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Light-Skinned Black Women Receive Shorter Prison Sentences Than Dark Women Light-Skinned Black Women Receive Shorter Prison Sentences Than Dark Women

Light-Skinned Black Women Receive Shorter Prison Sentences Than Dark Women

by Cord Jefferson
June 24, 2011

People talk a lot about the racism that poisons the criminal justice system, sending African-Americans to jail more often than white criminals, and with longer and harsher sentences. But what about "colorism"? If you don't know, colorism is the sub-prejudice that finds people treating people of color differently based on how light or dark their skin is. Though it's rarely talked about, colorism is a major cause for concern in courtrooms around the United States, according to a new study.

Called "The Impact of Light Skin on Prison Time for Black Female Offenders," the study found a group of Villanova professors assessing the sentences of more than 12,000 black female defendants in North Carolina. Their findings were horrifying: Even after controlling for things like prior convictions, crime severity, and thinness, women with light skin received sentences that were 12 percent shorter on average than dark-skinned women. Lighter women also had their actual time served reduced by about 11 percent.

Colorism doesn't just impact criminals, either. Another study, this one from the University of Georgia in 2006, found that skin tone was even more important than education when it came to employer satisfaction with black job applicants. The message this sends is that the closer you are to white, the better you are—both morally and professionally, evidently.

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