Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters

Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters

Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters

Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters


Shades of Difference addresses the widespread but little studied phenomenon of colorism - the preference for lighter skin and the ranking of individual worth according to skin tone. Examining the social and cultural significance of skin color in a broad range of societies and historical periods, this insightful collection looks at how skin color affects people's opportunities in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and North America.

Is skin color bias distinct from racial bias? How does skin color preference relate to gender, given the association of lightness with desirability and beauty in women? The authors of this volume explore these and other questions as they take a closer look at the role Western-dominated culture and media have played in disseminating the ideal of light skin globally. With its comparative, international focus, this enlightening book will provide innovative insights and expand the dialogue around race and gender in the social sciences, ethnic studies, African American studies, and gender and women's studies.


MOST POPULAR AND SCHOLARLY discussions of racism take one of two approaches to the topic. The “prejudice” approach treats racism as interpersonal, and explores how processes of cognition, reasoning, and emotion function to make racial difference real and to make demeaning treatment of the racial “other” seem natural, normal, and necessary. The “white supremacy” approach treats racism as institutional and explores how groups successfully defining themselves as “white” have been able to marshal political, economic, and social power for themselves at the expense of those they define as “nonwhite.” The essays in this collection, however, illuminate a third approach to analyzing racism: the constitution of racism through economies of difference—in this case, economies of color.

As a threshold matter, the essays in this volume demonstrate that colorism and racism are not exactly the same. Jyotsna Vaid and Joanne L. Rondilla argue, for example, that the valuing of light skin has evolved in many regions—such as East and South Asia and the Philippines—independently (at least in part) of the black-white, European-African dynamics of race that have so characterized the Americas and Europe. Edward Telles and Christina A. Sue show that in some countries, such as Brazil and Mexico, popular discussions about “race” are difficult or impossible to conduct, yet everyone is able to talk in great detail about “color.” Colorism and racism are not only not identical; hierarchies of color can destabilize hierarchies based on race. In the United States, as Trina Jones, Taunya Lovell Banks, and Tanya Katerí Hernández show, colorism often confounds lawyers and judges, who are used to conceptualizing antidiscrimination laws solely in terms of white versus nonwhite.

Despite the fact that colorism and racism can move independently, the essays in this volume show how the two nevertheless remain linked. Some of the . . .

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