Exploring the impact of skin tone on family dynamics and race-related outcomes

Antoinette M. Landor, Leslie Gordon Simons, Ronald L. Simons, Gene H. Brody, Chalandra M. Bryant, Frederick X. Gibbons, Ellen M. Granberg, Janet N. Melby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Racism has historically been a primary source of discrimination against African Americans, but there has been little research on the role that skin tone plays in explaining experiences with racism. Similarly, colorism within African American families and the ways in which skin tone influences family processes is an understudied area of research. Using data from a longitudinal sample of African American families (n = 767), we assessed whether skin tone impacted experiences with discrimination or was related to differences in quality of parenting and racial socialization within families. Findings indicated no link between skin tone and racial discrimination, which suggests that lightness or darkness of skin does not either protect African Americans from or exacerbate the experiences of discrimination. On the other hand, families displayed preferential treatment toward offspring based on skin tone, and these differences varied by gender of child. Specifically, darker skin sons received higher quality parenting and more racial socialization promoting mistrust compared to their counterparts with lighter skin. Lighter skin daughters received higher quality parenting compared with those with darker skin. In addition, gender of child moderated the association between primary caregiver skin tone and racial socialization promoting mistrust. These results suggest that colorism remains a salient issue within African American families. Implications for future research, prevention, and intervention are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)817-826
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Family Psychology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • African americans
  • Parenting
  • Racial discrimination
  • Racial socialization
  • Skin tone


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