The Mexican immigrant experience varies by skin tone

The Mexican immigrant experience varies by skin tone

Skin tone shapes the experience of Mexican immigrants in Atlanta and Philadelphia, according to research.

While racism is often a concern in the United States, skin tone—separate but related to race—plays a lesser-known but important role in discrimination, according to the findings.

The study found that Mexican immigrants with darker skin tones experienced greater racial discrimination and more frequent discrimination specifically from US-born whites than did Mexican immigrants with lighter skin tones. Those same people with darker skin tones reported more negative reactions to that discrimination, such as withdrawal and internal struggle.

The research, published in Social Psychology Quarterlyit also shows that darker skin tone is almost as strong a predictor of such internal struggle as lack of documented status.

“Skin tone is uniquely associated with how Mexican immigrants perceive their interactions and treatment with US-born whites, even after controlling for a range of other demographic and immigration-specific factors,” a says study leader Helen B. Marrow, associate professor. of sociology at Tufts University.

Colorism differs from racism in that it describes mistreatment based on skin tone rather than an ethnic or racial category. For example, two people may be of the same ethnicity or race, but one may experience discrimination more often because of a darker skin tone.

Ellis Monk, an associate professor of sociology at Harvard University who was not involved in the research, says the new study is an “important extension” of the emerging research on skin tone and discrimination.

“It’s really important to try to understand more about how people deal with discrimination,” he says. He also says that “when people feel disrespected, there are negative physiological responses for the person that can make them physically ill over time.”

The study surveyed 500 foreign-born Mexican immigrants living in 10 Atlanta and Philadelphia counties, and asked participants to rate their own skin on a scale of one to seven, with one being “the -light,” seven “very dark,” and four as “medium.” Although such measurements are subjective, Marrow says that can be an advantage. “It shows something about how people understand themselves,” she says.

Next, participants described the discrimination they had experienced in their city since moving there, including questions about how often, where, and who treated them well or badly. The survey also asked participants to identify their typical responses to mistreatment, which could range from defending themselves to reporting the treatment to completely ignoring the discrimination.

Not only were darker-skinned Mexican participants more likely to perceive discrimination from US-born whites compared to lighter-skinned respondents, but skin tone was a stronger predictor of this outcome than ethnic or racial identity itself -reported by the participants. The predicted results were similar in the two metro areas, even with respondents in Atlanta reporting higher levels of discrimination.

Participants with darker skin tones were also more likely to report responding to discrimination by struggling internally but saying nothing externally.

According to Marrow, this response to coloration may raise health concerns, which requires further study.

The two metro areas included in the study are considered “new immigrant destinations” for Mexicans, or areas of the country that did not begin to see an influx of Mexican immigration until after the 1980s. Marrow says sociologists still don’t know much about the role that skin tone plays in Mexican life experiences in these new immigrant gateways, even though much more research has been done on skin tone among Chicanos and Mexican Americans living in Texas. and in the South West.

One factor that may be contributing to the results, according to Marrow, is that the racism of Latinos living in new immigrant destinations has increased over the past two decades, particularly in the US South, where Atlanta is located. This means that the place of Mexican immigrants within local racial hierarchies has become more racialized than scholars typically assigned before 2000, affecting their perceptions of their interactions with the US-born. .

Marrow says the research, conducted with colleagues at Indiana University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, is one of the first to examine immigrants’ perceptions of discrimination in a new destination using measures of race/ethnicity and skin tone. together in the same study, and to do so with a large representative sample.

“The big implication of this is that social scientists should pay more attention to skin tone diversity within our studies of race-based discrimination,” she says.

Source: Grace van Deelen of Tufts University

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