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If 'white is beautiful,' it's time to go deeper

Regarding "Africans look for beauty in Western mirror" (Dec. 23): Your otherwise excellent article suggests it is largely the United States that has made white skin more desirable in the eyes of people around the world. Yet in Brazil and Mexico, long before American movies and television reached those countries, there was a bias in favor of light skin. In Japanese society, well before the first Europeans washed ashore, it was a distinct disadvantage to have dark skin.

The notion that light skin is better than dark skin may stem in part from the fact that, for centuries, field hands (the peasantry) have worked outdoors and got deeply tanned, while the aristocracy avoided the sun and thus stayed pale.

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Whatever the origins of this prejudice, English is replete with examples, intended or not, of "white" being associated with good and "black" being associated with bad: "black as night," Snow White, Peter Pan referring to Captain Hook as a "dark and sinister man," The Black Art (necromancy), White Magic, a black letter day, the White House, the pirates' black flag, wearing white on one's wedding day, blackmail, to hit the white (in archery, when in olden times the center of the target was white), to blacklist someone, and a white lie.

The widespread concept that white skin is preferable to black is deeply imbedded in the English language (and thus is an ancient bias), and it has arisen independently in cultures as distant and disparate as Europe's and Japan's.

May I submit that a worthy goal for the beginning of the new millennium would be for the world to finally look past pigmentation in assessing a person's worth?

Mike McLeod Federal Way, Wash.

Smudgy logic on anti-fingerprint guns

While your Dec. 15 piece on gun lawsuits was surprisingly evenhanded, your closing point about firearms that don't leave fingerprints was somewhat misleading ("Can lawsuits really trigger gun control?"). The primary reason to coat a firearm for fingerprint resistance is rust resistance. It's common sense among firearms owners to wipe down firearms with an oily cloth after use (which also - yikes - wipes out fingerprints. Let's outlaw oily cloths!).

Ending the wipedown step was seen - in less PC times - as a selling point.

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Mike Leskow Clarence, N.Y.

From this 'island,' see the world

Regarding your Dec. 28 article "In world of high tech, everyone is an island": Having distance learning available allows a person to take courses that are not locally available. The price of tuition, in many cases, is much more affordable. In my case, it allows me to pursue an master's degree in an area that is, as far as I know, not available anywhere else, let alone where I live.

It also allows people to take courses when they do not have the time to attend classes, or commute to them - a very great consideration for people who must work full time to support themselves.

Robert S. Ross Wallingford, Conn.

No college football playoffs

Your article "Fix for boring bowls? Make 'em real playoffs" is certainly not the first to suggest college football playoffs (Dec. 17). But why do we need to know the best college football team? College players are part-timers. If they feel the need for definitive results they can pursue a professional career after college. Any playoff scheme will require the eventual champion to play at least two more games than it presently plays. Does Douglas Looney believe that the players have nothing better to do with that time?

Christopher Lamb Bangor, Maine

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(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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