cover of book

Skin Color, Power, and Politics in America
by Mara Cecilia Ostfeld and Nicole Yadon
Russell Sage Foundation, 2022
eISBN: 978-1-61044-912-0 | Paper: 978-0-87154-637-1
Library of Congress Classification E185.615
Dewey Decimal Classification 305.800973

A person’s skin color affects their life experiences including income, educational attainment, health outcomes, exposure to discrimination, interactions with the criminal justice system and one’s sense of ethnoracial group belonging. But, do these disparate experiences affect the relationship between skin color and political views? In Skin Color, Power, and Politics in America, political scientists Mara Ostfeld and Nicole Yadon explore the relationship between skin color and political views in the U.S. among Latino, Black, and White Americans. They examine how skin color influences an individual’s politics and whether a person’s political views influence how they assess their own skin color.
Ostfeld and Yadon surveyed over 1,300 people about their political views, including party affiliation, their opinions on welfare, and the importance of speaking English in the U.S. The authors created a matrix grounded in their “Roots of Race” framework, which predicts the relationship between skin color and political attitudes for each ethnoracial group based on the blurriness of the group’s boundaries and historical levels of privilege. They draw upon three distinct measures of skin color to conceptualize the relationship between skin color and political views: “Machine-Rated Skin Color,” measured with a light-reflectance meter; “Self-Assessed Skin Color,” using the Yadon-Ostfeld Skin Color Scale; and “Skin Color Discrepancy,” the difference between one’s Machine-Rated and Self-Assessed Skin Color. 
Ostfeld and Yadon examine patterns that emerge among these measures, and their relationships with life experiences and political stances. Among Latinos, a group with relatively blurry group boundaries and low levels of historical privilege, the authors find a robust relationship between political views and Self-Assessed Skin Color. Latinos who overestimate the lightness of their skin color are more likely to hold conservative views on current racialized political issues, such as policing. Latinos who overestimate the darkness of their skin color, on the other hand, are more likely to hold liberal political views. As America’s major political parties remain divided on issues of race, this suggests that for Latinos, self-reported skin color is used as a means of aligning oneself with valued political coalitions. 
African Americans, another group with low levels of historical privilege but with more clearly defined group boundaries, demonstrated no significant relationship between skin color and political attitudes. Thus, the lived experiences associated with being African American appeared to supersede the differences in life experiences due to skin color.
Whites, a group with more historical privilege and increasingly blurry group boundaries, showed a clear relationship between machine-assessed skin color and attitudes on political issues. Those with darker Machine-Rated Skin Color are more likely to hold conservative views, suggesting that they are responding to the threat of losing their privilege in a multicultural society.
At a time when the U.S. is both more diverse and politically divided, Skin Color, Power, and Politics in Americais a timely account of the ways in which skin color and politics are intertwined.
Nearby on shelf for United States / Elements in the population / Afro-Americans: