“For a long time, colorism has been considered a ‘dirty little secret…Our research shows the need to unmask the wounds of colorism and promote healing for individuals, families, and communities who experience skin tone trauma,” – Antoinette Landor

Originally published on Afroféminas Magazine • 


A University of Missouri professor named Antoinette Landor has conducted research among thousands of African-Americans that suggests that biases related to skin tone can lead to deteriorating mental health and negative relationships among people of African descent. Antoinette, assistant professor of human development and family science, and a leading expert on colorism, says discrimination based on skin tone plays an important role in the lives of people of African descent.

“For a long time, colorism has been considered a ‘dirty little secret,'” Landor said. “Our research shows the need to unmask the wounds of colorism and promote healing for individuals, families, and communities who experience skin tone trauma.

The model analyzes the historical and contemporary role of colorism and how it impacts people of African descent. While colorism has its roots in slavery and colonialism, it has also carried over into mainstream popular culture. Landor points to several examples in popular culture that illustrate colorism such as the casting of light-skinned Zoe Saldaña to play dark-skinned Nina Simone ; and magazines retouching photos of Beyonce , Kerry Washington, and others to make them look clearer.

Landor points to the different portrayals of Steph Curry and Lebron James in the sports media as an example of how skin tone bias can affect the way people are talked about. Landor noted that the media has often described James as “the villain and a braggart,” while the lighter-skinned Curry was often described as “personable and approachable.”

“When a phenomenon has no name, people can doubt what they are experiencing ,” Landor said. “Naming these experiences as skin tone trauma gives them a voice to talk about their experiences. Understanding the trauma of skin tone will also help physicians and psychologists develop tools to help heal these wounds . 

Landor offers the following tips to help dark-skinned people heal from colorism:

  • Recognize that colorism exists through individual, institutional, and cultural encounters and that it occurs between races.
  • Have tough conversations about the implications of colorism.
  • Identify and define words that can cause trauma to skin tone and be aware of how those words can affect others.
  • Believe others when they talk about the traumatic implications of the colorism they are experiencing.

The study appears in  Perspectives on Psychological Science. Shardé McNeil Smith, assistant professor of African American studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is a co-author of the study.

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