The politics of perceiving skin color





Whether or not you agree with Barack Obama's politics may influence how dark- or light-skinned you think he is, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study, which set out to determine whether political views can skew skin color perception, included three experiments...In all three cases, people who agreed with the politician's views were more likely to pick lighter-skinned images of him; people who disagreed were more likely to pick darker-skinned images...

... While other factors may not have had much influence, when it came to biracial candidates at least, political views were strongly correlated with bias. In one study, participants were also shown photographs of John McCain. No bias toward lighter or darker skin tone in images of the former presidential candidate was evident, regardless of participants' politics. Yet when examining images of candidates of mixed ethnic backgrounds, bias was plain. "Across the three studies reported here," the researchers write, "we found that partisans not only 'darken' those with whom they disagree, but also 'lighten' those with whom they agree." The findings suggest that race bias is very much alive and well in the U.S., and more ingrained than we might like to believe. The researchers highlight several examples in which race, or more specifically "blackness" was emphasized to a public figure's detriment—the scandal over whether the Hillary Clinton campaign had deliberately darkened Obama's complexion in a video ad or, alas, when TIME ran a deliberately darkened photograph of O.J. Simpson on the cover following his arrest in 1994...


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