Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Faye Belgrave


Research on colorism continues to gain momentum across several disciplines. However, while varied studies have explored the social phenomenon among adult populations, especially those of African ancestry, few have systematically investigated the extent to which African American youth are exposed to or endorse hierarchical perceptions of skin color. The current study addresses this void in colorism literature. Employing a grounded theory approach, the present investigation examines African American female adolescents’ perceptions of skin color, aiming specifically to understand the sociocultural factors that underpin and contribute to colorist socializations as well as sources of skin color messages. Five focus groups and nine interviews were conducted with 30 African American girls ranging in age from 12-16. Participants were recruited from local Boys and Girls clubs, neighborhood centers, and nonprofit organizations. Participants were asked such a priori based questions as: 1) What do people think about light skin Black girls? 2) What do people think about dark skin Black girls? 3) What messages about skin color do you hear from Rap music? and 4) Do Black men and boys prefer girls of certain skin colors. Constant comparison data analysis and coding revealed African Americans girls are, in fact, exposed to and endorse hierarchical perceptions of skin color, the central phenomenon Three core categories related to the central phenomenon emerged: 1) sources of skin color messages, e.g. family and rap music 2) skin color messages, e.g. skin color governs social standing, physical attributes, and personality/behavioral traits and 3) effects of skin color messages, e.g. mate preferences, desires to change one’s appearance, and within-race division. From these three core categories emerged seven subcategories and themes that offer additional information and insight into the central phenomenon. Findings from this study indicate African American young females are significantly influenced by skin color preferences, and thus may stand to gain from the development of curricula or programs designed to counter colorist stereotypes, reduce the effects of skin color biases, and promote a greater sense of self-satisfaction and wellbeing.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

May 2013

Included in

Psychology Commons