American Sociological Association

Gun Violence and Public Life


Both conventional public beliefs and existing academic research on colorism presuppose that variation in skin color predicts social outcomes among minorities but is inconsequential among whites. The authors draw on social psychological research on stereotyping to suggest that in quick, low-information decisions such as an arrest, the opposite may be true. Contrary to findings for longer-term socioeconomic outcomes, the authors find that black men’s probability of arrest remains constant across the spectrum of skin color, while white men’s probability of arrest decreases continuously with lighter skin. Beyond posing an exception to the modern conception of colorism, these results have implications for efforts to ameliorate the epidemic of incarceration among black men, as well as for understanding how elements of visible phenotype may serve as a unique category of predictors in models of social inequality.


Amelia R. Branigan, Christopher Wildeman, Jeremy Freese, Catarina I. Kiefe



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