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Just Skin Deep? The Impact of Interviewer Race on the Assessment of African American Respondent Skin Tone

Abstract

Over the last decade, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has seen a significant increase in the number of discrimination claims based on skin shade. However, in some ways, substantiating colorism has proven to be more difficult than documenting racism, as skin tone data are rarely collected and few existing skin tone measures have been validated. The present study examines an increasingly popular skin tone scale that includes a professionally designed color guide to enhance rater consistency. Logistic regression analysis of data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth and General Social Survey indicates that despite the addition of the color guide, the race of the interviewer matters for the assessment of respondent skin tone. On average, African American respondents with a white interviewer were about 3 times more likely to be classified as dark than those with an African American interviewer. We argue that failing to appropriately account for this race-of-interviewer effect can significantly impact colorism findings.

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Notes

  1. The following description comes from the NLSY97 documentation.

  2. There were 104 interviewers in the GSS sample and 120 interviewers in the NLSY.

  3. Ordinal logistic regression produces multiple intercepts. We omit these from the results for ease of presentation.

  4. Similarly, we conducted a number of sensitivity analyses to account for the possibility that respondents assigned to just a handful of interviewers were driving the results. For example, excluding all respondents with interviewers who had more than 10 interviewees did not impact the significant race-of-interviewer effects.

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Correspondence to Lance Hannon.

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Hannon, L., DeFina, R. Just Skin Deep? The Impact of Interviewer Race on the Assessment of African American Respondent Skin Tone. Race Soc Probl 6, 356–364 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12552-014-9128-z

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Keywords

  • Own-race bias
  • Other-race bias
  • Colorism
  • Skin tone discrimination