ⓘ Discrimination based on skin color


ⓘ Discrimination based on skin color

Discrimination based on skin color, also known as colorism or shadeism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination usually from members of the same race in which people are treated differently based on the social implications from cultural meanings attached to skin color.

When people think of racism it is usually against people outside of their ethnicity. Colorism is discrimination against people because they have a darker complexion. The idea of racism and colorism are similar. Someone with a lighter complexion is considered to be more beautiful or valuable than someone with dark skin.

Research has found extensive evidence of discrimination based on skin color in criminal justice, business, the economy, housing, health care, media, and politics in the United States and Europe. Lighter skin tones are seen as preferable in many countries in Africa, Asia and South America.


1. Worldwide

Several meta-analyses find extensive evidence of ethnic and racial discrimination in hiring in the North American and European labor markets. A 2016 meta-analysis of 738 correspondence tests in 43 separate studies conducted in OECD countries between 1990 and 2015 finds that there is extensive racial discrimination used within both the European and North American hiring process. Equivalent minority candidates need to send around 50% more applications than majority candidates to be invited for an interview. Recent research in the U.S. shows that socioeconomic and health inequality among African Americans along the color continuum is often similar or even larger in magnitude than what exists between whites and African Americans as a whole.


2.1. Asia East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia

In East, South and Southeast Asia, a preference for lighter skin is prevalent, especially in countries such as China, South Korea, India and Japan.

The history of skin whitening in East Asia dates far back to ancient times. In the ancient dynastic eras, to be light in an environment in which the sun was harsh implied wealth and nobility because those individuals were able to remain indoors while servants had to labor outside. Ancient Asian cultures also associated light skin with feminine beauty. "Jade" white skin in Korea is known to have been the ideal as far back as the Gojoseon era. Japans Edo period saw the start of a trend of women whitening their faces with rice powder as a "moral duty". Chinese women valued a "milk white" complexion and swallowed powdered pearls towards that end. Four out of ten women surveyed in Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, and South Korea use a skin whitening cream. In many Asian cultures, colorism is taught to children in the form of fairy tales, just as the Grimms fairy tales featured light-skinned princesses or maidens; Asian mythological protagonists are typically fair and depict virtue, purity, and goodness. A light complexion is equated with feminine beauty, racial superiority, and power, and continues to have strong influences on marital prospects, employment, status, and income.

Globalized East Asia still retains these biases, but they are compounded by the influence of Westernized beauty ideals and media that equate whiteness with modern and urban wealth and success. The legacies of European colonialism in India and Pakistan also influence the modern relations between light skin and power.


2.2. Asia India

Colorism in India has also been fueled due to the events under British colonial rule, where British officials consistently demeaned dark-skinned Indians and favored light-skinned Indians for jobs over dark-skinned Indians. As a result of hundreds of years of British colonial influence, remnants of the British tactics that exacerbated colorism still remain in Indian society. Other forms of colorism in India can be seen in the cosmetic industry, where "fairness" creams meant to lighten skin are popular, and in the Bollywood industry, where the majority of actors and actresses hired are light-skinned, and actresses are often photoshopped to look lighter.

For example, in the state of Maharashtra, a group of young tribal girls trained to be flight crew through a government scholarship program that aimed to empower women. The majority of girls were denied employment due to their darker skin tone. A few of those women obtained jobs, but only as out-of-sight ground crew.


2.3. Asia Pakistan

Pakistan is largely known for their attention and susceptibility to colorism. It is considered extremely normal to use skin whitening creams as they are very popular among the people of Pakistan, especially the women. The media is a big influence on how they view themselves and have come about favoring lighter skin over darker. Between being exposed to constant ads for skin whitening creams such as Fair and Lovely, to seeing Bollywood actors with light skin portrayed as good role models and dark skinned actors as poor models, many people from Pakistan have been heavily affected into achieving a fair complexion, which includes staying out of the sunlight as much as possible.


2.4. Asia Sri Lanka

Fair skin is a beauty ideal in contemporary Sri Lankan society but has its roots in ancient Sri Lankan beauty ideals. Fairness products and other products that include whitening agents are commonly sold in Sri Lanka and are popular among females. Fair skinned actors and actresses feature prominently in Bollywood films and Korean dramas both of which are widely popular and influential in Sri Lanka.


2.5. Asia China and Japan

Hiroshi Wagatsuma writes in Daedalus that Japanese culture has long associated skin color with other physical characteristics that signify degrees of spiritual refinement or of primitiveness.

