A new study by researchers at San Francisco State University has confirmed what many people have known all along (at least those in the African Diaspora). The study titled, “When an ‘Educated’ Black Man Becomes Lighter in the Mind’s Eye” found that the more educated and competent a black individual is perceived to be, the “lighter” they are perceived to be.
And this unconscious bias is not only exhibited by whites; even other people of colour have the same negative biases towards black people.
The history of “shadism” or “colourism” has deep roots in the black community. The brown bag test was commonly used in the early 1900’s among upper class African American societies and families to decide if a black person was sufficiently white to gain admittance or acceptance. If your skin was darker than a brown paper bag, you were excluded from such places as fraternities, churches, and some post secondary institutions.
The study reports that people perceived to have higher levels of Afrocentric features (e.g., dark skin, full lips, wide nose, coarse hair) have been subject to increased negative stereotyping (e.g., alleging heightened levels of aggression) leading to real-world repercussions, such as receiving longer prison sentences for crimes equated for severity and priors.
The underlying lesson is this…we all have unconscious biases regardless of race. It’s how we act on those biases and what we do to erase them is what’s important.