light skin versus dark skin school punishment

Light Skin vs. Dark Skin at School?: Study Finds Connection Between Dark Skin Complexion and School Punishment

Posted on Posted in Blog, School Me on Research

Light Skin vs. Dark Skin at School?: Study Finds Connection Between Dark Skin Complexion and School Punishment


Do you have the light skin vs dark skin conversation with your children?  We have with and around ours.  We can’t avoid it.  Not too long ago, in a place of business that we frequented about every two weeks, one of the people who works there (who is usually very friendly to me and the kiddos) approached my youngest and said:
‘This one spent too much time in the sun didn't she’?  I was completely thrown off for about a half a second before I responded:
‘What do you mean? We loooove her skin color! ’ (I kept the word ‘heffa’ to myself) 
The comment stung me.  Partly because of the fact that it was said (despite the fact that I am usually on the lookout for such idiocy) and partly because it came from someone who was almost the same complexion!  Thankfully my youngest didn't seem to understand what she meant by her comment.  However, her older siblings did.  Once we got in the car they asked, ‘why would she say something like that?’  For which I had no real good answer to give them.
In the twenty first century I am tired of going down the ‘there were house slaves and field slaves…’ road with the kiddos.  But go I must.  When confronted with colorism - discrimination or unfair treatment based on skin tone – I want them to be able to understand that it’s not about them, necessarily, but that colorism has more to do with unhealed issues related to race.   I know, easier said than done.
I am glad Lupita Nyong'o and Viola Davis are breaking colorism ground.  Shampoo commercials and children and teen television shows do nothing much for the child of colors ego or self-esteem.   I am prepared to offer our children mirror books and movies to do my best to combat the negative images of people of color they see regularly.  I am hoping that this method will also help them to respond to potential experiences of colorism, especially when they’re in such places like school.   A recent study, using data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY) found that:
  • Darker skin tone significantly increased the odds of suspension for African American adolescents.
  • The odds of suspension were about 3 times greater for young African American women with the darkest skin tone compared to those with the lightest skin.
  • A presumption of superiority can lead to “second chances” or the “benefit of the doubt” not available to darker skinned girls.
  • Majority of African American female school disciplinary infractions were for “disobedience,” “defiance” and “improper dress”


african american female students suspensions light skin vs dark skin


Years ago we had to tell our oldest, ‘we don’t do that!’ when she came home from school one day referring to herself as ‘caramel’ and then looked at her younger siblings to see where they fit on the brown shade spectrum.  We try to keep our conversations surrounding colorism on re-enforcing the belief that all shades of African Americans are beautiful.  We just hope and pray that it’s not too long before the rest of the world catches up.


Has your child experienced colorism at school?


2 thoughts on “Light Skin vs. Dark Skin at School?: Study Finds Connection Between Dark Skin Complexion and School Punishment

  1. Insightful as usual Dr. Brown. My son almost freaked when I referred to him as a little black boy, “he said, mommy I am brown!”. Thanks for sharing, I too agree that all colors of african descent person are beautiful and wonderfully made, just as we are!!!

    1. Amen! Even though we teach brown skin is beautiful it’s a challenge to combat a flood of other messages on TV or in advertisements. The struggle is real!

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