Study by MU professor shows racism in skin tones, not just skin colors

A study conducted by an MU professor explains how racial trauma among African Americans differs depending on their skin-tone.

One study, conducted by an MU professor, suggests racism is extended to skin tone.

Antionette Landor, assistant professor of human development and family science, recently published a study called “Skin-tone trauma: historical and contemporary influences on the health and interpersonal outcomes of African Americans” in “Perspectives on Psychological Science,” one of the top five journals in psychology.

Landor defines colorism in her study as “The unequal treatment and discrimination of individuals on the basis of the lightness or darkness of their skin tone.”

Her study looks at the poor effects of colorism on African Americans. She found colorist incidents lead to health and interpersonal relationships problems. The 2016 movie “Nina” gave an excellent example of colorism for Landor.

Upon its release, there was immediate outrage. “Nina” is about Nina Simone, a Grammy-nominated soul singer and jazz performer. Afro-Latinx American actress Zoe Saldana played Nina and received a lot of criticism. Saldana is lighter-skinned than Simone, so the production team darkened her skin to more accurately portray Simone.

The outrage about the movie allowed African Americans to publicly speak about their bad experiences with colorism.

Colorism is rooted in colonialism. Europeans created a system of racial hierarchy, placing the lightest skin at the top and the darkest skin at the bottom. Even among slaves, the lighter-skinned slaves were given less strenuous tasks than the ones with darker skin. The lighter-skinned slaves were even sometimes educated because they were seen as smarter than those with darker skin.

That same culture has extended into today's society. Landor pointed out examples of Beyoncé and Kerry Washington magazine pictures that are edited to look lighter. She also pointed out how the media portrays Steph Curry, a lighter-skinned athlete who is seen as “likable and approachable,” differently from LeBron James, a darker-skinned athlete who is often portrayed as “the villain and a braggart.”

Step one to help those with skin-tone trauma is admitting it exists.

“When a phenomenon is nameless, individuals might doubt what they are experiencing,” Landor said. “Naming these experiences as skin-tone trauma gives them a voice to speak about their experiences.

Landor’s study goes a long way to show that racism exists in skin tones, not just skin colors.

Edited by Ben Scott | bscott@themaneater.com

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