How Skin Tone Bias Affects Diversity Growth

Love begets love; hate begets hate. Yet in the case of Black people, if they ever harbor hatred towards white people, it is because they were/ still are on the receiving end of racist attitudes. Hence, in their case, it is often a lingering resentment for the injustices heaped on their race due to a large extent to the color of their skin.

A person’s skin color can either make or break him/her. It is among the factors for the persistent hatred or distrust of blacks. As such, discrimination based on skin color, or skin tone bias, affects the growth of diversity in society.

Was slavery borne of racism?

Historically, for the most part, slavery involved blacks being used as slaves by whites. What made them think in the first place that blacks could be used as slaves or treated as inferior to other races?

Slavery existed before any written records of it. It was even legal in many societies for centuries, and whether it led to racism, or the other way around, is still debatable. It would be worth mentioning some opinions on this though.

With the expansion of the Atlantic slave trade toward the end of the seventeenth century, theories of black inferiority abounded. It was, after all, in the interest of slave traders and slave owners to propagate the myth that Africans were not human beings, or at least not fully human, a species different from the rest of humanity. Defined as brutish and bestial, heathen and savage, Africans seemed to Europeans as fit only for slavery.

It is not clear why Europeans fixated on the skin color of Africans. Perhaps they did so simply because the physical appearance of blacks was so markedly different from their own, and, regarding themselves as superior beings, most Europeans associated a series of negative characteristics with blacks. This view of blacks preceded slavery and helped to justify it. At the same time, slavery deepened racism. The two seem to have existed in tandem. –Did slavery cause racism?

Or was racism borne of slavery?

Another opinion says racism was borne out of the need to perpetuate slavery, which was widely accepted for cheap labor. In 1661 Virginia first recognized slavery, and a year later, a law was passed stating that children inherit the mother’s status. Laws had to be passed in order to keep slaves as slaves. In 1663 Maryland passed a law stating that every black person, even the free ones, were to become slaves. It is with these laws that racial prejudice developed. Eric William stated “slavery was not born of racism: rather racism was the consequence of slavery.” Attitudes of Americans changed when laws toward African slaves were passed. Racism emerged as a justification for why African American slaves were treated differently from former American slaves. Slavery existed well before race, but race only encouraged slavery.

An article published by the International Socialist Review says racism had not always existed; it is not part of human nature. Instead:

Racism is a particular form of oppression. It stems from discrimination against a group of people based on the idea that some inherited characteristic, such as skin color, makes them inferior to their oppressors. Yet the concepts of “race” and “racism” are modern inventions. They arose and became part of the dominant ideology of society in the context of the African slave trade at the dawn of capitalism in the 1500s and 1600s.

The same article stresses, moreover, that racism was a consequence of modern slavery at the dawn of capitalism. While slavery existed as an economic system for thousands of years before the conquest of America, racism, as we understand it today, did not exist.

Further Bias

Yet it also mentions some authorities’ prejudice or bias against people with darker skins: Representative John L. Dawson, a member of Congress after the Civil War, insisted that racial prejudice was “implanted by Providence for wise purposes.” Senator James Doolittle of Wisconsin, a contemporary of Dawson’s, claimed that an “instinct of our nature” impelled us to sort people into racial categories and to recognize the natural supremacy of whites when compared to people with darker skin. Thus, where does this prejudice or bias against darker skin come from? Is there a psychological factor involved that leads to the irrational hatred of people with black skin? Western whites and Asians with fairer skin also have this negative attitude towards people with black or darker skin.

One white, unbiased opinion says centuries of propaganda, biblical dominionism, racial science, imperialism, literature, and culture that degraded black people really got imbedded into the culture and psyche of most white people.

Racial discrimination is still in existence in America today, and African Americans are mostly the target of this negative attitude.

According to 24/7 Wall St., “White nationalist or white supremacist groups, including the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, racist skinheads, and neo-Confederates are by far the most common hate groups in the United States. And African Americans are by far the most victimized group of people by hate-group activity and other, less extreme forms of discrimination.” – Read more here.

Racial attitudes towards blacks persist because such biases and prejudices are handed down from generation to generation without question. It has become a matter of course.

