1 Melanin, the pigment that gives color to skin (and eyes) is produced in cells called melanocytes. Every person has about the same number of these cells, regardless of race, but those with darker skin have larger cells that produce more pigment. Melanin not only colors the skin but also protects it from the sun's harmful ultraviolet rays.
2 Crayola once had a color called "flesh," which was the color of Caucasian flesh. After complaints from civil rights activists, "flesh" became "peach" in 1962. A similar controversy involved "Indian red." Crayola said the color was based on a pigment found near India, but some thought it was a slur against native Americans, so the company solicited consumer suggestions for a new name. Among the ideas: "baseball-mitt brown" and "crab claw red." But "chestnut" was chosen in 1999.
3 A jaundiced baby has yellowish skin. A traveler suffering from seasickness takes on a greenish hue. And a silver miner suffering from argyria turns blue or bluish-gray.
4 The Incredible Hulk was born gray. It wasn't until issue No. 2 that Bruce Banner's alter ego turned green, and that was because the printer couldn't hold a consistent gray. The Hulk's skin shifted from light gray to almost black through the comic book.
5 It's difficult to understand how a painting of a woman in an evening dress could have scandalized 1884 Paris. But "Madame X," John Singer Sargent's portrait of Virginie Gautreau, caused a stir, and part of the reason was her skin color. In contrast to the black dress, her lavender-powdered skin was jarringly pale, except for her ears, which were adorned by rosy makeup. The result was an image of womanhood that was both corpselike and sexually dangerous, causing discomfort to upper-crust Parisians.
6 "The Simpsons" have jarringly yellow skin because, as animator Gabor Csupo told writer John Ortved, the characters were "primitively designed, so we thought we could counterbalance that design with shocking colors. That's why we came up with the yellow skin and the blue hair for Marge." Author John Alberti, in his intellectual treatise "Leaving Springfield," describes the Simpsons as "people of color" and notes that Bart has described himself as "yellow trash."
7 African-American author Zora Neale Hurston offered this color scale for blacks: "high yaller, yaller, high brown, vaseline brown, seal brown, low brown, dark brown." The use of the word "yellow" (or "yaller") for light-skinned African-Americans is reflected in the song "Yellow Rose of Texas," referring to a mixed-race servant girl who, according to legend, distracted Mexican General Santa Ana with her charms, contributing to his defeat at the battle of San Jacinto in 1836.
8 Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and supermodel Cindy Crawford have something in common: prominent birthmarks. Crawford's mole and Gorbachev's port-wine stain are just two forms of the skin discoloration that affects about one in three infants. Birthmarks come in two types: pigment (light-brown cafe au lait spots, dark-brown moles and gray or blue Mongolian spots) or vascular (port-wine stains, stork bites and hemangioma). Scientists don't know what causes birthmarks.
9 The first European references to Asians as "yellow" have been traced to the late 1600s and probably had nothing to do with skin color. They appear linked to the fact that the Chinese embraced yellow as a symbol of grandeur. By 1904, the color had a far scarier tinge when American adventure writer Jack London wrote an essay called "The Yellow Peril." But even London didn't think all Asians were yellow. He warned that the Western world would be threatened if "millions of yellow men" from China came under the control of "the little brown man" from Japan.
10 Actor George Hamilton said he had an "epiphany" as a young man in Palm Beach, Calif.: "Suntanning was going to be to me what the phone booth, funny blue suit and cape were to Superman. Without a tan, I was just another paleface in the crowd. With one, I could do some pretty amazing things."
Mark Jacob is a deputy metro editor at the Tribune; Stephan Benzkofer is the Tribune's weekend editor.
Sources: "Skin: The Bare Facts" by Lori Bergamotto; "Beautiful Skin of Color" by Jeanine Downie and Fran Cook-Bolden, with Barbara Nevins Taylor; "The Simpsons: An Uncensored, Unauthorized History" by John Ortved; "Was Superman a Spy?: And Other Comic Book Legends Revealed," by Brian Cronin; "Leaving Springfield: The Simpsons and the Possibility of Oppositional Culture" by John Alberti; "The Complete Stories," by Zora Neale Hurston; "Encyclopedia of Family Health" by David B. Jacoby, R.M. Youngson; "Strapless: John Singer Sargent and the Fall of Madame X" by Deborah Davis; "Don't Mind If I Do" by George Hamilton and William Stadiem; "Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White" by Frank H. Wu; "Savage Perils: Racial Frontiers and Nuclear Apocalypse in American Culture" by Patrick B. Sharp; "The Discourse of Race in Modern China" by Frank Dikotter; Texas Monthly; New York magazine; crayola.com; artble.com.; webmd.com; mayoclinic.com; encyclopedia.comCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times