Blacks and Asians with darker skin experience bias — even from their own families

LONDON — Blacks and Asians with darker skin are more likely to suffer prejudice and insults, even from members of their own families, a new study explains. A researcher from King’s College London says that these individuals may be stigmatized by lighter-toned parents, siblings, and other relatives. Colorism is a form of discrimination among an ethnic group. However, scientists have never identified it within households, until now.

Study lead author Dr. Aisha Phoenix adds that some families reproduced prejudices common in wider society so “darker skin was imbued with negativity.”

“Families play a central role in shaping ideas about skin shade,” Dr. Phoenix says in a university release. “Within families children with light skin were often favored, while those with dark skin were stigmatized and subjected to insults and bullying.”

“The internalized colorism within some families contributes to the prejudice. However, some families resist colorism and work to instill positive ideas about dark skin or all skin shades,” Dr. Phoenix adds.

Dr. Phoenix interviewed 19 to 60-year-olds from all walks of life. The 33 participants included doctors, social workers, students, civil servants, an accountant, and a train driver. The interviewees’ ethnicities were: 11 Black Caribbean, 11 mixed race, six Black African, four South Asian, and one Chinese. The researcher conducted the project from January to June 2019 as part of the U.K. Skin Shade study.

Those with darker skin and features further from those associated with White people faced more discrimination. The unexpected finding, however, was the extent of skin shade prejudice from family members. Almost half reported witnessing it or being a target or colorism.

“People of color with dark skin can be subjected to prejudice and discrimination from both members of their own families and society at large,” the researcher says.

Meghan Markle was the subject of a colorism debate in 2018 when there were claims that British people allegedly felt more “comfortable” with her joining the royal family because of her light skin.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle
File of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on Christmas Day 2017 (Credit: Openverse)

“Even my father, I remember saying to me once when I was about 13 that I was black and ugly like my grandmother,” says a 51-year-old Black woman, according to Dr. Phoenix.

“Sometimes extended family would compare and ask questions like, ‘How come your sister is so much lighter than you?’ And I remember somebody asked me, ‘How come you’re darker than your sister? Do you not scrub your skin properly in the shower?’” adds a 31-year-old woman of Pakistani ethnicity.

“My oldest brother is lighter, and he always used to make jokes about my other brother’s skin tone. It would never be directed at me, but I knew that I was darker than him,” says a 22-year-old Black man.

“I have a few friends who are dark-skinned and Asian and they attribute as one of the reasons they’re not married to their skin color because the traditional way of arranged marriages is your mum would get a call from the groom’s mum and one of the first questions they ask is ‘What is your daughter’s skin color?’” a 31-year-old South Asian woman tells Dr. Phoenix.

Asian family
(Photo by National Cancer Institute from Unsplash)

Participants with light skin also spoke about being favored within their families.

“I can see that a lot of privilege was given to me having lighter skin, both within my family and within the groups I was. I am the lightest in my family. I always thought it was positive to be lighter, because that was what was said to me,” a 33-year-old Black woman told the study author.

“Being younger, one of the biggest issues I had was with my mum always going on about how it’s better to be fairer, ‘you’ll only find a boy if you’re fairer and you’re only beautiful if you’re fair’. And I think that really got to me. How do you interpret that when you’re a young child?” adds a 43-year-old South Asian woman.

“We grew up in an environment where even we ourselves felt that it was nicer to be lighter. I can remember my grandmother making references to lighter people being more beautiful. It’s what we are taught from when you’re younger. You learn these things,” a 45-year-old Black man explains.

However, one 32-year-old Black woman says she had been told since childhood by her family, “about being proud and understanding why colorism and racism exists and being proud of the amazing things that our culture has done.”

Dr. Phoenix presented the findings at the British Sociological Association’s annual conference in Manchester.

South West News Service writer Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.

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  1. This is a phenomenon well known in their communities. It is called colorism or Shadeism. In the South Asian community it has profound effects on marriageability. Look at the pages of their marriage books. Color and caste are major factors in deciding who your marriage partner is going to be. It is also very common in the former British colonies where the British passed on their prejudices to the native peoples.

  2. i guess white people who are always called racist for treating everyone the same are the only people who are truly not racist. Meanwhile, even minorities are racist against themselves and are given a pass. Sounds legit.

  3. Racism in my family. My child is darker. Family say you are smart, or you have pretty hair. Smooth skin. not saying you are pretty.

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