Asians with darker skin tones are more likely to experience bias, even from their own families, according to a study from the King’s College London.
Dr. Aisha Phoenix of King’s College London and Dr. Nadia Craddock of the University of the West of England interviewed 33 people aged 19 to 60, including 11 Black Caribbean, six Black African, four South Asian, one Chinese and 11 of mixed race, from January to June 2019 as part of a U.K. Skin Shade study.
The researchers initially aimed to study how people of color with darker skin and features face more discrimination than those who share features associated with white people.
The study unexpectedly found that Asians and Black people with darker skin tones may be stigmatized by lighter-toned relatives.
“Families play a central role in shaping ideas about skin shade,” Phoenix said in a university release. “Within families, children with light skin were often favored, while those with dark skin were stigmatized and subjected to insults and bullying.”
While colorism is a form of prejudice among an ethnic or racial group, researchers have not identified the discrimination within households until now.
“The internalized colorism within some families contributes to the prejudice. However, some families resist colorism and work to instill positive ideas about dark skin or all skin shades,” Phoenix said.
The 33 participants reportedly included doctors, social workers, students, civil servants, an accountant and a train driver.
A 31-year-old South Asian woman told Phoenix:
I have a few friends who are dark-skinned and Asian and they attribute as one of the reasons they’re not married to their skin color because the traditional way of arranged marriages is your mum would get a call from the groom’s mom and one of the first questions they ask is “What is your daughter’s skin color?”
“Sometimes extended family would compare and ask questions like, ‘How come your sister is so much lighter than you?’ And I remember somebody asked me, ‘How come you’re darker than your sister? Do you not scrub your skin properly in the shower?’” a 31-year-old Pakistani woman recalled.
According to Phoenix, some families reflected prejudices common in wider society so “darker skin was imbued with negativity.”
Other participants also discussed members of their families or relatives favoring lighter skin tones, including a 43-year-old South Asian woman who said:
Being younger, one of the biggest issues I had was with my mom always going on about how it’s better to be fairer, “you’ll only find a boy if you’re fairer and you’re only beautiful if you’re fair.” And I think that really got to me. How do you interpret that when you’re a young child?
“We grew up in an environment where even we ourselves felt that it was nicer to be lighter. I can remember my grandmother making references to lighter people being more beautiful. It’s what we are taught from when you’re younger,” a 45-year-old Black man explained.
But for one 32-year-old Black woman, she said she had been taught since childhood to be “proud and understanding why colorism and racism exists and being proud of the amazing things that our culture has done.”