Thursday, May 22, 2008

Flesh Wound

Request to my fellow pale scientists and others: If you are giving a talk and you want to refer to an object in an image and that object is sort of a pale pinkish-orangeish color, please please please do not refer to it as "flesh-colored". Yes, I know there was a crayon with that color and that name way back when (until 1962, in fact), but now that color is officially known as "peach".

I don't get worked up about some science terms that could be considered offensive. I know some people who are offended when research or publications are described as "seminal", but that term just makes me laugh.

But "flesh-colored" is offensive, and it amazes me that I still hear people use the term in talks. It doesn't matter whether everyone in the audience is peach-colored or not, the term should be expunged from everyday use.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

How American!

I really hate all this politically correctness I have to swallow here in the
US. It's just hipocrisy to me, and prevents real discussion of the issues.

I have a dark complexion - my skin is not "peach"-colored at all, but I still like to use the term "flesh"-colored.

By the way, it appears to me that blacks are not "black" at all, but come in various shades of brown, and most "white" are not "white" at all, but have all their shades as well.


- a European grad student at one of the top 5 US research universities

Dr. Confused said...

I was at a friend's recent thesis defense rehearsal, to which she invited 5-6 friends (postdocs and grad students) to help her prepare.

One commenter used the term "ghetto booty," which I had never heard before, but understood when I heard it. The presenter picked up on the term and started using it herself.

Yes, it was an informal situation, and the group was all-white, but I still thought it was pretty inappropriate.

Jennie said...

I had never thought about this, although I don't think I go around using that term. It is a good point. Just curious, what if someone says "my-flesh color?"

Anonymous said...

I always wonder why band-aid and breath-rite strip makers don't make products in other darker shades besides, umm, peach.

I don't think of the issue FSP brings up as political correctness; I think of it as being polite. There is no need for Caucasian skin-tones to be assigned as the default color for the term flesh given the wide range of shades that flesh comes in.

Anonymous said...

Use "hair colored" instead.

Anonymous said...

jennie, I am so trying that: "If I can direct your attention to my-eye-colored line... in contrast, look at my-shoe-colored line...Now I am going to add the total average in the color of my-dream-27ft-boat"

Europeangradstudentatoneofthetop5USresearchuniversities, you ay want to read this:

http://www.feministe.us/blog/archives/2008/03/06/sixteen-maneuvers-to-avoid-really-dealing-with-racism/

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine pointed out the ubiquitousness of male-oriented adjectives in science. Aside from seminal -- which is really funny; we should try to come up with a female equivalent, somehow if you use "mother" in an adjective it doesn't quite mean "original source" -- arguments are penetrating and have thrusts. There were more, but I can't remember now. Anyone?

Anonymous said...

I'm trying to come up with the context in which "ghetto booty" might come up in a defense. Is it like a sombrero function? Is there a mathematical function that yields a parameterized ass shape?

Laura said...

Well, this may be a little picky for most but I can see the irritation. My research involves water; I tend to choose the term "moisture" over "wetness" during presentations and have gotten over a vague squeamishness about saying that word since it is central to describing the work.

At a recent big departmental seminar, the visiting speaker gave an excellent talk riddled with innuendo. Not necessarily subtle, either; he referred to his former bias toward modeling as "mental masturbation", then went on to describe how useful his collaboration with modelers was for a certain difficult problem. That metaphor stuck with me, man, and though I was entertained and well-informed by his talk, I can't say I *approve*.

Anonymous said...

Wow. It has never seemed offensive to me, nor has anyone ever cringed or corrected me when I've said it. And believe me, coming from Berkeley, people will correct anything that bothers them.
I agree with the first poster. This is too politically correct.

Ducky said...

I find it to be a slightly creepy word as well as sort of inappropriate. I do think that language is important, and the quality of discourse can be improved by correct use of language. Incorrect or imprecise language does muddy the water, so why not improve it rather than try to ignore it? I would call that attention to detail and respect for the power of language, not PC hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

"Yes, it was an informal situation, and the group was all-white, but I still thought it was pretty inappropriate."

