How Skin Complexion Affects African Americans


In America, skin complexion is considered in many areas such as career opportunities, selection of partners and job opportunities. This difference in skin complexion affects the manner in which people relate to each other. A study of the difference in skin complexion is of great importance as it helps in the understanding of why there is discrimination in different races. However, the most vulnerable race in this relationship is that of African Americans since their skin color is not appealing. Furthermore, the complexion of African Americans is associated with slavery and they are expected to submit to their masters who are the whites. Despite the fact that slavery came to an end long time ago, the issue of discrimination due to colorism still remains a problem for African Americans. However, there also exist some variations in the skin complexion of African Americans where some are lighter and others darker. (Hersch, 2008)

Origin and Impact of African Americans’ Skin Complexion during Slavery

According to (Birzer, 2006), discrimination against African Americans originated from slavery where Africans were being enslaved by the whites. It is during the slavery period that Africans intermingled with the whites where some whites raped African women or just had relationships that culminated in children with characteristics of the two races. The resultant race was that of African Americans with variations in skin complexion as some have light skin while others have a dark skin color like that of dark Africans. The differences in African Americans’ skin complexion were determined by the genes of white and black parents and therefore, their offspring’s had to take characteristics of both sides. Those who are light tend to dislike dark skin Black Americans, as they consider them less attractive. During slavery dark skin Black Americans were allocated tougher jobs than the light skin Black Americans since they were considered more African than American. Light skin Black Americans were more readily accepted in the white’s society than dark skin Black Americans. Therefore, it is clear that, a dark complexion is highly disregarded by not only the whites but also African Americans who have a lighter complexion.

Impact on Education

(Ellis, 2006) argues that, African Americans suffer discrimination on the basis of their complexion to a point that they get low-quality education than the whites. This is because; there tend to be differences between schools attended by blacks and those attended by whites. Mostly, these divisions are not put in the open but the level of discrimination discourages African Americans from attending those schools where most of the students were Americans. It is therefore believed that, light-skinned black Americans are provided with better education than fellow black students. Studies show that, there is a great difference in the expected level of education acquired by light skin Black Americans compared to that acquired by dark skin black Americans. It is therefore concluded that, more and better education is attained with an increase in the level of skin complexion towards lightness. It has also been found that, in learning institutions, dark blacks get more penalties in their courses than light blacks. Then it goes without saying that, some of those penalties are not genuine and are given so as to lower their grades. Dark skin black American tutors as well as instructors are not left behind in this, as they tend not to earn the respect they deserve from their students. Light-skinned black American students are found to disrespect African American tutors, regarding them as less competent in their areas of specialization. These claims are based on the stereotypical beliefs where light complexion is associated with high levels of intelligence while dark complexions are associated with lack of intelligence. Therefore, those tutors end up failing to deliver as much as they could due to the poor relationship between them and their students.

Career Opportunities

The situation of African Americans is very difficult in the workplace due to their skin tone. According to the study, African Americans who are dark-skinned are disadvantaged when it comes to applying for jobs even if their academic qualifications are higher than those of black applicants with lighter skin. The study of colorism by Harrison in the workplace of America is not surprising because; black men who are light-skinned need to have only bachelors’ degree together with few years of work experience to qualify for employment. Even if a black man who is dark-skinned is MBA holder and experienced in managerial positions, he is left out just because employers have high expectations of light-skinned men even if their qualifications are lower.

In America, race is taken to mean white and black because, differences in skin tone increase differences in how people perceive each other basing on their skin complexion. When doing job selection in America, skin tone is always a determining factor of whether the applicants will succeed or not. This is because; blacks who are fair-skinned are believed to be similar to the whites to dark-skinned blacks. The white feel comfortable interacting with light-skinned blacks and can work in the same environment. In every racial group all over the world, light skin is valued and preferred to take managerial positions. In America, races have been mixed due to intermarriages which require advanced research to be done to be aware of biases of color. The best way to solve the problem of inequality due to ideologies related to colorism is to create awareness of beliefs about skin tone as a result of the exposure we have. In America, a person with lighter skin is taken to be wise, competent and attractive while the darker-skinned are dismissed and taken to be ugly. (Hersch, 2008)

Impact on Mate selection

According to (Hersch, 2008) In America, there were black women with different skin shades who said that, the life of black women with light skin is easier. One woman said that, she would not like her son to date dark-skinned ladies because; she does not like the grandbabies to be dark-skinned. During the slavery period, blacks who had light skin occupied the same house as their master while dark-skinned worked in cotton fields. This makes dark-skinned black Americans feel that they are ugly even if they appear beautiful.

