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Skin Color, Labeling and Crime Throughout the African Diaspora

Everette B. Penn

Black children become aware of their “inferior” status at a very young age. According to classic studies about Black children (some under the age of five), skin-color sensitivity led most to choose a white doll instead of a black doll (Clark & Clark, 1947; Morland, 1969). Black children learn through media and self-assessment of their own living conditions, that beauty, status, and success come with white skin (Kvaraceus, 1965). Even preschool children are aware that light skin is preferred over dark (Hopson & Hopson, 1992). With preference comes advantage in society. McIntosh (2002) articulates the privilege of being a white person in “White Privilege, Color, and Crime: A Personal Account”. She lists sixty-two statements about her privilege such as number twenty-nine: “Criminality is not imputed to me as a genetic component of racial character; I am not assumed to belong to a group of people predisposed to crime” (47).

A recent study articulates the label of being Black in the United States. Hypothetical job candidates with identical resumes were sent to 1,300 job advertisers. The only difference was that some resumes had “White sounding names” (i.e., Brad, Matthew, Brendan, Carrie, Sarah, and Emily), while others had “Black sounding names” (i.e., Rasheed, Tyrone, Jamal, Kenya, Lakisha, and Aisha) (Hamilton, 2003). The research indicated that White-sounding names had a 50 percent greater callback rate. Additionally, discrimination held even when Black candidates had stronger credentials, such as better schooling, awards, and fewer gaps on the resume (Hamilton, 2003). Such discrimination affects the economic abilities of Blacks and could lead to living in socially disorganized areas. Conversely, even well to do Blacks face neighborhood segregation as Whites choose to avoid areas in which Blacks are above 15% of the population (Emerson, Chai, & Yancey, 2001).

This paper examines race, labeling and its relationship to crime in the United States in attempt to promote transatlantic research projects in European countries such as Germany, England, France and Spain. Research questions that emerge are:

  • What is the perception of dark skin color in Europe?

  • What is the relationship between skin color and crime?

  • Are there differences in the criminal justice systems based on skin color?

Racial discrimination in the American Criminal Justice system has been substantiated by the literature (Mann, 1993; Reiman, 1995; Walker, Spohn, DeLone, 2004; Penn, Greene & Gabbidon, 2005). The Black European Studies Conference will serve as a starting point to discuss European findings related to the subject, methodologies and logistics to expand the this research in Europe and all parts of the African Diaspora through a global research project to be conducted in 2006.

Research questions to be addressed during my presentation include:
  • What is the relationship to Africa and to other parts of the Africa Diaspora?

  • What is the relationship to other ethnic minorities in Europe?

  • What are the possibilities and limitations of this transatlantic research?

Clark, K., & Clark, M. (1947). Racial identification and preference in Negro children. In T. Newcomb & E. Hartley (Eds.), Readings in social psychology. New York: Holt.

Emerson, M., Chai, K., & Yancey, G. (2001). Does race matter in residential segregation? Exploring the Preferences of White Americans. American Sociological Review, 66 (6) 922-935.

Hamilton, K. (2003, June 18). What’s in a name? Black Issues in Higher Education, 28–30.

Hopson, D., & Hopson, D. (1992). “Implications of doll color preferences among black preschool children and white preschool children.” In A. Burlew, W. Banks, H. McAdoo, & D. Azibo (Eds.), African American psychology: Theory, research and practice (pp. 183–189). Newbury, CA: Sage Publications.

Kvaraceus, W. (1965). The Negro self-concept: Implications for school and citizenship. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Mann, C. (1993). Unequal justice: A question of color. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press.

McIntosh, P. (2002). “White privilege, color, and crime: A personal account.” In C. Mann, Zatz, M. (Eds.) Images of color, images of crime (2nd Ed.) (pp. 45-53). Los Angeles, CA: Roxbury.

Morland, J. (1969). Race awareness among American and Hong Kong Chinese children. American Journal of Sociology, 75, 360–374.

Penn, E., Greene, H., & Gabbidon, S. (2005). Race and juvenile justice. Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press.

Walker, S., Spohn, C., & DeLone, M. (2004). The color of justice: Race, ethnicity, and crime in America (3rd Ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thompson Learning.

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