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New Study Suggests Skin Tone Sentencing Bias in the USA legal system

Discussion in 'International Forum' started by bagamoyo, Jul 7, 2011.

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    bagamoyo JF-Expert Member

    Jul 7, 2011
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    [TABLE="class: contentpaneopen"]
    [TD]By James Wright-WI Staff Writer [/TD]
    [TD="class: createdate"]Thursday, 07 July 2011 [/TD]

    Colorism Remains Alive and Well
    Black female offenders who are light-skinned served less time incarcerated than those of darker hues, according to a recently released study. The study, "The Impact of Light Skin on Prison Time for Black Female Offenders", co-authored by Jill Viglione, Lance Hannon and Robert DeFina of Villanova University in Philadelphia, studied 12,158 imprisoned Black women in North Carolina between 1995 and 2009.

    The study showed that women with light skin were sentenced to approximately 12 percent less time behind bars than their darker skinned counterparts, a conclusion that was no surprise to Lorraine Bouknight of Southeast.

    "I believe the results of the study because 'high yellow' women seem to get preferences that women of darker tones don't," Bouknight, 61, said. "It seems innate that the system favors light-skinned women because, in the minds of the powers that be, that is the way it ought to be. That is not fair at all."

    Skin tone bias refers to behavior toward members of a racial category based on the lightness or darkness of their skin and is often referred to as colorism. And while previous researchers have found a link between Blacks with more Afrocentric features (dark skin, broad nose, full lips) being more closely associated with criminality, the Villanova study's focus on Black women, moves the inquiry into new territory.

    The study's authors looked into factors such as prior records, conviction dates, misconduct while incarcerated and having low body weight, as well as whether the women were convicted of homicide or robbery since these crimes carry heavier prison terms.

    In addition, the results showed that having light skin reduced the actual time served by approximately 11 percent.

    Larry Martin, 45, of Southeast, said that the value placed on skin color cannot be underestimated, even in 2011, and pointed to two of his female relatives, both of whom have had run-ins with the law. According to Martin, despite committing the same crime, the sisters were sentenced differently.

    "They were stealing clothes together and got about the same amount of merchandise, but one, who is about two shades darker than the other got hammered by the judge. It was weird because she was also the younger of the two and so everyone thought she would get off easier," Martin said.

    The judge called his decision an opportunity to make an example out of the younger sister and keep her from getting into trouble again, while Martin considered it an act of colorism.

    "That is what makes this research so phenomenal. A person knows when they are being discriminated against, but can rarely prove it unless there are hard numbers to back it up. This Black judge seemed to have a thing about dark-skinned people and he is not alone," Martin said.
    The issue of skin tone remains a sensitive one in America with roots in the antebellum South where the rape of enslaved women by white slave masters produced a hierarchy among their progeny. Lighter-skinned slaves were often taught trades and kept near their father's main house, while darker-skinned slaves were relegated to harsher fieldwork and slave quarters.

    Throughout the 20th century, skin currency, real or imagined has not only how whites perceive Blacks, but also how Blacks perceive themselves. And while the results of this new study clearly may strike some as alarming, it is merely a new manifestation of a centuries-old belief system.

    Perhaps, the study itself alerts the average American to racial disparities within the legal system that push far and beyond the typical White – Black dichotomy. The authors, in fact, conclude their research by urging people to understand racial discrimination not only in terms of relative advantages of whites compared to non-whites, but also among Blacks. Simply put, characteristics associated with whiteness appear to also have a significant impact on important life outcomes of Blacks.