The Skin I’m In … Cannot Tell My Story

An activity using the book Skin Again to deal with the potentially controversial issue of skin colour and identity in a safe manner.

This resource is inspired by the book Skin Again by Bell Hooks, Illustrated by Chris Raschka.  Text copyright © 2004 by Bell Hooks. Illustrations copyright © 2004 Chris Raschka. Published by Hyperion Books for Children, New York. 

 

KEY QUESTIONS: Can we tell who people are and what they are like from their appearances? What is important about us? What would it be like if everyone was the same?

 

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Skin Again by Bell Hooks is an engaging and powerfully illustrated picture book that deals with the issue of skin colour and its limitations very well and in a safe way. Although it is out of print, extracts shown here can be used.

Using imagery and discussing the way that images combine to make meaning is an important part of identity work, as well as the English national curriculum. It also helps learners develop their understanding of the world around them, now full with images, whether in newspapers, on screens in schools, home and city spaces, or the many different kinds of adverts. Developing an understanding of how images can persuade us is an important skill for learners in the 21st Century.

Activity

1. Look at the pages of Skin Again together as a class and read the whole poem a couple of times.  Read the quote by Bell Hooks, in the book Skin Again:

the skin I’m in looks good to me. It will let you know one small way to trace  my identity. But then again the skin I’m in will always be just a covering. It cannot tell my story.

Bell Hooks, Skin Again

2. Discuss the following questions in turn in groups of four making notes on post it notes ready to share back:

  • What does the author mean by “Skin is just a covering?”
  • Ask the question: How would you describe your skin? What else can you say about it, as well as colour? Are people really ‘white’ or ‘black’? What real colours, textures and features does our skin have? Encourage children to look at the skin on their arm or the back of their hand, and think more widely or more exactly about skin. This can be quite a fun activity, and break down barriers. if they realise we are all so different from each other, rather than sitting neatly in groups of skin ‘colour’.
  • Discuss: Can you know and understand someone just from looking at their appearance? Learners may suggest some things you might guess but you can’t definitely know and this will need sensitivity but can lead to deeper conversations.
  • Ask the question: What else is important about us? and make a list together of the different things that make up who we are. Learners might suggest all kinds of things, and if they have done the Visible and Invisible Differences activity, the class might already have a list. Here are some ideas: hopes and dreams, family, beliefs, fears, pets, personality, music, books, sports, languages you speak…

3. Bring the group back together for whole class discussions of key points from their small groups and discuss as a group: How do we let others know who we really are/what we are really like? You could discuss the importance of small talk and conversation and people actually meeting to help them know one another. If appropriate you could extend the discussion to: What, if any parts of identity might we be able to know from people’s appearance?

4. How do the images shown help us understand the words? What other things do we notice about the images?

Quotes in this resource are from Skin Again by bell hooks, illustrated by Chris Raschka. Text copyright © 2004 by bell hooks. Illustrations copyright © 2004 by Chris Raschka. Reprinted by permission of Disney • Hyperion books, an imprint of Disney Book Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

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