The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

The Influence of Colorism On Racial Identification and Racial Identity Among Latinas

Saturday, January 19, 2013
Grande Ballroom A, B, and C (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Beverly Araujo Dawson, PhD, Associate Professor, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY
Laura Quiros, PhD, Assistant Professor, Adelphi University, Garden City, NY
Background: In the United States (U.S.) the issue of Colorism which refers to “the allocation of privilege and disadvantage according to the lightness or darkness of one’s skin” has shaped how Latino/a/as racially self-identify, as well as racial identity development. For example, lighter skinned Latino/a/as who have experienced privilege and access are more likely to self-identify as White, while darker skin Latino/as who have experienced more discrimination are more likely to identify as Black or promote a separate Latino/a racial category. Much of the existing literature has overlooked Colorism within Latino/a/a populations and how this can impact racial self-identification and racial identity.  For example, some Latino/as do not adhere to the Black and White racial dichotomy that exists in the U.S., and immigrate with a wider racial classification system that similar to the U.S. allocates privilege to individuals who are closer to looking White with some privilege assigned to individuals who are categorized in the intermediate shades of brown (e.g. indio/a). Therefore a Latino/a that falls into one of the intermediate racial categories may experience some privilege among Latino/as but be discriminated based on the U.S. racial dichotomy. Unfortunately little is known about how experiences of Colorism among Latino/as influence racial self-identification and the development of racial identity among Latino/as.

Methods: Qualitative research methodology in the tradition of grounded theory was used to explore Colorism among Latinas. This research involved the collection of data through in-depth interviews with thirty-one self-identified women of color between the ages of 30 and 40 years. Nine (29%) of the women have parent(s) from a Spanish-speaking country. Physically, these women fell in between the color spectrum. A deeper understanding of the complexity of race and color was sought through a hybrid interview guide consisting of both the general interview guide approach and the standardized open-ended interview approach.

Findings: Overall women reported themes of advantage based on being lighter-skinned and disadvantage based on being darker skinned in the context of their families and the Latino/a community. Several participants discussed how these experiences prompted self-questioning of their racial and ethnic identity, their sense of belonging within the family that resulted in stereotyping and contradicting classifications by others versus how they self-identified. Additionally, the majority of the women did not identify as White but recognized experiencing less prejudice and discrimination based on being lighter skinned. Yet, for many of the women “White privilege” did not feel like privilege given that being classified as White connected them to a culture that they do not feel a part of. Therefore although society might grant certain advantages for looking White, internally this label and association presented a conflict for lighter skinned participants.

Discussion: The results demonstrate the influence of Colorism on racial identification and racial identity among Latinas. Given the importance of racial identity in association with healthy mental health outcomes it is imperative that researchers and practitioners deepen their understanding of the complex racial experiences of Latinas and further social work’s commitment to social justice.