Sean McElwee, a research associate, wrote in an article: Spencer Piston, a professor at the Campbell Institute at Syracuse University, examined how young whites ranked the intelligence and work ethic of whites to blacks. He finds that 51 percent of whites between the ages of 17 and 34 rate blacks as lazier than whites and 43 percent say blacks are less intelligent. These numbers aren’t statistically different from older whites. On issues related to structural racism, it is apparent that young whites aren’t very different from their parents.

Racism Today

What makes it more challenging is that racism today, in America, is not as obvious as it used to be in the past, says this article. This adversely affects the diversity in the job market, specifically as African Americans job seekers are more likely to be bypassed. It is now quiet — or rationalized on some nonracial grounds and thereby hidden in plain view — and seemingly, as a consequence, perhaps not such a bad thing after all. But it is a bad thing. Let’s be clear: There is plenty of research showing that actual discrimination remains remarkably common. For example, one major study of low-skilled workers in New York found high rates of bias against black job applicants. Princeton sociologist Devah Pager and her colleagues showed that otherwise identical black job seekers were 50 percent less likely to achieve success in a job search (pdf) than their white counterparts. –

One striking idea in the above-mentioned article suggests one factor for the negative feelings towards people with black skin: Indeed, one of the most depressing lines of research suggests a core underlining psychological association of blackness with apes, an ugly, old racist trope from the age of the Great Chain of Being, in which the African was seen as closer to primitive animals in the hierarchy of species (pdf).

Discrimination Due to Skin Color 

One academic paper published in the International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy, 2005, Vol. 5, No 2, pp. 125-134, suggests the need to bring into focus the issue of skin color in the study of social conditions, such as racism. The author, Ronald E. Hall of the Michigan State University, writes in his abstract: “Although social scientists use race as a key factor in elucidating and understanding human social conditions, skin color and its impact on the social and psychological disposition of people of African descent have been understudied. Oblivious to the implications of skin color, their attempts to comprehend stereotypes, discrimination, and various behavioral and psychological phenomena are an exercise in futility. Given the declining significance of race and the increase in interracial unions, a new approach is warranted. Thus, if, in fact, Western psychologists are to understand and treat individuals of African descent, a perspective must be employed, which addresses the importance and significance of skin color in the lives of said people.” 

Skin tone bias affects African Americans’ self-esteem, a study says. In his academic paper, ‘Consequences of Skin Tone Bias for African Americans: Resource Attainment and Psychological/Social Functioning,’ Kendrick T. Brown , of the University of Michigan, writes about how skin tone bias is manifested or expressed and the outcomes of this. He writes that two possible mechanisms are involved through which skin tone bias is manifested or expressed: preference/dislike and stereotyping.

Although several aspects of skin tone bias are found to be in need of further empirical research, the author was able to find some evidence of impact of skin tone bias on both men and women:

  • Based on his review of literature regarding resource attainment and psychological functioning, skin tone bias affects both men and women, but has more detrimental effects on women than men.
  • A person’s skin tone is seen as a status which places or stratifies African Americans and impacts how the individual can access scarce resources.
  • According to literature on skin tone, light-skinned Blacks benefit and dark-skinned African Americans suffer on several societal and psychological measures.

Such color prejudice indeed hurt people, especially young children. Children who experience bullying, or even innocent jokes targetting their skin color, grow up with the mistaken notion that skin color defines who they are, Likewise, children of fairer color grow up believing this falsehood.

How to Overcome Skin Tone Bias (Colorism) 

Awareness of and understanding the role of skin color in the irrational hatred towards blacks can help lessen persistent prejudice against black people.

As stated in a previous article, How to Build Up Society with Diversity Working, it is better to start them young. Children should be taught about the evils of being biased and discriminatory. The family is a child’s first school, the first place they encounter love, acceptance, and friendship.

Despite shifting family structures, still, the home is the best place to teach good values. According to an article by the Anti-Defamation League, the US population is expected to grow more diverse, with people of color growing from 30.9 percent of the population in 2000 to 36.2 percent in 2020Schools now, the article continues, are getting more diverse, with children coming from a wide range of backgrounds, abilities, and experiences. And the workforce of the near future will be composed of a majority of women and people of color.

Thus, it is essential for their future success to prepare all children to live and work harmoniously and productively alongside others who represent various and many racial and cultural groups, backgrounds, and abilities in our society

Skin tone bias targeting people with black or darker skin, in addition to racism, hamper the growth of diversity working in society. It is time for Americans to be more aware of this to reset their minds and attitudes and learn to be more open and accepting of all people regardless of their skin color and race.