Multi-Layered Racism: Courts’ Continued Resistance to Colorism Claims
SHADES OF DIFFERENCE - WHY SKIN COLOR MATTERS, Evelyn Nakano Glenn, ed., Stanford U. Press, 2009
Posted: 6 Sep 2010
Date Written: 2009
The preference for light skin tones may not be a result of conscious bias, but of what Jerry Kang calls “racial mechanics - the ways in which race alters intra-personal, interpersonal, and inter-group interactions.” There are explicit and implicit racial meanings assigned to the racial categories created by law and cultural practices, and the racial meanings associated with that category are triggered when we interact with others. As a result, implicit racial biases - negative stereotypes and prejudices - influenced these interactions. Thus individual members of the same race may be treated differently based on whether they have what social psychologist Irene Blair characterizes as “Afrocentric features” - dark skin, wide nose and full lips. These reactions are automatic in the sense that they are unintentional and outside the actor’s awareness. Legal institutions, like courts, facilitate colorism practices in the United States by failing to provide effective legal remedies for this form of race-related discrimination. This failure reinforces existing dominant social, economic, and cultural norms that operate against black people with the darkest skin tones. The studies on implicit automatic stereotyping are new weapons to use in attacking the intent- based requirement in anti-discrimination law. Social science research may be an effective means to persuade courts to remedy more subtle and pernicious forms of race-based discrimination like colorism. New legal theories must be flexible enough to address the varied faces of racism in the twenty-first century.
Keywords: colorism, race discrimination, implicit bias
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