Abstract: Knowledge and Attitudes Towards Colorism Among Preservice Students: Training for Anti-Racism (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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527P Knowledge and Attitudes Towards Colorism Among Preservice Students: Training for Anti-Racism

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Erin Findley, MSW, Doctoral Student/Teaching Assistant/Research Assistant, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX
Maya Williams, MSW, Doctoral Student, Washington University in Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO
Jandel Crutchfield, PhD, LCSW, Assistant Professor, University of Texas at Arlington, Arlington, TX

Skin tone bias, or colorism, persists across racial groups globally (Craddock, Dlova, & Diedrichs, 2018; Hunter, 2016). Colorism is “a partiality for light skin tones and the devaluing of dark skin” (Hall, 2018, p. 2007). Dark skin tones have been associated with lower self-esteem (Thompson & Keith, 2001) and increased depression (Diette, Goldsmith, Hamilton, & Darity, 2015). Light skin tones have been associated with better educational outcomes (Branigan et al., 2013), employment opportunities (Monk, 2014), and wages (Goldsmith, Hamilton, & Darity, 2007). Limited research has explored the impact of skin tone bias on preservice students’ tendency to segregate or privilege certain children based on skin color hierarchies (McGee et al., 2016). This study qualitatively assessed facets of colorism among preservice students in their field placements.


In-depth interviews and the Skin Tone Implicit Association Tests (IAT) were conducted with a sample of eight pre-service students. Then, participants' journal entries about experiences with colorism in their field placements were analyzed.

Data Analysis

Coding and thematic analysis were conducted utilizing Dedoose. Preliminary themes were generated and then validated by member checking with study participants.


Participants included four males and four females, the majority were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups and ranged from 24-45 years old. Participant IAT results ranged from strong preference for light skin to slight preference for dark skin. There were no moderate or strong preferences for dark skin. Data analysis produced four themes, including:

Limited Recognition of Colorism:

All participants except one were unable to define colorism at the beginning of the interview, even after completing the IAT. Only when provided a definition and examples did participants express understanding of the concept.

Role of Identity in Colorism Knowledge:

Some participants had personal life experiences, which heightened their knowledge of colorism. The Latinx and African American females were best able to explain and provide examples of colorism. White females were unable to distinguish between race and skin tone and frequently used the terms interchangeably. This was also the case for one African American male and a younger Hispanic male.

Gap Between Reported and Implicit Bias:

Participants questioned the accuracy of their IAT results given their diverse friend groups and commitments to social justice. Most were shocked by their results, which for all of the Caucasian participants and three of the five participants of color included preferences for lighter over darker skin.

Increased Understanding of Colorism:

The majority of participants felt the study provided a valuable lesson in identifying personal biases, as well as, incidents of colorism in the school environment. The study procedures, including the emotional experience of the IAT results, proved effective in enhancing participant awareness about colorism.


This study should encourage education programs to focus on anti-racism efforts, including efforts against colorism, for incoming practitioners. The Skin Tone IAT can enhance training for practice-based professions by promoting personal-professional reflection about implicit skin tone bias. Children of color will benefit from advocates who can better help them navigate experiences with colorism in society.