Hunter (2002) examines the connection between skin tones and social capital for African American and Mexican American women. Hunter poses that the hierarchy of skin color created by white supremacy and the way in which individuals view themselves within that hierarchy is directly connected to socioeconomic status and perceived quality of life. The study found that “light skin” was an indicator for educational attainment among both groups of women. Data also indicated that “light skin” was a direct predictor for higher income among African American woman and an indirect indicator amongst Mexican American women. Hughs and Hertel (1990) explored attitudes and the socioeconomic status associated with perceived skin tones. Utilizing data from the National Survey of Black Americans, Hughs and Hertel research concluded that blacks with a light skin tone had a higher socioeconomic status and so did their spouses. They also found that “light skin” African Americans also had a lower black consciousness as well.
The articles are very similar in the sense that they both aim to identify whether skin color and skin tone is an influence upon perceived social capital and economic status. The authors of both articles would be in agreeance with each other due to the significant similarities of their findings. What was beneficial about the articles was that it was able to tie an abstract concept (skin color) to a tangible concept (socioeconomic status). Proving that anti-blackness is a hindrance to economic development amongst peoples of color. In regards to Hunters (2002) conclusion on Mexican Americans, it would be interesting to understand exactly why “light skin” was an indirect indicator for income among Mexican American women rather than direct. Because research on internalized oppression has been limited to the African American and Latino population, it was difficult finding data that focused solely on Middle Eastern cultures.
Research questions: Questionnaire
- On a scale from 1 to 5 with 5 being very dark, how would you classify your skin tone?
- Do you believe your skin tone is an asset or a set back? Why?
- Have you knowingly used your skin tone to accomplish certain ventures?
- Has your skin tone every impacted you accessing opportunities?
- Do you think mixed race children have it better than their colored or darker counter parts?
- Have you ever dated anyone with a lighter skin tone because you thought it would add value to your position in society?
- Do you believe skin tone applies more to woman than men?
- List a couple of stereotypes you’ve heard in regards to skin tone. Could be good or bad.
According to results from the questionnaire, 40% of participants indicated they had a medium skin tone. 25% identified as white and another 25% of participants indicated that they had a dark skin tone. Creating a diverse pool of responses. Many participants that identified as having “light or white’ skin agreed that their skin tone is an asset. Conversely, many individuals who identified as medium or darker skin believed their skin tone was a set back. 67% of respondents claim that they have never used their skin tone to accomplish certain ventures. However, unsurprisingly, 75% of survey respondents believed that lighter skinned children have a better position in society than their darker counterparts. 87% of respondents claimed that their skin tone has counted against them when it came to accessing opportunities. When asked if skin tone applies more to women than men, 50% of respondents claimed it applied more to women and 50% of respondents believed it applied more to men.
A short essay question was applied to asses some of the stereotypes respondents have been exposed to in regards to skin tone. Many of the stereotypes were negative. Some of the key themes observed that have been attributed to skin tone included dirty, bad character, unattractiveness, danger and laziness. When asked if they ever dated a lighter skinned or white skinned individual to boost their social capital, only one respondent replied yes. This individual also indicated that they had a very dark skin tone.
When discussing historical atrocities such as colonialism or systemic racism, rarely mentioned is the issue of how the legacy and psychology of these incidences mentally impact the target populations. It can be argued that the worst part of these atrocities is the system of white supremacy birthed from these historical incidents and the internalized oppression that continues to keep the systems established under a new guise. Coming from a culture that was heavily influenced by Indoeuropean culture, anti-blackness and caste systems are still prevalent.
Due to the pervasive Anti-blackness that is global, people of color are lead to believe that marrying an individual of a light and or white skin tone is a pathway by which to enhance social capital and economic status.
The research method I chose was a brief questionnaire. Because the topic in question is provocative and makes the participant think below the surface, it was important to ask questions that were directly address the subject in question. The participants were chosen solely based on gender. To gain a homogenous pool of survey responses, the survey was administered via Google forms and outreach for the survey was conducted via social media and at request of surveyor.
Discussion and Analysis
From conducting research, I learned the majority of participants supported the thesis in the sense that many of their answers supported the idea that “light or white skin” is a form of social capital.
Many of the stereotypes about skin tone that were reported by respondents were mainly negative. One respondent stated that she has heard statements such as “your baby is light skinned which makes her so beautiful”. Other participants stated that they have been told “dark skin means trouble and lighter skin means nice and wholesome”. I also learned that when it came to gender, stereotypes attached to skin tone were felt to be equally applicable to both men and women.
Through the research conducted, it is clear that many individuals that come from oppressed populations view skin color as a form of social capital and at times a gateway to economic advancement. Unfortunately not only is this a hindrance to ending systemic oppression it is damaging to the ways in which many women of color view themselves. The dangerous and misleading ideologies rooted in oppression persuade women to focus on shallow concepts when it comes to marriage and relationships. We must also remember that the religious, political and historical reinforcement of anti-blackness only further fuels the ignorance of our global caste system.
Hughs M. E., Hertel, B.R. (1990). The Significance of Color Remains: A Study of Life Chances, Mate Selection, and Ethnic Consciousness Among Black Americans. Social Forces, 68(4), 1105-1120.
Hunter, M. (2002). “If You’re Light You’re Alright”: Light Skin Color as Social Capital for Women of Color. Gender and Society, 16(2), 175-193.