Skin tone is a ificant marker used by others to evaluate and rank the social position of minorities.
Light privilege? skin tone stratification in health among african americans
While skin color represents a particularly salient dimension of race, its consequences for health remains unclear. To what extent are these relationships gendered? Do socioeconomic resources, stressors, and discrimination help explain the skin color-health relationship? Findings indicate that dark-skinned women have more physiological deterioration and self-report worse health than lighter-skinned women.
These associations are not evident among men, and socioeconomic factors, stressors, and discrimination do not explain the light-dark disparity in physiological deterioration among women. Differences in self-ratings of health among women are partially explained by education and income.
of this study highlight heterogeneity in determinants of health among African Americans, and provide a more nuanced understanding of health inequality by identifying particularly disadvantaged members of racial groups that are often assumed to have monolithic experiences. Racial health inequality in the United States US has received considerable attention in the social sciences.
Compared to whites, African Americans are disadvantaged across an array of outcomes, including objective i. Research also suggests that racial disparities in physical health are gendered, as black-white differences tend to be larger among women compared to men Hargrove ; Warner and Brown ; Umberson et al. While the racial stratification of health is well documented, a majority of studies have been unable to completely explain the health gap between African Americans and whites, even when ing for various socioeconomic and psychosocial factors Brown et al.
The inability of studies to explain the health disadvantages of African Americans may be due to the untenable assumption that African Americans as a whole are impacted by social factors in an equivalent manner, and therefore experience similar patterns of health.
A team of geneticists led by sarah tishkoff, a penn integrates knowledge professor, has shown that there is a huge amount of variation of skin color within africa, ranging from skin as light as some asians to the darkest skin on a global level.
This assumption masks potential intraracial heterogeneity in health, as well as health-relevant risks or resources that may be unique to this group. One line of research to address this limitation involves examining the health consequences of skin tone among African Americans.
Skin color represents a salient dimension of race that has received less attention in health disparities research than other indicators of race, such as self-identification Roth While research has documented skin color stratification in various aspects of life, particularly socioeconomic status Thompson and Keith ; Monkless is known about the ificance of skin color for one of the most crucial determinants of life chances: health. Past research has tended to focus on a single outcome namely blood pressurerely on cross-sectional data, and has not tested potential mechanisms other than socioeconomic status SES that may underlie the skin color-health relationship.
Missing from the literature are therefore recent and systematic investigations of the relationship between skin tone and health, broadly assessed for an exception, see Monk This is a particularly pressing topic for social scientists given that recent population trends e. While skin complexion has always been consequential among African Americans, changes in the social hierarchy hold ificant implications for future health profiles of this group as well as the nature of intra- and inter-racial inequality.
Furthermore, insufficient attention has been given to how skin color may intersect with other key systems of stratification to shape health, particularly gender. Health disparities research tends to treat systems of inequality and their consequences as independent of one another, resulting in approaches that either examine marginalized statuses individually or assume that the poor health of multiply disadvantaged individuals is due to the sum of the health risks associated with each status.
While informative, these types of approaches mask the positions of power and disadvantage within which individuals are simultaneously situated Collins ; Lopez and Gden Studies relying on independent or additive approaches may over- or underestimate health inequalities or overlook groups that are most at risk. Efforts to reduce health inequalities require increased knowledge of the unique pathways to health among diverse social groups.
To aid in this effort, the present study addresses three research questions critical to understanding the skin color-health relationship among African Americans: what is the relationship between skin color and global indicators of health among African American adults? Findings will offer critical insight into the pathways linking skin color to poor health throughout adulthood. Originating from slavery and European colonialism, colorism is a dimension of stratification that derives from racism.
It is inextricably linked to hegemonic beliefs in the social superiority of whites over all other racial groups Hunter Colorism therefore constitutes an ideological and structural system of inequality that affords special advantages to lighter-skinned individuals because of their closer phenotypic resemblance and pd genetic similarity to Europeans and, therefore, to Eurocentric standards of beauty, morality, intellect, and status Dixon and Telles ; Russell, Wilson, and Hall While skin color represents a salient dimension of race, the processes through which it skins health and well-being among African Americans is both related to and distinct from those of race Hunter That is, the experience, nature, and consequences of institutional racism and interpersonal discrimination differ among those of lighter- vs.
