it provides.
     Dark skinned children in Tennessee, where schools are poor, were found to have Intelligence Quotients of 58, far less than the 100 which is considered average for the nation as a whole. On the other hand, dark skinned children in Los Angeles, which has much better schools, were found to have Intelligence Quotients averaging 105, which is above the nation's average. Also dark skinned children from the South of the U.S. who moved to the Northern States have been found to exhibit higher intelligence quotient scores the longer they stay in the more favorable environment.
     History proves that progress is not necessarily connected with color either. The medium dark skinned Babylonians and Egyptians had highly developed societies when light skinned northern Europeans were still living in caves. Entire dark skinned nations using iron tools and woven cloth existed in Africa when the Western Europeans still had to wear animal skins and use stone axes.
     In the Middle Ages, when Europe was a maze of warring feudal states, Marco Polo visited China and found a vast civilization encompassing thousands of miles and millions of people. For the past 200 years some of the Western nations have enjoyed a superior technological and military position over most of the rest of the world. This, however, is rapidly ceasing to exist. The medium and dark skinned peoples of Africa and Asia are demonstrating their abilities to master modern technology, and even to contribute new inventions as they did in the past. All mankind, regardless of color, is cooperating and contributing to progress and civilization.

Where Do Prejudice and Discrimination Stem From?
     Various groups, tribes and societies in the past often came into conflict over limited food, water, land or other necessary resources. Lacking the modern techniques which enable us to provide plenty for all, they sometimes fought with and enslaved one another. Prejudice developed as part of the cultural tradition involved in conflict and fear of other groups. Up until Columbus' voyage began to bring people together from far distant parts of the world on a large scale, prejudice was confined to cultural differences. People who spoke different languages, had different religions, or lived on different sides of a river or mountain were often prejudiced against each other.
     When dark, medium and light skinned people began to come into contact in the Western Hemisphere, Africa and the East Indies differences in culture, language, etc. began to be added to by differences in color. The Africans brought to the Western Hemisphere as slaves could soon learn the language and the cultural traits of their masters who were light skinned, but they couldn't change the darkness of their skins. Prejudice against the slaves became based upon their difference in skin color, and even today, more than a century after slavery was eliminated, color prejudice still exists.
     Color discrimination is the act of denying rights to dark skinned citizens which are normally accorded to the lighter skinned ones. Slaves, of course, were denied the rights enjoyed by free men, and many of those people who are prejudiced against the descendants of the former slaves try to continue the discrimination practiced in the slavery era. In Africa and Asia, European settlers, aided by superior weapons, took over many nations and forced the natives to work as slaves on what had been their own lands. Here too, although times are changing, many of the descendants of the European colonialists try to maintain the prejudice and discrimination inaugurated by their ancestors.

P.T.A., Civic and Church Groups
  Today modern science and invention give us the means to get along in every part of the world.  Protected by air-conditioning, clothing and sunglasses, large numbers of light skinned people live without great discomfort in the blazing equatorial sun, while many dark skinned people living in northern cloudy lands get enough Vitamin D in their food and through vitamin pills.  Except for a tiny handful of hunting societies like the Australian Aborigines, color is no longer needed as a means of survival.
     Even though it isn't needed as it was in the past, color is now being used by millions of people as a standard for hating, fearing, oppressing and exploiting other millions of people. Only by a careful study of what is behind the color problem today and understanding why it is maintained can we hope to deal intelligently with it.

Is There Any Scientific Basis for Color Prejudice?
     A scientific study of the facts reveals that the cells of the blood, bones, muscles and brain, as well as most of the body, are exactly the same in all people, no matter what their color may be. There are short and tall, round and square, fat and slender people of all colors.
     Physiologically, all people eat, breathe, sleep and have children in the same manner. There are strong and weak, alert and slow among "blacks," "browns," and "whites" as well. The world's running, swimming and jumping records are shared by men and women of all colors.
     The discoveries and inventions which we enjoy were developed by people from many lands and of many different colors. From a scientific point of view there is no basis for the idea that having light or dark skin makes a person either mentally or physically superior.

Why Is Color Prejudice Maintained?
     Prejudice, the act of judging people whom we don't know as being inferior or bad just because they have a different skin color, religion or language from our own, starts in the home. As young children we are taught many things by our parents. While the child inherits its parents' genes, it isn't born with their opinions. Our parents repeat things over and over until we know them so well that we forget how we learned them, and believe them to be "instinctive" or "common sense."
     "Whites are better than blacks," "Don't play with niggers," and such ideas are learned in much the same manner as: "Don't cross the street on the red light," or "Don't put your hand in the fire." Even if we are not told these things directly, children are easily impressed by the way parents talk and behave. While some children rebel, on the average we come out liking what our parents liked, and fearing what they fear.
     In addition to what we are taught by others, our beliefs are based on things which we see for ourselves. It so happens that dark and medium skinned people all over the world today are generally poorer, less educated and more subject to disease than are people with light skins. Many people seeing this have come to the conclusion that a person's skin color can be used as a sign of his inferiority or superiority.
     What is overlooked, however, is that differences in education, income, cultural advantages and other opportunities, rather than the amount of melanin in the skin, determine whether or not a group is ignorant and weak, or intelligent and strong. A person who is half starved and who cannot read or write is going to be physically and mentally weaker than one who enjoys the best food and education. If people are forced into the status of low paid laborers and denied the full rights of citizenship, they will certainly appear less capable, or"inferior." Their color, however, was only used to identify them and deny them their rights, it wasn't the thing that made them poor and uneducated. That was done by the way they were treated.

What Can Be Done To Eliminate Color Prejudice and Discrimination?
     Prejudice, as we have seen, is not a universal instinct. Great philosophers and religious leaders throughout the ages have proclaimed the brotherhood of all men. Many church bodies have done much to help people realize that color prejudice is unethical, and have encouraged education for tolerance. Federal and state laws have helped eliminate some of the discrimination in employment, and since 1954 the Supreme Court has ruled that, under our Constitution, there can no longer be discrimination in education and public facilities.
     The Government, the Church and the Community can all help to eliminate prejudice.  Even more important, the people themselves can end discrimination through understanding and sympathy; and through each of us doing the right thing by our fellow men and women in all our personal actions.

Suggested Further Reading

In Henry's Backyard, by Ruth Benedict and Gene Weltfish, Henry Schulman, Inc., New York.

What Is Race?, published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris, France.

The Race Question in Modern Science, published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Paris, France.

Filmography            Color of Man             RadFilms