Date of Award

Spring 5-2018

Degree Type

Honors College Thesis



First Advisor

Elena Stepanova

Advisor Department



This research focuses on the perceived discriminatory experiences (i.e. colorism and racism) that young African American women report as a function of their actual and perceived skin tone. Colorism is a form of internalized racism when individuals with darker skin tones are discriminated against by others. Each participant (N = 76) was given the Pantone Skin Tone guide and asked to find the best color (varying on undertone and lightness) that matched closely to their skin tone without feedback from any reflective surfaces and with a handheld mirror. Following that, the researcher identified the participant’s skin tone. In addition, participants completed several research questionnaires assessing perceived racism and discrimination. Participants did report discrimination and biases that they regularly experience based on their skin tone and race. Interestingly, there was no relationship between skin tone and reported discrimination. While qualitative data suggests that colorism does exist, the quantitative data did not establish a link between lightness of one’s skin tone and levels of perceived discrimination. However, individuals who reported a high frequency of experiencing racism in their lives also perceived their skin tone darker without the mirror than with it. This finding establishes a link between negative race-based experiences and one’s self-perception of skin tone. While self-esteem did not moderate or mediate the skin tone-discrimination relationship, it was strongly related to reports of racism and colorism.