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The Significance of Color Remains: A Study of Life Chances, Mate Selection, and Ethnic Consciousness Among Black Americans

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Abstract

Using data from the National Survey of Black Americans, a national probability sample of black adults interviewed in 1980 (N-2,107), we find that blacks with lighter skin have higher socioeconomic status, have spouses higher in socioeconomic status, and have lower black consciousness than those with dark skin. Only the correlations of skin color with black consciousness variables are eliminated when we control for respondent's age, gender, and current and background socioeconomic status. We also find the impact of skin color on socioeconomic status among black Americans to be as great as the impact of race (black-white) on socioeconomic status in American society. We detect little evidence that the association between skin color and socioeconomic status changed during the 30-year period between 1950 and 1980. The association between skin color and life chances appears to be an aspect of black life in America that persists in spite of many social, political, and cultural changes that have affected black Americans in the present century.
... The downstream consequences of colorism for life chances have also been welldocumented in Social Forces, with several papers examining socioeconomic stratification within minoritized population groups in the United States. For example, Hughes and Hertel (1990) used data from the National Survey of Black Americans (NSBA) to examine the relationship between skin color and socioeconomic status among Black adults. Using a measure of interviewerrated skin tone, the authors found that lighter-skinned respondents had higher levels of education, occupational prestige, and income than their darker-skinned counterparts, and were more likely to have spouses with higher educational attainment and occupational prestige. ...
... Monk used more recent national data from the National Survey of American Life to evaluate the continued significance of skin tone among younger cohorts. Consistent with results from Hughes and Hertel (1990), lighter skin tone was significantly associated with higher levels of income, education, and occupational status, as well as having spouses with lighter skin tones and higher educational attainment. Several explanations for this continued significance of skin tone were presented. ...
... Studies published in Social Forces also provide further evidence that skin color is an important source of within-group heterogeneity in resources (Hughes and Hertel 1990;Monk 2014;Hochschild and Weaver 2007), which, at times, is equivalent to between-group heterogeneity (e.g., race disparities). Findings from published scholarship also indicate how skin color tone is used in society to demonstrate and enact power and status, whether that power/status be selfimposed (e.g., Ostfeld and Yadon 2021) or imposed socially (e.g., Biagas and Bianchi 2016). ...
... Currently, research has found that people with light skin tend to have higher socioeconomic status (Hill, 2000;Hughes & Hertel, 1990), complete more years of formal education (Hunter, 2002), reside in better neighborhoods (Hunter, 2007), marry higher status people (Hochschild & Weaver, 2007;Hughes & Hertel, 1990), have less punitive relationships with the criminal justice system (Hochschild & Weaver, 2007;Viglione et al., 2011), and are viewed as more intelligent than those with darker skin (Hannon, 2014). Hannon (2015), for example, found that white interviewers saw black people with lighter skin as more intelligent than black people with darker skin even though they had the same educational achievement, vocabularies, and test scores. ...
... Currently, research has found that people with light skin tend to have higher socioeconomic status (Hill, 2000;Hughes & Hertel, 1990), complete more years of formal education (Hunter, 2002), reside in better neighborhoods (Hunter, 2007), marry higher status people (Hochschild & Weaver, 2007;Hughes & Hertel, 1990), have less punitive relationships with the criminal justice system (Hochschild & Weaver, 2007;Viglione et al., 2011), and are viewed as more intelligent than those with darker skin (Hannon, 2014). Hannon (2015), for example, found that white interviewers saw black people with lighter skin as more intelligent than black people with darker skin even though they had the same educational achievement, vocabularies, and test scores. ...
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The current research studied the unique ways in which colorism affects the African American men and women. Participants were recruited online via MTurk and completed three Implicit Association Tests (IATs) and one questionnaire. The IATs examined participant’s preference for light vs. medium skin tone, light vs. dark skin tone, and medium vs. dark skin tone. The questionnaire explored participant’s beliefs about skin tone, as well as their skin tone satisfaction, skin tone preferences, internalized racist beliefs, and perceived discrimination. The explicit preference for light or medium skin tones over dark skin tone was indicated for both men and women. Men preferred light over medium skin tones, light over dark skin tones, and medium over dark skin tones. Women only showed preference for medium over dark skin tones. As internalized racism increased, both genders experienced less skin color satisfaction, greater colorist behaviors and beliefs, and the more psychological distress. As skin color became darker, women’s perceived discrimination, psychological distress, and internalized racism increased; however, this was not found for men. For women, but not men, the positive correlation between psychological distress and perceived discrimination became significant as internalized racism grew. Lastly, as skin tone got darker, dissonant skin tone preference increased for men. Results from this study indicate that experiences of colorism differ by gender. Future research should seek to understand these relationships with more clarity by including a wider degree of skin tone choice options and exploring other ways in which variables relate to one another using various statistical analyses.
... For those who labor, unaware of the inherent limitations, failure is the end result. Furthermore, since quality of life closely correlates with having a color identification with the racial mainstream, light skin has emerged as critical to the biracial's ability to prosper (Hughes & Hertel, 1990). ...
... This preference based on skin tone persists in modernity and is exhibited in many contexts. Individuals with lighter skin are more likely to have higher education, more wealth, better career advancement, more positive psychological functioning, and benefit especially when it comes to mate choice (Hughes & Hertel, 1990;Hunter, 2002;Keith & Herring, 1991;Landor & Barr, 2018;Thompson & Keith, 2001). For example, having a lighter skin tone is associated with higher probability of marriage, earlier marriage, and marriage to those with higher status, especially for women (Edwards, Carter-Tellison, & Herring, 2004;Hamilton, Goldsmith, & Darity, 2009;Landor, 2017). ...
