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Discrimination based on skin color

Discrimination based on skin color, also known as colorism or shadism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.

Colorism, a term coined by Alice Walker in 1982, is not a synonym of racism. "Race" depends on multiple factors (including ancestry); therefore, racial categorization does not solely rely on skin color. Skin color is only one mechanism used to assign individuals to a racial category, but race is the set of beliefs and assumptions assigned to that category. Racism is the dependence of social status on the social meaning attached to race; colorism is the dependence of social status on skin color alone. In order for a form of discrimination to be considered colorism, differential treatment must not result from racial categorization, but from the social values associated with skin color. A 2015 study, for example, finds that among African Americans, skin color differences are associated with perceptions of discrimination from whites and other African Americans.

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. 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 obtains betweens whites and African Americans as a whole.

In the 20th century there has been a shift towards a preference for darker, tanned skin in white communities. The beginning of this change has been attributed to Frenchwoman Coco Chanel making tanned skin seem fashionable, luxurious and healthy in Paris in the 1920s. Tanned skin has become associated with the increased leisure time and sportiness of wealth and social status while pale skin is associated with indoor office work. A few studies have found tanned skin is regarded as both more attractive and healthier than pale or very dark skin, and there is a direct correlation between the degree of tanning and perceived attractiveness especially in young women.

In Liberia, descendants of African-American settlers (renamed Americo-Liberians) in part defined social class and standing by raising people with lighter skin above those with dark skin. The first Americo-Liberian presidents such as Joseph Jenkins Roberts, James Spriggs Payne, and Alfred Francis Russell had considerable proportions of European ancestry. Most may have been only one-quarter or one-eighth African American. Other aspects of their rising to power, however, likely related to their chances for having obtained education and work that provided good livings.

  • Jablonski, Nina G. (10 January 2014). Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color. University of California Press. ISBN . JSTOR 10.1525/j.ctt1pn64b. Lay summary (12 July 2015). 
  • "The Wife of His Youth". The atlantic Magazine. 1898.  In depth information regarding the Blue Vein Society.
  • Don't Play In the Sun by Marita Golden ()
  • Kerr, Audrey E (2005). "The Paper Bag Principle: Of the Myth and the Motion of Colorism". Journal of American Folklore. 118 (469): 271–289. doi:10.1353/jaf.2005.0031. 
  • The Color Complex [Revised Edition]: The Politics of Skin Color in a New Millennium by Kathy Russell, Midge Wilson, and Ronald Hall ()
  • The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman ()
  • Rondilla, Joanne L, and Spickard, Paul. Is Lighter Better?: Skin-tone Discrimination Among Asian Americans. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2007. Print.
  • Verma, Harsh. "Skin `fairness'-Culturally Embedded Meaning and Branding Implications." Global Business Review. 12.2 (2011): 193-211. Print.
  • Harrison, Matthew S. "The Often Un-discussed "ism" in America's Work Force." The Jury Expert (2010) 22:1: 67-77.
  • Hunter, Margaret (2007). "The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, and Inequality". Sociology Compass. 1 (1): 237–254. doi:10.1111/j.1751-9020.2007.00006.x. 
  • The Diversity Paradox: Immigration and the Color Line in Twenty-First Century America. (russelsage review)
  • Shikibu, Murasaki. The Tale of Genji. New York: Knopf, 1976. Print.


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