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The internalisation of this “field Negro/house Negro” mentality and valorisation of light skin tones continues to systematically affect the lives of African Americans and greater society in both overt and covert ways.While all African Americans are subject to certain kinds of discrimination and second-class citizenship, the intensity, frequency, and outcomes of this discrimination vary drastically by skin tone, and there are far greater “benefits” that come with lighter skin.

Fair-skinned blacks, or “house Negroes,” were often given additional privileges, such as working indoors and, at times, the opportunity to learn to read and to be emancipated by their white fathers, whereas dark-skinned slaves, or “field Negroes,” often worked in the fields and had more physically demanding tasks.According to African-American author Iyanla Vanzant, the roots of colourism can be traced back to slavery.As black female slaves were ‘bred’ with their white owners, their children became successively lighter skinned and received preferential treatment.Research shows that skin-color hierarchies operate in schools (some teachers respond more positively to light-skinned students and parents), dating and marriage markets (light-skinned black women are more likely to marry spouses with higher levels of education, occupational prestige, or income than their darker-skinned counterparts), the labor market (lighter-skinned blacks are more likely to be hired for jobs than darker-skinned blacks with same qualifications), and the criminal justice system (darker-skinned blacks have more punitive relationships with the criminal justice system compared with their lighter counterparts).As a result, light-skinned African Americans continue to earn more money, complete more years of schooling, marry “higher-status” people, live in better neighborhoods, and serve shorter jail sentences than dark-skinned African Americans.

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