The Links between Skin Tone and Self-Esteem

Gordon Parks' American Gothic. Portrait of gov...

Gordon Parks’ American Gothic. Portrait of government cleaning woman Ella Watson. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Mikaella Hahn

As I was reading Verna Keith’s “A Colorstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement, and Self-Esteem among African American Women,” I started to wonder if myself as a Korean American being able to distinguish amongst Asians is similar to what was mentioned regarding African Americans being more sensitive to different shades of among African Americans—a distinction that is not significant to the dominant majority.

Well frankly, a Korean person would be insulted if they were asked whether they were Chinese. To the dominant majority in America (which is white), these distinctions probably do not matter, because the main distinction to the majority is whether the person is White or Asian. In general the dominant group doesn’t realize the importance of intra-differentiation is to the minority groups. They don’t have to be able to differentiate, so they don’t learn to, and this contributes to the continued frustration of minority groups in America.

My initial thought after reading the first paragraph was that, self-esteem of African Americans would be low when living in white dominant society due to the discrimination against them, however as opposed to my first thought, the reading revealed that African Americans rather tend to have lower self-esteem when they are living in black dominant society than living in white predominant society. The evidence from this paper provides that the light skin African Americans get better education with better job prospects with higher income.

According to the way I was educated about racism, the inherited, unacknowledged racism in a white dominant society is what I thought would lead to lower self-esteem for African Americans. To live in a society where the color black is associated with something negative, and to be portrayed as harmful to the society by media, it seems to me that people colloquially called “black” would evaluate themselves more poorly. Watching a number of videos about both white and black children favoring white dolls only reinforced my belief.

However the author says this is not the case because after the 1960s’ and 1970s’ racial activism inspired young African Americans to appreciate their natural beauty, which led them to have higher self-esteem.

On the other hand, after the hardships that African Americans have faced, it is hard for me to believe that this movement would do such widespread affect in such a short term. Compounding my disbelief is the number of empirically unproven theories presented by the author. Thus, while this chapter provided stimulating claims, it should be read with other evidence-based papers.


Skin tone and Self-esteem among African Americans

Malcolm X

Malcolm X (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Hiroyuki Matsuyama

As Verna Keith says, skin tone is one of central features for determining one’s self image, and it happens a lot that your occupation or income are decided by looking at your skin tone. It is so sad, but it is the fact that we are facing today. From this point of view, mulattos distanced themselves from the larger African American community by excluding darker blacks from their social organizations. Moreover, they were avoiding intermarriage with people with darker skin so as to pass their advantages on to their children. In this way, even within black communities, there was hierarchy and discrimination against other people.

It is truly difficult to eliminate this injurious racism completely, and it would probably not happen that people would evaluate others and give jobs equally, but prejudicially. In spite of this unfairness, I hope people who are discriminated against to keep having self-esteem, at least to a certain extent. Thus, Malcolm X was really great person because he tried to make people have confidence. He claimed a notion “black is beautiful” in order to fight against racism.

Nonetheless, it is not for criticizing or discriminating against white people, but for attempting to undo black-on-black racism. The reason is because black people were brainwashed by white power, so he thought that he needed to remove this structure as a priority concern. By stating this concept, he tried black people to have self-esteem.

In addition to this, there is a famous speech ‘Who taught you to hate yourself’ by Malcolm X. In the speech, even though his words were sometimes inappropriate, he encouraged audiences well by saying features that are supposed to be words for insulting black people, such as lips, hair texture and so forth. This speech was really helpful for those who were struggling, and they started to have Afro hairstyle to show their self-esteem. This hairstyle enabled black people to express their culture and historical identity.

In conclusion, cruel racism is still going on in today’s modern world unfortunately. Even though people have started to think more about it, racism is still harsh and out of control. However, people who are racially discriminated against should try to stand up and claim your opinion without any fear. Every single person should be oneself, not like others. Being another person by imitating others or dissimulating yourself is not the way you are. In my opinion, that is the end of your life when you have lost your self-worth.


Keith, Verna M. 2010. “A Colorstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Skin tone and self-esteem: Impacts of colorism

by Keisuke Yamada

In “A Colourstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women”, Verna M. Keith examines the relationships between skin tone, social and economic achievement, and self-esteem among African American women. Keith briefly mentions the history of slavery and how lighter-skinned blacks were more accepted than darker-skinned blacks because they had similarities with white people. As history clearly shows, colourism existed in the past when the skin tones you were categorised in decided what you can do and how you are treated. Even after the period of slavery, colourism continued to affect education, occupation, and income of African American women. The graphs the authour provides clearly show differences in education, occupation, and income among groups of people with different skin tones.

Then, Keith moves on to look at the relationship between skin tone and self-esteem, which I personally thought very interesting. Keith provides two graphs which show the relationships between the level of self-esteem and skin tones in adolescents and adulthood. There is not a huge difference in the level of self-esteem in adolescents. However, as they become adults, self-esteem of very dark brown people drops, although the author says that the results may have been different depending on when you were born. More interestingly, Keith mentions how skin tone is not related or ignored in predominantly white environments. One suggestion was that in predominantly white environments, there is only a distinction between black and white. I had a discussion in the class whether this can be applied to other cases. For example, in a country like US where Asian people are the minority, it is often ignored which part of Asia they come from. However, from the perspectives of those Asian people, it is of course a big of deal where they originated.

As we discuss the issue, I heard that the ratio of ‘black’ and ‘white’ people is changing in some parts of the US, and I guess that some parts of the world may be experiencing similar shifts as well. So my last question was whether colorism would still matter for some people, considering this shift may occur in the future. I personally think that it would have less influence on one’s self-esteem and career achievements, but at the same time, it is also possible that there would always be some kind of distinction or differentiation beside the idea of colorism.


Keith, Verna M. 2010. “A Colourstruck World: Skin Tone, Achievement and Self-Esteem Among African American Women.” In Shades of Difference: Why Skin Color Matters, edited by Evelyn Nakano Glenn. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.