December 2007

The Skin Color Paradox and the American Racial Order

86, 2, pp. 1-28
Jennifer Hochschild
Vesla Weaver

Dark-skinned blacks in the United States have lower socioeconomic status, more punitive relationships with the criminal justice system, diminished prestige, and less likelihood of holding elective office compared with their lighter counterparts. This phenomenon of “colorism” both occurs within the African American community and is expressed by outsiders, and most blacks are aware of it. Nevertheless, blacks’ perceptions of discrimination, belief that their fates are linked, or attachment to their race almost never vary by skin color. We identify this disparity between treatment and political attitudes as “the skin color paradox,” and use it as a window into the politics of race in the United States over the past half-century.