Race and Social Problems

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 281–295 | Cite as

The Relationship Between Skin Tone and School Suspension for African Americans

  • Lance HannonEmail author
  • Robert DeFina
  • Sarah Bruch


This study contributes to the research literature on colorism–discrimination based on skin tone—by examining whether skin darkness affects the likelihood that African Americans will experience school suspension. Using data from The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, logistic regression analyses indicated that darker skin tone significantly increased the odds of suspension for African American adolescents. Closer inspection of the data revealed that this overall result was disproportionately driven by the experiences of African American females. The odds of suspension were about 3 times greater for young African American women with the darkest skin tone compared to those with the lightest skin. This finding was robust to the inclusion of controls for parental SES, delinquent behavior, academic performance, and several other variables. Furthermore, this finding was replicated using similar measures in a different sample of African Americans from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The results suggest that discrimination in school discipline goes beyond broad categories of race to include additional distinctions in skin tone.


Colorism School discipline African American Discrimination Suspension Skin tone 



This research uses data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due to Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( No direct support was received from Grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and Criminal JusticeVillanova UniversityVillanovaUSA
  2. 2.University of IowaIowa CityUSA

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