Report: lighter-skinned women receive shorter prison sentences

A Twitter follower shared this blog post in her timeline. Immediately, I was intrigued because it seemed to reiterate how colorism continues to thrive in this country.

The post refers to a study done by The Sentencing Project, which released the latest information in its “Race and Justice” series.

A recent study, “The Impact of Light Skin on Prison Time for Black Female Offenders,” by Jill Viglione, Lance Hannon, and Robert DeFina of Villanova University assesses how perceived skin tone is related to the maximum prison sentence and time served for a sample of over 12,158 black women imprisoned in North Carolina between 1995 and 2009.  The authors controlled for factors such as prior record, conviction date, prison misconduct, and being thin, as well as whether the woman was convicted of homicide or robbery since these crimes usually carry lengthy prison sentences.  With regard to prison sentences, their results indicated that women deemed to have light skin are sentenced to approximately 12% less time behind bars than their darker skinned counterparts.  The results also show that having light skin reduces the actual time served by approximately 11%.  

The authors conclude by urging people to understand that it is not sufficient to understand racial discrimination in terms of relative advantages of whites compared to non-whites.  Among blacks, characteristics associated with whiteness appear to also have a significant impact on important life outcomes.    

Well, I can’t say I’m surprised by this research.

We all know colorism and the bias towards POCs with European features continues to play a significant role in how POCs are embraced in society at large. What I continue to find interesting is how society at large differentiates among lighter- and darker-skinned POCs in how they interact with us on a daily basis.

It reminds me of a question from a white female coworker posed to me recently about why colorism is an issue among black folks. Of course, wanting to convince me she isn’t a person hung up on race/color we both know she is, she reiterated to me that she “doesn’t understand it” and doesn’t “see what the big deal is.”

While colorism is a big deal among many black Americans, the statistics mentioned above is a glaring indicator of how mainstream society continues to be captivated and motivated by colorism in their dealings with POCs. These stats are just another indicator that having–and embracing–European features give many POCs a head start in navigating a color-struck world.