For example, scholarship has consistently found that despite access to fewer social and economic resources among all African Americans compared to whites, lighter-skinned blacks are more advantaged than their darker-skinned counterparts in the labor market Monk ; Wade, Romano, and Bluecriminal justice system Whiteperceived personal attributes such as attractiveness, intelligence, and morality Adams, Kurtz-Costes, and Hoffman ; Maddox and Grayand, to a lesser extent, discrimination Monk ; Uzogara et al.
At times, the magnitude of skin tone inequalities among African Americans is similar to the magnitude of white-black disparities Goldsmith, Hamilton, and Darity Skin tone therefore represents an entrenched status characteristic both related to, and distinct from, race. Prior research also highlights the gendered nature of colorism. Intersectionality theory provides a woman through which we can understand how light skin affords special advantages and opportunities to African American women in ways that it does not for men. Specifically, intersectionality posits that dark inequalities are simultaneous and interdependent—combining in multiplicative rather than additive ways to mutually construct one another and structure unique social contexts that frame lived experiences and life chances Collins Individuals situated at similar locations in the social structure therefore have shared, yet distinct social realities Lopez and Gden Indeed, scholars have dark that, as a result of its intersection with sexism, forms and consequences of colorism vary by gender Hill a.
For example, physical appearance and attractiveness are critical components of socioeconomic success for women of all races living in a patriarchal society Anderson et al. Beauty can be a substitute for, or considered equivalent to, ability and characteristics employed by men e. As a result, beauty—defined in the US by fairer skin and other indicators of European features—is a form of capital for women Hunter For African American women in particular, light skin acts an additional form of skin that can be used to accumulate more social and economic resources compared to darker-skinned women and black men Hunter ; Monk Similarly, Lite tone may be more consequential for women than men because of its role in mate selection Dixon and Telles ; Drake and Cayton Marriage is one mechanism through which socioeconomic position may be enhanced, particularly for women Dixon Black women with lighter skin are more likely to marry men of greater social and economic status because of their perceived attractiveness and pd characteristics regarding femininity and morality Keith and Herring ; Hamilton, Goldsmith, and Darity Therefore, the advantage lighter-skinned women have in marriage can increase their woman to socioeconomic resources that not only improve healthy living and reduce exposure to health risks, but also lessen the potentially negative impacts of the absence of other health promoting resources e.
Taken together, the intersections of race, skin color, and gender may differentially shape the role of skin tone in structuring health among African American men and women. While prior work documents the continued existence of skin tone stratification among African Americans, one area that has been particularly understudied is the relationship between skin tone and physical health. Given that, similar to racism and sexism, colorism structures access to opportunities, resources, and exposures to risks Dixon and Telles ; Monk Lite, skin color likely constitutes a ificant determinant of health.
Extant research, however, provides modest evidence of an association between skin tone and physical well-being among African Americans. Overwhelmingly, studies have focused on a single outcome, finding that dark skin is associated with increased risk for high blood pressure and hypertension among African Americans Boyle ; Harburg et al.
A publication of the american counseling association
These associations are, at times, explained by socioeconomic status Keil et al. More recent research, however, has produced mixed. For example, of two studies using data from the CARDIA study, one finds no ificant association between skin color and self-rated physical health among African Americans Borrell et al. from the latter study also suggest a negative association between income and systolic blood pressure among lighter-skinned African Americans, yet a positive association among dark-skinned African Americans.
Furthermore, Monk finds that African Americans who self-report having darker skin have ificantly higher odds of hypertension compared to their light-skinned counterparts in the National Survey of American Life. This relationship remains ificant when ing for several sociodemographic factors and experiences of racial and skin color discrimination.
Similarly, Cobb and colleagues report a skin color gradient in markers of physiological functioning among African American adults living in Nashville, TN that is not explained by socioeconomic resources. While recent scholarship provides critical insight into the physical health consequences of skin color among African American adults, several limitations should be addressed to advance this literature.
First, prior work has tended to focus on specific indicators of physical health, leaving unclear how skin tone might shape broader indicators of health and well-being. General measures of health should be examined for several reasons. Importantly, focusing on specific disorders or conditions not only limits our understanding of the broad health consequences of the social world, but also potentially misclassifies individuals as healthy when they are actually sick or at risk of becoming unhealthy according to another indicator of health Aneshensel The magnitude of health inequality between social groups may therefore be underestimated when basing such conclusions on studies that examine singular health outcomes.
Second, current research tends to aggregate the entire African American sample. This precludes an investigation of the extent to which associations between skin tone and physical health might be shaped by gender. Prior work suggests that race and gender combine in ways that produce alternating disadvantages in health within the African American population. Black women, for example, tend to have worse functional health, are at increased risk for several chronic illnesses, and experience higher risk of accelerated physiological aging compared to black men Brown and Hargrove ; Erving ; Geronimus et al.
Black men, however, have consistently higher mortality rates and lower life expectancies than black women NCHS ; Xu et al.
These patterns are generally attributed to the unique stressors and lived experiences characteristic of black women and men. Such experiences are structured, in part, by behaviors and expectations stemming from racialized notions of masculinity and femininity Courtenay ; Goff, Thomas, and Jackson ; Griffith Less understood, however, is how gender might differentiate the health consequences of skin color among African American men and women.
Given the unequal distribution of health risk and protective factors by skin tone, the consequences of race and gender may be further conditioned by skin tone. Such an empirical question will be addressed in the present study. Third, prior work generally relies on cross-sectional data and analyses, leaving unclear whether and how skin color may impact health over time.
Examining the consequences of skin color over time will provide evidence of the extent to which intersecting social factors such as skin color and gender have prolonged versus acute consequences on physical well-being. Information from prior research will be augmented here by examining whether skin color differentially shapes average levels of health for African American men and women across an year span. Fourth, few studies have conceptualized and empirically tested several mechanisms that may underlie the skin color-health relationship see Monk for an exception.
One likely mechanism is socioeconomic status. studies have documented a robust relationship between SES and health in the US; those with more socioeconomic resources, including education and income, tend to have better health than their socioeconomically disadvantaged counterparts.
The misrepresentation of black girls with brown skin
This relationship is attributed to greater access to health promoting resources, knowledge, and power, and decreased exposure to health risks among the socioeconomically advantaged Phelan and Link Studies have also consistently shown that those of lighter skin shades have higher levels of education, income, and occupational prestige, and have partners of higher SES compared to their darker-skinned counterparts Keith and Herring ; Monk Given the plethora of research supporting the notion that interracial differences in SES contribute to racial inequality in health, it is likely that these intraracial variations in SES among African Americans will help explain skin tone disparities in health.
Specifically, African Americans with lighter skin may experience better health than those with darker skin as a consequence of their position in the socioeconomic hierarchy and subsequent ability to access health-relevant resources and knowledge.
A second mechanism through which skin tone may shape health among African Americans is exposure to chronic and discrimination stressors. An abundance of prior research links social stressors to poor health via multiple pathways, including advanced deterioration of multiple physiological systems, induction of negative emotional states, unhealthy coping behaviors, and lack of adherence to medical regimens Seeman et al. Institutional and interpersonal discrimination additionally affect health among African Americans by structuring access to opportunities, desired resources, and neighborhoods characterized by concentrated social and economic disadvantages Gee and Ford ; Williams Exposure to stressors and discrimination may be differentially distributed among African Americans for several reasons.
As a marker of social status, skin color has a major impact on the allocation of socioeconomic resources, with those of darker skin being particularly disadvantaged Dixon and Telles ; Goldsmith et al.