The scholar repeats an old Japanese proverb: "white skin makes up for seven defects." More specifically for a woman, very light skin allows people to overlook her lack of other desired physical characteristics. Skin color has and continues to influence attractiveness and socioeconomic status and capability.

People in the western hemisphere have long characterised east Asians, specifically Chinese and Japanese people, as "yellow", but the Chinese and Japanese seldom describe their skin color in that way. The Japanese traditionally used the word shiroi – meaning "white" – to describe the lighter shades of skin in their society.

The court ladies of Japan during the Nara period from 710 to 793 AD applied a large amount of white powder to the face and added red rosy cheeks. Many references to plump women with white skin appear in both drawings and writings from 794–1186 AD. In literature, note for example The Tale of Genji written c. 1000–1012 by Lady Murasaki.


2.6. Asia Malaysia

A survey concluded that three quarters of Malaysian men thought their partners would be more attractive if they had lighter skin complexions.

In certain Southeast Asian countries such as Malaysia, a common beauty ideal is the "Eurasian look" known locally in Malaysia as the "pan-Asian look" is an ideal that stems from the beauty ideal of fair skin, which Eurasians tend to naturally possess. The overuse of pan-Asian faces on billboards and on television screens has been a controversial issue in the country. The issue was highlighted in 2009 when Zainuddin Maidin, a Malaysian politician, called for the reduction of pan-Asian faces which he claimed dominate TV and billboards and instead increase the number of Malay, Chinese and Indian faces on local television. Despite the controversy surrounding the preference for Malaysians who are of mixed Asian Malay, Chinese or Indian and European descent who possess features such as fair skin, some experts in the industry have said the use of pan-Asian faces can be used to promote the racial diversity of Malaysians. They can also be used to promote a product towards a diverse racial demographic because of their mixed appearance, which the Minister of Information had suggested in 1993.


3. Africa

In many parts of Africa, women with lighter skin are thought to be more beautiful and likely to find more success than women of darker skin tones. Often this barrier leads to women turning to skin lightening treatments, many of which are harmful to the body.

Historically, the cause of skin lightening goes back to colonialism, where individuals with lighter skin received greater privilege than those of darker tones. This built a racial hierarchy and color ranking within colonized African nations, leaving psychological effects on many of the darker skinned individuals.

Colorism affects both women and men in African countries, but it has taken hold of the beauty standards associated with a womans ability to find success and marriage. The number of women across African countries using bleaching products have gone up with 77% of Nigerian women, 52% of Senegalese women, and 25% of Malian women using lightening products.


4. Europe

Research suggests that police practices, such as racial profiling, over-policing in areas populated by minorities and in-group bias may result in disproportionately high numbers of racial minorities among crime suspects in Sweden, Italy, and England and Wales. Research also suggests that there may be possible discrimination by the judicial system, which contributes to a higher number of convictions for racial minorities in Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Denmark and France.

Several meta-analyses find extensive evidence of ethnic and racial discrimination in hiring in the North American and European labor markets. A 2016 meta-analysis of 738 correspondence tests in 43 separate studies conducted in OECD countries between 1990 and 2015 finds that there is extensive racial discrimination in hiring decisions in Europe and North America. Equivalent minority candidates need to send around 50% more applications to be invited for an interview than majority candidates.

A 2014 meta-analysis found extensive evidence of racial and ethnic discrimination in the housing market of several European countries. There is extensive discrimination against immigrant groups in the French housing and labor markets, against Turkish immigrants in the German labor market, against immigrants with non-Spanish names in the Spanish housing market, and against Brits of black skin color or south Asian origin in the British labor market.

A 2017 experimental study found that the Dutch discriminate against non-Western immigrants in trust games.


5. Latin America


A 2017 study revealed a 45% gap in educational achievement between the darkest- and lightest-skinned White Mexicans and that wealth in the country similarly correlated to skin color.


5.1. Latin America Brazil

Brazil has the worlds largest population of African descendants living outside Africa. Racially mixed individuals with lighter skin generally have higher rates of social mobility. There are a disproportionate number of mostly European descent elites than those of visible African descent. There are large health, education and income disparities between the races in Brazil. A recent study even finds that skin color is a stronger predictor of social inequality in Brazil than race i.e. race-color categories used on the Brazilian census; and highlights that socially perceived skin color and race are not the same thing. Even though browns/mulattos and blacks comprise more than 50 percent of the population, they comprise less than 25 percent of elected politicians.

