The Power of Perception: Skin Tone Bias and Psychological Well-Being for Black Americans
Drawing from research suggesting that perceiving skin tone bias can entail negative observations about one's interactions with others, as well as studies indicating that the perception of racial discrimination is associated with negative psychological well-being, a general hypothesis was formed to guide the work in this chapter. It was expected that perceiving that one has been treated better or worse because of skin tone will be associated with negative psychological well-being for Black Americans. The present study used data from 586 self-identified Black American in 1995. The survey instrument used was the 1995 Detroit Area Study (DAS) questionnaire. The DAS is a yearly survey that has been conducted by the University of Michigan Survey Research Center for more than 25 years. The 1995 survey focused on the relationship between various perceptions and experiences of racial discrimination and physical and mental health outcomes. Linear regression was used to analyze the relationship between perception of skin tone bias and psychological well-being. The six sociodemographic, self-rated skin tone, and perception of racial discrimination variables were entered first into the model, followed by the two skin tone bias perception variables focused on White people and the two perception variables concerning treatment by Black people. Findings reveal that individuals' interpretations of skin tone bias are associated with psychological well-being, depending on the racial group to which skin tone bias is attached and evaluation of that bias as positive or negative. Although perception of skin tone bias did not exhibit significant relationships with life satisfaction, it was related to psychological distress. It is concluded that recent work has illustrated the need to consider not just the race but also the perceptions of individuals affected by racial bias (R. Clark et al., 1999). In the same manner, the research on skin tone bias needs to move beyond a simple interest in skin tone as a status to a perspective that assesses the perceptions of individuals who experience skin tone bias. When that shift to investigating perceptions occurs, then that initial work started by Kenneth and Mamie Clark more than 60 years ago relating skin tone bias to Black Americans' well-being will be more prominently included in the rich legacy that they have left for psychology.
Kendrick Brown. "The Power of Perception: Skin Tone Bias and Psychological Well-Being for Black Americans" Racial identity in context: The legacy of Kenneth B. Clark. Decade of behavior.. Ed. Philogène, Gina. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004.