As within-group differences have emerged as a key area of inquiry among African Americans, skin tone has been identified as an important factor. Those with darker skin tones face more discrimination, which is connected to worse mental and physical health. This study aims to examine: 1) the moderating role of skin tone in the relationship between discrimination, self-rated mental health, and psychological distress and 2) if this moderating effect differs across genders..
Analyses were conducted on a subsample of African Americans aged 55+ (N=837) from the National Survey of American Life. The mental health outcomes were psychological distress (K6) and self-rated mental health. Discrimination was assessed with the Everyday Discrimination Scale. Skin tone was self-reported. Multiple linear regressions tested the study aims.
Discrimination was associated with worse self-rated mental health and psychological distress. Skin tone moderated these associations. The associations between discrimination and mental health outcomes were stronger among darker skinned respondents than lighter skinned respondents. Gender stratified analyses indicated that skin tone moderated the association between discrimination and self-rated mental health for men but not women.
Conclusions and Implications
The moderating effect of skin tone on adverse mental health outcomes indicates how damaging the discourse on skin color can be. Interestingly, skin tone only moderated the association between the discrimination and self-rated mental health among men. This indicates that men are more susceptible to colorism and its negative impacts. The negative psychological effects of darker complexion provide several practice areas to be examined. The nuances of in group differences and the influence of skin tone and discrimination are important areas for social workers to examine in practice and research. Social workers have a responsibility to advocate for social justice and racial equity, and this work provides necessary context working towards that goal among older African American adults who often experience the negative impacts of racism and ageism together.