A 2016 study, using twins as a control for neighborhood and family characteristics, found that the nonwhite twin is disadvantaged in the educational system. A 2015 study on racial bias in teacher evaluations in Brazil found that Brazilian math teachers gave better grading assessments of white students than equally proficient and equivalently well-behaved black students.

A 2018 paper found that discriminatory hiring and retention policies accounted for 6-8% of the overall racial wage gap.


5.2. Latin America Chile

In Chile, there is a wide range of diversity from other cultures and ethnic backgrounds. The diversity in Chile sees colorism through social-economic status, accommodating the preexisting notion that darker skin complexions are less valued. A 2016 study found that Chilean schoolteachers had lower expectations of their dark-skinned students morenos than their light-skinned students blancos. Even differences between being dark and being tanned carry different types of statuses, whereas being tanned means more money as they have time to go to the beach or buy tanning products, while the history of colonization automatically attributes darker skin as being lower class. Current studies have been finding that many Chileans favor to be lighter in pigmentation and even perceive themselves to be White despite a mixture of skin tones.


5.3. Latin America Mexico

A 2017 study revealed a 45% gap in educational achievement between the darkest- and lightest-skinned White Mexicans and that wealth in the country similarly correlated to skin color.


6.1. United States History

European colonialism created a system of racial hierarchy and a race-based ideology, which led to a structure of domination that privileged whites over blacks. Biological differences in skin color were used to justify the enslavement and oppression of Africans and Native Americans, leading to the development of a social hierarchy that placed whites at the top and blacks at the bottom. Slaves with a lighter complexion were allowed to engage in less strenuous tasks, like domestic duties, while darker-skinned slaves participated in hard labor, which was more than likely done outdoors.

African-Americans with a partial white heritage were seen to be smarter and superior to dark-skinned blacks, and as a result, they were given broader opportunities for education and the acquisition of land and property. Colorism was a device used by the white colonist in order to create a division between the Africans and further the idea that being as close to white as possible was the ideal image. One of the first forms of colorism was the white slave owners deciding that only the light-skinned slaves would work in the house while the darker ones were subjected to the harsh conditions of the fields. This led to a clear division between the slaves. There were tests to determine who was light enough to work in the house and sometimes get special privileges. One of these tests was the brown paper bag test. If peoples skins were darker than a brown paper bag, they were deemed too dark to work in the house. The skin tests were not just used by white people who tried to differentiate between black people, they were also used by black people.

In addition to the bag test, the comb test and the door test were also used. The comb test was used to measure the kinkiness of a persons hair. The objective was for the comb to be able to pass through the hair without stopping. The door test was popular in some African American clubs and churches. The people who were in charge of those clubs and churches would paint their doors a certain shade of brown, similar to the bag test, and if people were darker than the doors, they were not admitted into the establishments. These tests were used to measure what level of "blackness" was and was not acceptable in the world. Because the lighter-skinned slaves were allowed to work in the house, they were more likely to be educated than the darker slaves were. This birthed the stereotype that dark people were stupid and ignorant. Scholars predict that in the future, the preferred color of beauty will not be black or white, but mixed. Scholars also predict that the United States will adopt a "multicultural matrix" which will help bridge the racial gap in efforts to achieve racial harmony see Browning of America. The matrix has four components, the mixed race will help fix racial issues, it serves as a sign of racial progress, it suggests that racism is a phenomenon and it also suggests that the focus on race is racist due to the lack of racial neutrality.


6.2. United States Business

A 2014 meta-analysis of racial discrimination in product markets found extensive evidence of minority applicants being quoted higher prices for products. A 1995 study found that car dealers "quoted significantly lower prices to white males than to black or female test buyers using identical, scripted bargaining strategies." A 2013 study found that eBay sellers of iPods received 21 percent more offers if a white hand held the iPod in the photo than a black hand.

A 2014 study in the Journal of Economic Growth found that anti-black violence and terrorism, as well as segregation laws, reduced the economic activity and innovation of African Americans.

African-Americans have historically faced discrimination in terms of getting access to credit.


6.3. United States Criminal justice system

Research suggests that police practices, such as racial profiling, over-policing in areas populated by minorities and in-group bias may result in disproportionately high numbers of racial minorities among crime suspects. Research also suggests that there may be possible discrimination by the judicial system, which contributes to a higher number of convictions for racial minorities. A 2012 study found that "i juries formed from all-white jury pools convict black defendants significantly 16 percentage points more often than white defendants, and ii this gap in conviction rates is entirely eliminated when the jury pool includes at least one black member." Research has found evidence of in-group bias, where "black white juveniles who are randomly assigned to black white judges are more likely to get incarcerated as opposed to being placed on probation, and they receive longer sentences." In-group bias has also been observed when it comes to traffic citations, as black and white cops are more likely to cite out-groups.

