Strains of skin tone bias: implications for adolescent delinquency and residential segregation for blacks


White, Karletta (2016). Strains of skin tone bias: implications for adolescent delinquency and residential segregation for blacks.


In two separate studies, I examine the relationship between skin tone and important psychological well-being, delinquency, and social integration outcomes for Blacks, testing not only if skin tone is important in determining these outcomes but attempting to disentangle the mechanism by which the inequality is produced. More specifically, using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (Add Health), in study one I draw on important propositions of Agnew’s (1992) General Strain Theory to investigate the extent to which darker skin impacts youths’ feelings of strain, psychological well-being, and delinquency. The study found skin tone to be significantly associated with certain facets of well-being but surprisingly there were no direct effects on various types of strain. Skin tone is a strong predictor of one’s involvement in serious weapon violence, controlling for prior delinquency. Results also show that skin tone matters more for female adolescents’ odds of being suspended compared to their male counterparts, while certain forms of strain significantly impact the effect of skin tone on one’s involvement in delinquent activity. In study two, I continue my investigation of skin tone as an external or interracial source of discrimination using the National Survey of American Life (NSAL). In this study I am concerned with whether Blacks with darker skin tones are more likely than their lighter-skinned counter parts to live in neighborhoods that they perceive as more segregated and with fewer amenities and community resources. Although these data did not allow me to directly test how the respondents came to reside in their present community (i.e. racial steering or neighborhood choice), I examine skin tone discrimination as well as major types of everyday discrimination (e.g. being denied a bank loan or housing opportunity) experiences reported by Blacks. Overall, findings suggest that darker-skinned Blacks fare worse in regard to frequent experiences of skin tone discrimination from Whites. Skin tone is significantly related to respondent’s perceived seriousness of drug activity in their current neighborhood, suggesting that skin tone may have some impact on one’s perceived neighborhood quality. Further results, implications, and conclusions are discussed.




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White, Karletta

Series Author(s)

Heimer, Karen

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University of Iowa

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