A study conducted by researchers from two Louisiana schools concludes that at the dawn of the 21st century, African American college students continue to find lighter complexions more attractive than darker ones. The results, taken from a sample of 100 students at a large Midwestern school, indicated that 96 percent of the men preferred a medium to light complexion in women while 70 percent of women found light skin of value in men. The conclusion runs counter to at least one previous study.
This latest analysis of mating preferences explored a number of probable causes, all of which were rooted in the “colorism” prevalent from slavery through the 1960s, where lighter skin typically meant more privilege. The results were published in 2006 in the journal Race, Gender and Class. Ashraf Esmail, a sociology and criminal justice professor at Delgado Community College in New Orleans, and Jas M. Sullivan, an assistant professor of political science and African American Studies at Louisiana State University, conducted the study.
According to Sullivan, its purpose was to test whether the color line continues to be a problem for the African American community. “We know that there has been a preference for lighter skin in the past as a result of racism,” said Sullivan, “but we really wanted to know whether or not that preference still exists in the 21st century.”
The researchers asked 50 African American men and 50 African American women, all students at a large Midwestern university, to participate in semi-structured interviews. The university was not named in the study and Sullivan declined to provide the name for this story. The students were all between 18 and 19 years old with complexions ranging from light to dark. Each subject was shown pictures of light, medium and dark-skinned men or women from fashion magazines and asked to rate the images based on attractiveness. In addition, each respondent was asked questions about their mating preferences in terms of skin color and about the value of skin color in the African American community.
One reason for the difference in answers between African American men and African American women, according to the authors, is that women tended to take more characteristics into account, such as lips, hair, eyes, height and style of dress, when determining a man’s attractiveness. The interviews pointed to slavery and a social stigma attached to darker skin.