A 2014 study in the Journal of Political Economy found that 9% of the black-white gap in sentencing could not be accounted for. The elimination of unexplained sentencing disparities would reduce "the level of black men in federal prison by 8.000–11.000 men voters project their own policy positions onto the candidate, increasing support for the candidate. But they are less likely to extend black candidates the same courtesy. In fact, black male candidates who make ambiguous statements are actually punished for doing so by racially prejudiced voters."

A 2018 study found evidence of racial-motivated reasoning as voters assessed President Barack Obamas economic performance. The study found that "Whites attributed more responsibility to Obama under negative economic conditions i.e., blame than positive economic conditions i.e., credit. Whites attributed equal responsibility to the President and governors for negative economic conditions, but gave more responsibility to governors than Obama for positive conditions. Whites also gave governors more responsibility for state improvements than they gave Obama for national ones."

A 2018 study examining "all 24 African American challengers non-incumbents from 2000 to 2014 to white challengers from the same party running in the same state for the same office around the same time" found "that white challengers are about three times more likely to win and receive about 13 percentage points more support among white voters. These estimates hold when controlling for a number of potential confounding factors and when employing several statistical matching estimators."

A 2019 study found that whites are less supportive of welfare when they are told that blacks are the majority of recipients as opposed to whites. However, when informed that most welfare recipients eventually gain jobs and leave the welfare program, this racial bias disappears.

An analysis by MIT political scientist Regina Bateson found that Americans engage in strategic discrimination against racial minority candidates out of a belief that they are less electable than white male candidates: "In the abstract, Americans consider white men more "electable" than equally qualified black and female candidates. Additionally, concerns about winning the votes of white men can cause voters to rate black and female Democratic candidates as less capable of beating Donald Trump in 2020."

A 2019 paper found, using smartphone data, that voters in predominantly black neighborhoods waited far longer at polling places than voters in white neighborhoods.


6.4. United States Beauty

Studies have shown that due to societal influences, people associate beauty with lighter skin. This is especially evident in children. This belief has led dark-skinned children to feel inadequate in who they are and inferior when compared to people with lighter skin. African American women believe they would have better luck dating if they were of lighter skin especially when dating African American men. During the time that African Americans were forced into slavery, slave owners would use the "paper bag test," it compared their skin color to a paper bag to distinguish whether their complexion was too dark to work inside of the house. Skin color has been a significant aspect of societys perception of beauty and social status for decades. African Americans desire for lighter complexions and European features goes back to slavery. Slaves that had a lighter complexion would have the privilege to work indoors while slaves with darker skin were required to work outside in the fields. The complexions of African American Slaves reflected how they got treated and the severity of their punishments if they did not comply to their lifestyle that they were forced into.

European beauty standards continue to have an long lasting impact with todays society and not only limited to African American women, children, and men. But also on those from different nations. In an article written by Susan L. Bryant, she mentions a study by Kenneth and Mamie Clark referred to as the "Doll Test" which became more widely known because of the Supreme Court Case: Brown v. Board of Education. In her article, Bryant states that the European beauty standard is "the notion that the more closely associated a person is with European features, the more attractive he or she is considered; these standards deem attributes that are most closely related to whiteness, such as lighter skin, straight hair, a thin nose and lips, and light colored eyes, as beautiful." The study was an experiment where 253 black children of ages three to seven where shown two identical dolls, one black and one white in a nursery and public school located in Arkansas and Massachusetts. Two-thirds of the children had indicated that they liked the white dolls better in spite of those children being black. Over the years, the experiment had been repeated and still results in a clear preference to the lighter skin doll and an internalization of self-hate among black children because of unaddressed European beauty standards. It also found that a childs environment and family life can serve as the biggest influence on their ideals of what is acceptable or unacceptable as to what they define in terms of beauty.


6.5. United States Sports

A 2018 study found evidence that nonblack voters in Heisman Trophy voting were biased against nonblack players. A 2019 study found that after controlling for objective measures of performance, broadcast commentators were "more likely to discuss the performance and mental abilities of lighter-skinned players and the physical characteristics of darker-skinned players" in the Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.

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