Study examines stereotypes of light, dark-skinned blacks

Thursday, April 25th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ A new study suggests whites and blacks hold similar perceptions of black people based on their skin tone.

Light-skinned blacks were more likely to be described as intelligent, attractive or wealthy, while dark-skinned blacks were more apt to be described as poor, criminal or tough and aggressive, according to the study led by Tufts University psychology professor Keith Maddox.

The study, funded by the National Science Foundation, asked 150 college students _ both blacks and whites _ about cultural stereotypes involving the skin tone of blacks.

Maddox decided to measure stereotypes rather than focus on participants' individual prejudices and said researchers got more honest answers that way.

``What happens is that a lot of attention gets focused on racism _ and rightly so _ between black and white people,'' Brown said. ``When we start talking about the dynamics and issues of race we don't think about the nuances that might be evident such as skin tone bias.''

In the first part of the study, participants were shown pictures of light- and dark-skinned blacks, along with neutral statements. The subjects were then asked to match the faces and the statements. Researchers wanted to see if the subjects categorized the pictures and statements by skin tone.

In the second part, the students were asked to report their knowledge of cultural stereotypes _ good, bad and indifferent _ of light- and dark-skinned blacks.

Among black males, 55 percent listed ``poor'' as a characteristic of dark-skinned blacks; 27.5 percent listed it for light-skinned blacks.

Among white males, 45.2 percent used ``poor'' for dark-skinned blacks, compared with 28.6 percent for light-skinned blacks.

The differences in that category were even more dramatic for women.

Among black women, 67.5 percent listed ``poor'' for dark-skinned blacks, as opposed to 20 percent for light-skinned blacks. For white women, 50 percent associated ``poor'' with dark-skinned blacks and 14.3 percent for light-skinned blacks.

The study breaks new ground because it addresses skin tone bias among whites, said Kendrick Brown, a psychology professor at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., who is researching the same topic.

''(Maddox) showed that there are stereotypical images used by both black and white Americans based on skin tone,'' Brown said. ``He showed (skin-tone) bias in this country is not exclusive to the black community, and that, I think, is very important.''