Chapter
Research has shown that for young adults, marital attitudes (e.g., desire, importance, and expectation) are associated with relationship quality. However, how this association plays out for young adults of color is less known. Additionally, the influence of skin tone perception on the relationship between marital attitudes and relationship quality remains understudied. To explore these associations, the authors examined African American and Latinx young adults (N = 57, Mage = 20.71 years, SD = 1.28; 75.4% female) attending a Midwestern university. Exploratory results indicated that marital expectations were positively associated with relationship quality in that young adults who expected to marry one day, reported greater relationship satisfaction, commitment, and intimacy in their current relationships. Additionally, skin tone perception moderated the association between marital attitudes and relationship quality in two ways (i.e., between expectations and satisfaction and between importance and intimacy). Collectively, findings suggest that differing levels of marital attitudes and skin tone perception contributes to young adults’ perceptions of relationship quality. Considering these psychological factors of attitudes, skin tone perception, and relationship quality, together with systemic racial/ethnic discrimination, the authors discuss future research and practice considerations.
... There is a plethora of benefits afforded to women of lighter skin complexions compared to those of dark. Not only is light skin color linked to more attractiveness, higher likelihood of marriage and higher desirability (Corso 2014), but also it is associated to socioeconomic status and privilege (Hughes & Hertel 1990, Dixon & Telles 2017 and emotional stability and intelligence (Maddox & Gray 2002). Darker skin tone on the other hand, is associated to poverty, being aggressive (Maddox & Gray 2002) unattractiveness (Lincoln 1967, Jablonski 2012) discrimination, less intelligent (Charles 2021) and harsher legal punishments (Adams et al. 2016). ...
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The beauty ideals of a Eurocentric nature have been promulgated among African communities for decades dating back to the colonial era. The beauty ideal posits lighter or brown skin tone as prettier and straight hair as attractive. The study aimed to identify ways in which families and peers have perpetuated this common beauty ideal within the home and school settings and how these have influenced how young women view themselves. There were 20 young women of different skin tones ranging from light, medium (brown) to dark participated in two focus group discussions. Thematic analysis was used whereby three main themes (familial influence, peer socialization and self-perceptions) and four sub-themes were identified (general opinion, teasing, family disassociation and preferential vs. unfair treatment). Findings revealed that family member and peers knowingly and unknowingly augmented ‘colorist’ and ‘texturist’ beliefs by ridiculing both dark-skinned and light-skinned women. Most of them treated dark skinned people unfairly. The research findings suggested that future research should investigate how body features represent attractiveness within the African communities.
... Americans are likely to have experienced many adverse stressors, including discrimination, over the lifetime, which can lead to long-term chronic strain and compromised mental and physical health. Furthermore, prior research has shown that discrimination is more prevalent among darker-skinned African Americans than those with lighter skin (Hughes and Hertel, 1990;Klonoff and Landrine, 2000), which points to differential exposure within this Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/psychsocgerontology/advance-article/doi/10.1093/geronb/gbac115/6670615 by guest on 18 August 2022 A c c e p t e d M a n u s c r i p t 6 population based on skin tone. How skin tone interacts with chronic stressors to impact an individual's life and opportunities remains a critically important, yet understudied, area of inquiry regarding within-group health disparities in the African American community. ...
... In particular, older African Americans are likely to have experienced many adverse stressors, including discrimination, over the lifetime, which can lead to long-term chronic strain and compromised mental and physical health. Furthermore, prior research has shown that discrimination is more prevalent among darker-skinned African Americans than those with lighter skin (Hughes & Hertel, 1990;Klonoff & Landrine, 2000), which points to differential exposure within this population based on skin tone. How skin tone interacts with chronic stressors to impact an individual's life and opportunities remains a critically important, yet understudied, area of inquiry regarding within-group health disparities in the African American community. ...
Article
Objectives As within-group differences have emerged as a key area of inquiry for health disparities among African Americans, skin tone has been identified as an important factor. This study aims to examine: 1) the moderating role of skin tone in the relationship between discrimination, self-rated mental health, and serious psychological distress (SPD) and 2) whether this moderating effect differs across genders in a nationally representative sample of older African Americans. Methods Analyses were conducted on a subsample of African Americans aged 55+ (N=837) from the National Survey of American Life. The mental health outcomes were SPD and self-rated mental health. Discrimination was assessed with the Everyday Discrimination Scale. Skin tone was self-reported. Multiple linear regressions tested the study aims. Results Discrimination was associated with worse self-rated mental health and SPD in the total sample and among women. Skin tone moderated the association between discrimination and SPD in the total sample and among men and women. The associations between discrimination and mental health outcomes were stronger among darker skinned respondents than lighter respondents. Gender stratified analyses indicated skin tone moderated the association between discrimination and self-rated mental health for men but not women. Discussion This study contributes to the emerging body of literature on skin tone, discrimination, and mental health. Uncovering mechanisms behind the “why” is an important next step in understanding how skin tone influences the relationship between discrimination and mental health. The negative psychological effects associated with darker complexion provide several areas to be examined.
... Hughes and Hertel (35) demonstrated that the colorism plays an important role even in education. They revealed that the education gap between whites and blacks was nearly equal to the education gap between light-skinned blacks and dark-skinned blacks. ...
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