On the Psychology of Gendered Colorism

Bart-Plange, Diane-Jo, Psychology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Trawalter, Sophie, BA-Frank Batten School, University of Virginia

From structural inequalities to interpersonal bias, racism persists in American society. Colorism, a phenomenon borne out of racism, is a form of discrimination that creates widespread disparities between lighter- and darker-skinned Black people (Monk, 2015). Colorism is often gendered; in some instances, darker-skinned Black women and girls incur greater penalties for their skin tone than do darker-skinned Black men and boys (Hunter, 2002; Hunter, 2005; Alter et al., 2016; Hannon et al., 2013). The present work investigates when and why colorism becomes gendered.
In three studies, I examine the psychological underpinnings of colorism and gendered colorism. Specifically, I tested the following predictions: 1) Skin tone bias: Skin tone biases evaluations of Black men and women. 2) Gendered skin tone bias: Skin tone will bias evaluations of Black women more than Black men, particularly in domains where gender is salient. Studies 1 and 2 provided evidence of skin tone bias and gendered colorism in categorization and evaluation of prototypicality of race and gender. Study 3 extended these findings to a consequential area of healthcare for Black Americans—pain perception. Although I did not find direct evidence of skin tone bias in pain perception, skin tone influenced perceptions of race prototypicality, which in turn influenced assumptions of life hardship and ratings of pain. Moreover, for gendered pain scenarios, perceptions of gender prototypicality influenced assumptions of hardship and ratings of pain, particularly for Black women. Taken together, this work reveals how colorism manifests in individual cognition and provides avenues for future research.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
colorism, gender, intersectionality, racism
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