I chose to write my research paper on colorism. My research question is what effect does colorism have on darker skinned applicants during the job selection process? As a woman of color, I personally have faced effects of colorism at the workplace and at school. Even though, I have not directly found evidence that I may not have gotten a job based on how dark-toned I am, this is an issue that is prevalent across the country and world. I want to educate myself on this topic and others. Colorism is “a form of prejudice or discrimination in which human beings are treated differently based on the social meanings attached to skin color.”1 In this paper, I will highlight the history of colorism, my hypothesis, addressing my research question with supporting materials, and explaining my findings.
Colorism is sometimes known as the “light skin versus dark skin issue.” African-Americans’ skin colors vary in shade. The hues can range from an extremely light caramel color to a deep, dark blackish-brown. My hypothesis is that dark skinned African Americans are less likely to be hired during the job selection process than lighter skinned African Americans. We can see that as proof today: from our prominently white media, to our employers, and hearing negative connotations of darker skin from family and friends. However, understanding the roots of colorism will help hiring managers recognize how it affects people of color today looking for employment.
Colorism first arose during the slavery period in America. Dark-skinned slaves, who were likely of pure African ancestry, were given the more physically demanding tasks in the fields, while lighter skinned slaves (who had lighter skin because of their biracial status, as it was common for slave masters to have nonconsensual and consensual sexual relationships with their female slaves) were given more enviable and esteemed positions (Keith & Herring, 1991).2 Having lighter skin was an envious trait that many dark skinned slaves wanted. This caused massive divisions but, created notions that lighter skin is better than darker skin. This mindset that “lighter was better” became engrained in their minds and in their beliefs, which then has been passed down for generations to come. A signifying example of this is when CNN news anchor, Wolf Blitzer, referred to the displaced African Americans in the Hurricane Katrina as very black and poor. But behind his comment was a physical fact about the people appearing on television sets across the country; those left behind were the darkest as well as the poorest of their race.3
Preferential treatment for Whites (and/or lighter skin) exist in this country today. A combination of our country’s vast history with racism and slavery plus an ever changing workforce is leading to this colorism issue faced by African Americans. The Hughes and Hertel’s (1990) findings found that it should be assumed that colorism has significant implications in the workplace. If an individual associates light skin more so with White skin, and White skin is thereby associated with higher levels of competence and ability, then lighter skinned Blacks are viewed as being much more appealing applicants and employees to White employers (Hunter, 2002).
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