Skin tone and perceptions of discrimination among African Americans: Evidence from the multi-city study of urban inequality

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Marvin P. Dawkins - Committee Chair


The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of skin tone on perceptions of discrimination among African Americans. Drawing upon previous research indicating that darker-skinned and tighter-skinned African Americans tend to differ in their perceptions and experiences of racial discrimination, this study developed an integrated theoretical framework: (1) to test specific hypotheses involving relationships between skin tone and perceptions of discrimination and attitudes toward racial inequality; and (2) to identify factors that mediate the effect of skin tone on these perceptions and attitudes.Using data from the Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality (MCSUI: 1994), four general hypotheses were developed and tested: (1) darker skinned African Americans are more likely than their lighter skinned counterparts to perceive job discrimination at a personal level (i.e., as hurting their chances of job advancement); (2) darker skinned African Americans are more likely to perceive job discrimination for African Americans, generally (i.e., as hurting the chances of Blacks to get good paying jobs); (3) darker skinned African Americans are more likely to perceive discrimination as a cause of racial inequality; and (4) being darker skinned is a relatively strong predictor of perceptions of job discrimination when other factors are taken into account. The theoretical model was also used to identify and assess the influence of selected mediating factors (e.g., stratification beliefs, self-esteem, educational attainment, political affiliation, structural beliefs and income) on the relationship between skin tone and perceptions of job discrimination.Based on correlation and logistical regression analyses, the findings revealed that three of the four hypotheses received general support. Hypothesis 3 received partial support. While these results were consistent with current literature suggesting that skin tone continues to play a role in perceptions of discrimination, with darker skinned African Americans having greater awareness of racial discrimination than their lighter skinned counterparts, this study extends previous research by employing a broader theoretical framework to explain skin tone effects. The theoretical model applied in this analysis indicates that stratification beliefs and political affiliation play important mediating roles, while self esteem, education and income are less important. Future research should not only continue to monitor the effects of skin tone on perceptions discrimination among African Americans, but also assess "colorism" in the context of the increasingly multi-ethnic U.S. population.


Black Studies

Link to Full Text


Link to Full Text