Americans know that, children resemble their parents in one way or another. Therefore, light skin black American men know that, their children can be light skin if and only if they marry light-skinned black women. This brings about discrimination when it comes to marriage because, no one would be willing to get dark-skinned black American children due to the way they are taken to be inferior and less attractive. Hence, dark-skinned black American women end up failing to get someone to marry them because; even their fellow dark-skinned men prefer to marry light-skinned black American women. Black ladies who go to study in America are shocked because, for every ten black men who are in college, seven of them date white ladies. Even if these men run organizations for black students, they do not forget to remind them that they are blacks. It is not wrong to date across the culture but, most black men say that they can only date white women since black sisters lack something that is in the whites. (Hersch, 2008)

(Birzer, 2006) has found that, European Americans are more likely to intermarry with light skin Black Americans than with dark skin Black Americans. This is because; they fear the possible outcome, where their children might be of a darker skin. Attractiveness matters in relationships as well as marriages, which disadvantages dark skin black American women as they are considered to be less attractive. Therefore, most light men prefer relating with light women who according to them are more beautiful. This affects black women because; dark men are attracted to light women, making it difficult for black American women to get partners. Therefore, dark women are known to look for all ways possible to help them lighten their skin so that they can be accepted by both dark and light men. For example, dark African Americans and especially women grease their hair to make it as straight as that of European Americans. They also apply creams on their faces so as to change their skin to a lighter one. Black men also prefer light women so as to earn them a high status in the society. Therefore, most of the rich black men are known to attract light women with their wealth so that through marrying them, they can be accepted by European Americans as well as light skin Black Americans.

It is also found that, there exists discrimination in the admission to social organizations especially in colleges. European American college students find it easy to intermingle with light skin Black Americans than dark skin Black Americans. Therefore, they discourage mixing of the two groups in their social organizations, where dark skin black Americans are hardly allowed in social organizations for light African Americans as well as European Americans. Most relationships are likely to be initiated at college level but, since mixing is discouraged, European Americans and light skin Black Americans end up together. Consequently, chances of marriages between dark and light African Americans as well as European Americans continue to decrease as socialization among them decreases. This culture is then passed on to their offspring that carry on the stratification trend. Teachers have tried to change children’s attitudes towards dark complexion but all in vain. They have resorted to following their parents as well as the society which discriminates dark skin Black Americans.

America has been treating people differently based on skin color. This has been used in music industry where many talented black women continue to support the benefit of balancing beautiful and talented dark-skinned black Americans. Lauren Hill said that, dark-skinned black women who were conscious left the music video industry due to displeasure of the way their images were commercialized. This is ironic because, many black Africa American women want to see a person who is like them on the television representing them. This does not aim at attacking light-skinned black Americans but all that dark-skinned black American want is balanced representation of dark African Americans’ talents. (Ellis, 2006)

Media has played a very major role in colorism as media presenters who are mostly European Americans make fun of the skin complexion of African Americans. They regard them as an unacceptable group in the society. Moreover, African Americans are not given equal chances if any, of working in the European American media houses. Funny advertisements and comments on the skin complexion of African Americans are allowed in the media, which fills the audience with negative images of African Americans. As a result, those European Americans who were previously relating well with African Americans start to weigh options of terminating the good relationship while African Americans suffer more discrimination. (Birzer, 2006)

The Group Mostly Affected by Colorism

Dark women and young ladies of the African American race are mostly affected by colorism since they are considered less beautiful. Lighter women are somehow preferred as their skin color is almost the same as that of European Americans and are therefore not discriminated against. Beauty products that brighten the skin have been of great help to dark women and young ladies, since they use them to at least brighten up their skin color so that they may be accepted in the society of whites. However, some of these products have not worked well since some women have bleached their skin to a point of harming it. This is particularly because of the poverty levels encountered by some African Americans making dark women go for low-quality bleaching products that end up harming them. (Bodenhorn, 2007)


It therefore occurs that, the dark complexion of African Americans has great negative impacts on their lives. African Americans’ skin complexion really affects their education, career opportunities as well as the ways in which mates and life partners are selected. Dark African Americans acquire considerably less education than European Americans as well as light skin Black Americans. This leads to better career opportunities being secured by the whites and light African Americans, though in most cases educational qualifications come as an after determinant for good career opportunities as discrimination based on skin complexion precedes it. However, African Americans’ skin complexion has positive impact which is associated with their skin’s resistance to effects of climate change. Dark African Americans are less likely to suffer from sunburns during summer as their skin is more resistant. On the other hand, European Americans as well as the light skin Black Americans are forced to use creams so as to reduce possible dark effects on their skin. However, this is just a minor positive impact and does not count much in the lives of dark skin African Americans, as they are still discriminated against due to their dark complexion. Organizations that fight for human rights have been engaged in events aimed at reducing colorism effects, where dark skin Black Americans are denied some of their human rights due to their color. Several laws have also been enacted, so as to ensure that all citizens receive equal privileges. However, those laws are not kept to the book as it’s almost impossible to go against stereotypical beliefs, where European Americans as well as light skin Black Americans are considered to be better than dark skin Black Americans. (Hersch, 2008)


Birzer M. (2006): The phenomenology of discrimination experienced among African Americans; Journal of African American Studies: Springer, 10(3), 25-33

Bodenhorn H. (2007): Colorism and African American wealth; Journal of Population Economics: Springer 20(2), 55-59

Ellis R. (2006): Whiteness and Race; Journal of American Studies: Cambridge University Press, 40(5), 17-24

Hersch J. (2008): The effects of skin color and height; Journal of Labor Economics: University Chicago Press, 26(3), 12-17