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cross-posted to sister2sister





By Jennifer Millman

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© 2006 DiversityInc.com
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September 05, 2006

What differentiates two candidates of color for a job? It's not always the résumé. In many cases, skin tone makes the difference, according to University of Georgia (UGA) doctoral student Matthew Harrison, who conducted the first study of the impact of skin tone in the workplace.



Harrison conducted the study with 240 psychology undergraduates at UGA. Each participant received one of two résumés that varied by educational and work experience. Along with the résumés, the participants received one of six pictures of candidates, all black, who varied by skin tone and gender. They then were asked to rate the candidate as a job applicant and to say how likely they would be to hire the applicant themselves.



Harrison found that dark-skinned blacks are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to employment. Even when they have higher educational attainment and more qualified résumés, participants were inclined to select their light-skinned counterparts.

"I think the ratings given are a source of the expectations our society has for those who have light skin versus those who have dark skin," Harrison said. "Additionally, I think that for women, the ratings are linked to [white perceptions of] attractiveness, which is linked to competency, and for men, I believe the media images of the violent or threatening black man create a different level of comfort around black men depending on the skin tone."



Research conducted a few months earlier by Harvard Law School researcher Joni Hersch reached different conclusions. Analyzing data from 1998, Hersch found that skin-tone differences did not influence wages to any significant degree and that light-skinned blacks were likely to have higher educational attainment than dark-skinned blacks, which could account for the differences in employment. Hersch wrote: "The perception that there is differential treatment on the basis of skin tone is more pronounced than the observed disparities."




But is it? The insidious effects of colorism have been long documented, dating back to the time of slavery when light-skinned blacks were given preferential treatment by plantation owners. Not so long ago, a brown paper bag was the barometer by which fraternities and sororities selected their black members. If a black candidate's skin was lighter than the color of the bag, they were admitted. If not, they were excluded.



While most prevalent among blacks, this form of discrimination is evident across racial/ethnic groups. In 1992, the courts heard a fair-housing claim in which a light-complexioned Latino refused to rent to a Latino couple because the husband was dark-skinned. In 1999, the courts ruled in Santiago v. Stryker Corp. that a dark-skinned Puerto Rican worker who was replaced by a light-skinned Puerto Rican worker suffered color discrimination.



According to the brief, "Color may be a rare claim, because color is usually mixed with or subordinated to claims of race discrimination, but considering the mixture of races and ancestral national origins in Puerto Rico, color may be the most practical claim to present."



One of the more recent cases of color discrimination involved the Applebee's restaurant chain. In 2003, Dwight Burch, a dark-skinned Applebee's server in Jonesboro, Ga., said his light-skinned black supervisor discriminated against him on the basis of his skin tone. Applebee's settled, awarding Burch $40,000. Asians have experienced similar plights.



Frank Ybarra, Applebee's spokesperson at the time, said in a statement: "No one should have to put up with mean and humiliating comments about the color of their skin on the job … It makes no difference that these comments are made by someone of your own race. Actually that makes it even worse."



Recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) revised its compliance manual to include guidelines on colorism. "Color discrimination occurs when a person is discriminated against based on the lightness, darkness or other color characteristics of the person. Even though race and color overlap, they are not synonymous." Read the new guidelines.



According to the EEOC, these cases are on the rise, while still rare. In 1994, there were 413 cases on colorism. By 2002 the number was 1,382. While these cases account for less than 5 percent of those handled by the EEOC, the fact that the incidence has more then tripled in eight years is cause for concern.



"As with any research, multiple studies should be performed, as you have to generalize findings based upon whatever sample size is used," said Harrison. "However, there are a number of instances in this study that point out the disparities that exist between light- and dark-skinned blacks in America, and as a researcher of diversity, I just find it hard to believe that these inequalities could exist in the absence of a system of preferences."

Comments

( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
sophandros
Sep. 5th, 2006 09:42 pm (UTC)
Water's wet.

j/k

But not really. It's about time someone did a real study on this. And I'm not that dark.
femenemopee
Sep. 5th, 2006 09:55 pm (UTC)
LOL

I'm glad someone did a study on this, too.
youngcaesar
Sep. 5th, 2006 10:20 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I was about to say, even though this is obvious, it's interesting to see the research they did.
homasse
Sep. 5th, 2006 10:26 pm (UTC)
Colorism is an issue, but I think how much of an issue it is depends on what area of the country--it's a lot strong in the South than in the North, just based on personal observation, which would be why there was that difference between what the guy at Harvard found and what they found at UGA.
(Deleted comment)
jadedjade
Sep. 5th, 2006 11:18 pm (UTC)
*cue god voice*

I am the lightness and the darkness.
biodance
Sep. 5th, 2006 11:17 pm (UTC)
In other news, I heard that one dude from N'Sync was gay.
Too bad the people that need to read it aren't going to read something on DiversityInc.com.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )