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Skin Tone Affects Job Chances

September 25 2017 - 'Colorism' - discrimination based on skin color - has a significant effect on employment prospects. For example, an analysis conducted by two University of Kansas (KU) researchers found that (among men) darker skin color negatively influenced their chances of employment.

Andrea Gomez Cervantes, doctoral candidate in sociology, and ChangHwan Kim, associate professor of sociology found this to be the case, , even after race and other demographic and education related variables were taken into account. Negative effects of darker skin were particularly significant for Asian male immigrants. The researchers used data from the 2003 adult sample of the New Immigrant Survey.

For female immigrants, on the other hand, skin lightness or darkness had no effect on securing employment, after the effect of race was controlled for. In general, black and Asian females were disadvantaged in comparison to white women immigrants but Latin American women were not. Darker skin color did not affect employment chances within specific groups.

According to Andrea Gomez Cervantes:

"Our findings suggest that the color lines are gendered, and that race alone is no longer enough to understand the current stratification system. It is probable that meanings of femininity and masculinity are intertwined with those of skin color."

"The masculinity and threatening images attached to darker skin may have a negative impact for men, while those negative images are not applied to women, leading to different outcomes for men and women of color."

Gomez Cervantes emphasized that the racial composition of the U.S. is increasingly wider than black and white. Most new immigrants come from Asia and Latin America. Census predictions indicate that by 2050, white people will be just 46.6 percent of the American population while racial minorities will more than double.

Andrea Gomez Cervantes added:

"The black/white racial divide may no longer fully predict the experiences and opportunities of those who do not neatly fit in the black/white dichotomy. The labor market experience of dark-skinned Latin American and Asian men is much less favorable than that of lighter skinned men from the same racial groups. It is also important to look at how gender interacts with skin color, as the interaction of gender and skin color may significantly shape people's life chances and opportunities."

("Gendered Color Lines: The Effects of Skin Color on Immigrants' Employment," presented August 25 2015,American Sociological Association's 110th Annual Meeting, Chicago.)

Colorism and African Americans

The first significant study of 'colorism' in the American workplace indicated that dark-skinned African Americans face a distinct disadvantage when applying for jobs, even if they have superior qualifications and experience to lighter-skinned black applicants.

Matthew Harrison, an African American doctoral student at the University of Georgia, presented his research in 2006 at the 66th annual meeting of the Academy of Management in Atlanta. Conducted with his faculty supervisor, Kecia Thomas, a professor of applied psychology and acting director of UGA's Institute for African American Studies, Harrison described his findings as 'tragically, not too surprising':

'We found that a light-skinned black male can have only a bachelor's degree and typical work experience and still be preferred over a dark-skinned black male with an MBA and past managerial positions, simply because expectations of the light-skinned black male are much higher, and he doesn't appear as "menacing" as the darker-skinned male applicant.'

Harrison suggests that, in America especially, people usually think in standard terms of black and white when considering race or race relations. In fact, skin tone is increasingly responsible for differences in perception within racially-defined groups such as 'blacks'.

Participants in the study included 240 undergraduate students at the University of Georgia. Some participated voluntarily, while others got class credit for their involvement. Some 72 per cent of were female, reflecting the high percentage of women majoring in psychology at UGA. This was adjusted for in reporting the research. Each student was asked to rate one of two resumes that came with one of three photographs of a theoretical job applicant (one man, one woman) whose skin color was either dark, medium or light. Harrison manipulated the skin tones of the applicants with Adobe Photoshop so facial characteristics were not a variable.

Harrison said:

'Our results indicate that there appears to be a skin tone preference in regards to job selection. This finding is possibly due to the common belief that fair-skinned blacks probably have more similarities with whites than do dark-skinned blacks, which in turn makes whites feel more comfortable around them.'

Harrison refers to numerous studies that show that light skin is almost universally valued among all racial groups. Hierarchies based on light skin are prevalent in Hindu cultures in India, for example, and in Asian and Hispanic cultures.

'While the respondents in this study were University of Georgia students, we think we would find the same response no matter where such a study was done in the country. When you consider that probably no more than one per cent of industrial and organizational psychologists are black, you can see why a study like this just hasn't been done before regarding colorism in the workplace. There are real-world consequences to these issues' said Kecia Thomas.

Harrison calls for more research to increase awareness of the prevalence of color bias:

'The only way we are going to begin to combat some of the inequities that result due to the beliefs and ideologies that are associated with colorism is by becoming more aware of the prejudices we have regarding skin tone due to the images we are exposed to on a regular basis.'

Harrison argues that society equates lighter skin with attractiveness, intelligence, competency and likeability, while we are often given a 'much more dismal and bleak picture' of those who have darker skin. 'The more we challenge these images and our own belief systems the greater the likelihood we will judge an individual by his or her actual merit rather than skin tone.'

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