The Impact of Colorism on African American Teenagers

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About this sample


Words: 1134 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Feb 13, 2024

Words: 1134|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Feb 13, 2024

Table of contents

  1. Colorism in the Social Life of a Teenager
  2. Colorism in the Academic Life of a Teenager
  3. Conclusion

Colorism is the prejudice and/or discrimination that occurs because of skin tone. Colorism has been rooted in American ideology ever since the antebellum period in southern America. A professor and an Associate Director at the University of Pennsylvania, together have concluded that “throughout slavery the belief that lighter-skinned Blacks were best suited for intellectual and skilled tasks was common, as assignments among bondsmen intersected with color…light-complexioned Black women were depicted as smarter, kinder, gentler, more attractive, and, most frequently described as more delicate than darker-skinned Black women” (Gasman & Abiola, 2016, pg. 40-41). The same characteristics that Gasman and Abiola described are seen in today’s society; those of fairer skin are favored, while those of darker skin are frowned upon. Colorism has affected most areas of American society today, and has, unfortunately, reached the American school system, thereby, ingraining the idea into the minds of countless teenagers. Colorism not only influences the decisions made by teenagers, but also affect many teenagers both academically and socially. These effects can be seen in the African American, Asian American, Hispanic, and Latina/o American communities; however, this report focuses on the African American community (Keith & Monroe, 2016).

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Colorism in the Social Life of a Teenager

Colorism’s affects a teenager’s ability to communicate and represent themselves within a group by limiting teenagers of darker skin in status. Tasha, a dark-skinned African American high school student, took an interview in which she said, “’I don’t wish to be White. I just wish I was much lighter [skinned]. All the light-skinned kids at my school are smart’” (Mcgee, Alvarez & Milner, 2016, pg. 70). Their study displays the views of a student, who feels as if she is less because of her skin tone. This correlates to a study conducted by Margaret Hunter, a Professor of Sociology: “People routinely attribute other positive traits to people they perceive as physically attractive... Lighter-skinned people of color, who are often viewed as more physically attractive because of racist beauty standards, are more likely to be judged as intelligent and kind” (2016, pg. 56). Tasha, according to Hunter’s work, had fallen victim to the theoretical construct, known as the halo effect. Gasman’ and Abiola’s study concluded that fairer individuals were perceived to be more attractive, which according to Hunter’s halo effect, would result in the attribution of positive characteristics. The constant comparison between fairer and darker individuals, produces a sense of inferiority in darker individuals. The halo effect results in many darker individuals feeling inferior to their peers because their skin tone is not usually associated with positive characteristics, nor valued like those of lighter-skinned individuals.

McGee’, Alvarez’, and Milner’s interviews resulted in similar findings; darker-skinned female students felt that there was a negative connotation associated with their skin tone. Darker individuals also had more stress because of these negative associations (Mcgee et al., 2016). Their intensified stress can negatively impact their mental health, along with how well they perform in an educational setting. The negative associations also impact important high school events, such as prom, as darker individuals will be less likely to be considered for such events. A study conducted by partners with backgrounds in social equity, found that “racialized experiences are complex and diverse” (Bentley-Edwards & Stevenson, 2016, pg. 106). Their study was conducted in a social setting; the research can still be applied to the American school system, because schools are places where socialization is common and expected. The effects of racialized experiences in their article were mostly negative psychological effects towards the victim. These results, although conducted for a different purpose, represent the feelings of the teenagers in McGee’, Alvarez’, and Milner’s work; the females stated that their stress was intensified because of the negative associations with their skin tone, which is the same effect found in racialized experiences. The negative psychological experiences also are likely a result of the halo effect and constant comparisons.

Colorism in the Academic Life of a Teenager

Stress and the sense of social inferiority also play a role in academic success. All stress obtained from social experiences, negatively impacts a teenager’s ability to perform in and out of school. The social inferiority given to darker individuals results in disheartenment, which will result in a lack of motivation, which is essential for academic success.

Although the stress and social inferiority discussed earlier may have an effect on academic success, this section will mitigate the connections between social effects and academic effects. Colorism, is still apparent in academics, regardless of its social implications. Carla Monroe, a researcher in the social context in human experiences, discusses how skin tone impacts educational disparities: “scholars know that skin tone is a mediating variable in Black income, occupational status, educational attainment, and relationship” (Monroe, 2016, pg, 48). All of these factors have an effect on academics, as Monroe and Keith, a sociology professor, discuss: “Connections between complexion and socioeconomic status are particularly noteworthy, as students from affluent homes stand to benefit from the resources that their families can provide. High-income parents can afford to reside in neighborhoods that are districted for the most preferable public schools; that is, institutions that are most likely to have highly-qualified teachers, state-of-the-art facilities, extensive course offerings, and a broad selection of extracurricular activities” (Keith & Monroe, 2016, pg. 5). Many of the variables that are affected by skin tone, also affect the quality of education for teenagers. This also implies that these parents are able to afford more study aids and tutorial assistance, allowing their children to gain more from their education. Those who are negatively affected by these factors are often darker individuals, leaving their teenagers with far fewer opportunities for educational success. It was also found that fairer individuals had advantages in career and marriage options (Keith & Monroe, 2016), which furthers the claim that lighter individuals are given an advantage in educational success.

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Colorism has a crucial effect on the lives of African American students. Studies have shown how colorist ideals have implications for the academic and social life of African American students. However, social interactions may have a greater effect than those occurring only academically. Social interactions which discriminate against darker-skinned individuals, cause them to have negative psychological effects. McGee, Alvarez, and Milner established this in their journal: “[they] experienced compounded stress as they believed and stressed that their physical features were not only devalued, but that their skin tone was also linked to negative stereotypes and perception” (2016, pg. 70). Thus, these social interactions and perceptions negatively impact their social status, social life, and academic life. The compounded stress they experience can cause them to perform poorer in school, therefore affecting their entire school experience. Action should be taken to mitigate this ideology and the consequences of it. Such action should begin in the school system, so that negative perceptions of darker individuals are reduced.

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The Impact of Colorism on African American Teenagers. (2024, February 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 24, 2024, from
“The Impact of Colorism on African American Teenagers.” GradesFixer, 13 Feb. 2024,
The Impact of Colorism on African American Teenagers. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 24 May 2024].
The Impact of Colorism on African American Teenagers [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2024 Feb 13 [cited 2024 May 24]. Available from:
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