Ellis Monk: Beyond the binary: Skin tone, discrimination, and health among African Americans


Thursday, January 24, 2019, 12:00pm to 1:15pm


Harvard Center for Population, 9 Bow Street, Harvard Square, Cambridge

Social Demography Seminars (SDS) presentation by Ellis Monk, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Harvard University.



While a well-developed literature has systematically detailed myriad ways in which categorical race (i.e. census race) is associated with a whole host of inequalities, social scientists consistently report that life chances among African Americans are significantly associated not only with their ethnoracial category membership, but crucially, gradational differences in their skin tone. In fact, some studies even suggest that within-race inequalities associated with skin tone among African Americans often rival or exceed what obtains between blacks and whites as a whole. These findings, along with compelling social psychological and cognitive research on social categorization and person construal, suggest the that African Americans are treated differently based on the lightness or darkness of their skin tone by members of the ingroup and various outgroups, which is a key mechanism that produces skin tone stratification. I discuss a set of findings based on nationally-representative data that extend research on skin tone stratification (or colorism) to the domain of health. Overall, the findings strongly suggest that skin tone and colorism (skin tone discrimination) are important factors shaping health inequality and health disparities in the United States.