Perceptions of and Preferences for Skin Color, Black Racial Identity, and Self-Esteem Among African Americans1


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    This article is based on the first author's doctoral dissertation under the direction of the third author. The authors give special thanks to Dimitria Kamboukos, who provided essential statistical assistance, and E. Wayne Holden for his helpful comments and suggestions.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Stephanie Irby Coard, School of Medicine, New York University, Child Study Center, 550 First Avenue, New York, NY 10016. e-mail:


The purpose of the present study was to examine the role of skin color (i.e., lightness–darkness), as it pertains to racial identity development theory and self-esteem among 113 African American college students of various skin colors. Findings revealed that the sample preferred skin color of a medium tone, rather than exhibiting self-preference for either lighter or darker skin tones. There was also a significant relationship between one's perceptions of and preferences for his or her skin color and the skin tones idealized by others (e.g., opposite gender, family). Lighter skin color was positively related to higher levels of racial identity attitudes (immersion/emersion); the more satisfied darker skinned individuals were with their skin color, the lower their self-esteem, and gender differences existed in perceptions of others’ preferences for skin color. Implications of this study for providing therapeutic clinical services and fostering the healthy psychological development of African American men, women, and children are discussed.