How dare you imply that only black people live in the ghetto and thereby deny my experience! (Irony/Sarcasm alert)

God, I hated that place. Everybody does actually. There is absolutely nothing to be proud of if you're from there. In retrospect, I'm lucky no one actually shot me.

P.S. I try to avoid the word 'flesh' in formal situations as it sounds a little dirty to me. Peach is not that great of a descriptor. I would say 'beige'.

Anonymous said...

Wow! It is only offensive if you allow it to be such.

Rettaw said...

Actually, when I think of flesh I think more of the actual meat under the skin. Since the skin it the top layer and actually not at all the same thing as the flesh that is really just muscular and fatty tissue.

So I see how, if the issue was the usage of "skin coloured", this might fit in a racial context. But now we are talking about flesh, and I seriously think there isn't so much variation in flesh colour.

Also, that link earlier about how to avoid doing something about racism was quite unhelpful as it was mostly intended as a joke for those in the know.

Kaisa said...

Why are Jennie and one other anonymous poster the only ones noticing the sheer uselessness of the phrase in a scientific context? It's just not very precise! In some very racially homogeneous country maybe you could argue it makes sense (Japan? One of the Nordic countries 15 years ago?). In the US, it relies entirely on a northern-European-as-norm shared history -- which just doesn't seem very smart for an "objective" and "empirical" field. And it's not going to translate very well if you take your show on the road to those conferences in China, Turkey, Mexico...

It does sound kind of creepy, too. When people start talking about flesh I start thinking of raw meat. (Flesh-colored is not going to help you there, either.)

Anonymous said...

My boss regularly uses the term ejaculate in meetings. Don't ejaculate the answer, think first. It's creepy but also hard not to laugh.

His brother, also renowned scientist visited and had a picture of Brittany Spears in his presentation. It was a before and after puberty thing.

They are so icky. They both are also completely unaware that these things are offensive.

Anonymous said...

In response to Anonymous at 10:45:

Some mathematicians talk about "Mom manifolds" in exactly the "original source" context. Mom manifolds are the ones that generate other manifolds (in some sense). Sounds a little funny, but only because it's an invented term rather than a term picked up from everyday language.

Becca said...

hmm. If it makes you feel any better, as a child of the modern crayola color era, I never would think of anything as "flesh colored"- it's peach, beige or maybe khaki. But I'm good with names for colors.

It just plain irks me when scientists don't get their colors right. I am talking about the difference between magenta and purple- if you at least had a 24 box of crayons you should be able to tell the difference(this comes up a suprising amount... I think it has something to do with default colors in Excel).

Anonymous said...

I gave a talk which had a plot whose units were in siemens (1/ohms). I had a difficult time not laughing in front of the all male audience.
Also, my first task in my research group was to build a nipple for the vacuum chamber. And don't forget the male and female connectors. It is embarrassing!

Beth J said...

I agree: why don't people just use beige? It's just a far less ambiguous description of the colour.

Anonymous said...

becca, about 10% of men are color blind to some degree.

Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde said...

I agree that flesh-colored should be expunged from the lexicon.

Years ago I read an interview with the editor of the NY Times crossword puzzle who said that he was very sensitive to clues that would baffle his non-white solvers, e.g. "Result of some sun" = TAN. I was impressed that he thought about that, and it's stuck with me.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure the "flesh"-colored crayons existed only until 1962? I seem to remember having a crayon labeled "flesh" when I was a kid. That would have been in the early 80s, and I really doubt that I was using 20-year-old crayons.

Anonymous said...

Although "flesh color" is not a term I use, I don't see anything wrong in using it.

I thought that flesh color is not the same as skin color and that all (human) flesh has just one color (pinkish-peach).

neurowoman said...

Give me a break - this isn't worth fussing over. Like getting upset over someone calling a boat "she". There are more important things to worry about, like the fact that peach, beige, etc. are awful colors to use in talks in the first place!

landsnark said...

Re: earlier post on gender-specific language, I once had a guest speaker in one of my (freshman-level) classes who talked about "pulling back the foreskin of science." Ick. It's just so inappropriate on so many levels, not the least of which is that it implies that science is inherently male and specifically phallic.

If those who think changing the name of "flesh" colored is just PC wanking, maybe we should just use "flesh" to mean "medium-brown"--the average color for human flesh in the whole species isn't peach, after all. Not even in this country.

Anonymous said...

I always thought that 'flesh' colour denotes raw flesh, no skin. It never seemed to me it describes complexion.

But English is not my mother tongue, and I am too eastern European to understand the 'black'n'white' polarity of America.

Euro-girl-physicist said...

Re: Flesh vs skin tone, I have often seen underwear, tights, etc described as flesh rather than skin tone so I don't think the meaning of flesh excludes the visible skin.

I'm surprised at the number of people who don't view this as a problem. Imagine if I refered to something as hair colour when the colour was yellow. The majority of the worlds population does not have yellow hair, just as the majority of the population is not white. Add to that the history of (and ongoing) discrimination of non-whites, then flesh tone = peach is continuing the theme of other skin tones not counting. As if peach is standard and all other variations are exotic and unusual.

Thank you for posting this. I had never really considered the issue, but it's so obvious now. (Although I don't expect I'll be using peach in a presentation. Not a fan!)

Becca said...

@ anonymous who replied to me- I don't get annoyed with color-blindness, just color-indifference. I do get annoyed with color-sighted folks who do too much red vs. green, and I hear the ever-popular "look I'm not just doing black and white" yellow-on-blue powerpoint color scheme can be hard on certain types of color blind folk. I do try to be sensitive to these things, but I like using precise names for things, and colors are no exception (e.g. burnt sienna vs. burnt umber).
Personally, I think if such an absurdly high percentage of people (especially men) weren't color-indifferent, it would be easier for people to remember which colors don't work so well for color-blind individuals.

maxine said...

I agree with the post that "flesh" is incorrect usage.
I don't agree that "peach" is a substitute, as peaches are dark crimson/yellow.
Suggest "pale apricot" (beige is light brown and does not have enough pink for the colour that used to be known as flesh).

Anonymous said...

"Suggest "pale apricot" (beige is light brown and does not have enough pink for the colour that used to be known as flesh)."

Good on the peach, but apricot? Do you really think pale apricots all look the same and are not sometimes yellow? Noo!!!!! So stupid!!! You are now my worst enemy! What the hell is wrong with beige!? Apricot? Puh-lease. I challenge you to a duel.

If you don't want to die for your favorite color, then I'm right. Beige it is then.

vodalus said...

I'm curious to know how many people complaining about being oversensitive are minorities in their field. There was one female-identified science poster who disagreed, but the rest come across as white and male. Being European also does not absolve you from being attentive to US race problems--racism is alive and well in Europe. And, if you're a European who grew up in the nation associated with your nationality, then you still benefited from being a majority member.

It is so hard to see racism if you haven't been a victim of it. I grew up with mostly friends of color, have been in an interracial relationship for five years and I have only just begun to understand what racism is like. There are so many systemic ways that American culture tells people of color that they don't belong. It isn't political correctness that stifles discussion of race--its the fact that people call it politics and not empathy.

Anonymous said...

"flesh-colored" is a gross sounding term. and personally, i think it's gross to look at as well.

TSK said...

Argh !
a) The term is not "skin colored", but "flesh-colored". If you want to see the color of flesh, you must look at an albino who lacks pigmentation; and all people with total albinism are in fact
flesh-colored regardless of ethniticity. Moreover, all people have flesh-colored palms and soles of feet.
May I ask how your meat looks like?
Every (mammal) meat I have seen so far (no inner organs) has always a reddish white color from pale to dark red due to the amount of blood.

b) All proposed replacements are outright wrong and will sent any artist on the roof. A little research in wikipedia would confirm the wrongness:

BEIGE is not *flesh-colored*. It is a white-yellow tone with too much blue in it.

PEACH is not *flesh-colored*. It has too much yellow in it while flesh has a more dominant red tone.
And I couldn't care less if an manufacturer of pencils in the USA
bend to activisits.

KHAKI is not *flesh-colored*. It is a camouflage color which resembles dust and is much too dark.

The only correct replacement for "flesh-colored" is "incarnate" and has the RGB value (251,208,151). But you will have as much success to introduce it like I who tried to use "teetotaller" in the USA...