Skin-Tone Trauma: Historical and Contemporary Influences on the Health and Interpersonal Outcomes of African Americans

Antoinette M. Landor, Shardé McNeil Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Empirical evidence demonstrates that racism is a source of traumatic stress for racial/ethnic minorities, particularly African Americans. Like race and racism, skin tone and experiences of colorism—an often overlooked form of discrimination that privileges lighter skinned over darker skinned individuals, although not uniformly, may also result in traumatic stress. This article proposes a new conceptual model of skin-tone trauma. The model depicts how historical and contemporary underpinnings of colorism lead to colorist incidents that may directly and indirectly, by eliciting traumatic stress reactions, lead to negative effects on the health and interpersonal relationships of African Americans. Key tenets of critical race and intersectionality theories are used to highlight the complexities of skin-tone trauma as a result of intersectional identities on the basis of existing social hierarchies. Last, we present suggestions for researchers, as well as recommendations and strategies for practitioners, to unmask “skin-tone wounds” and promote healing for individuals, families, and communities that suffer from skin-tone trauma. Skin-tone trauma should be acknowledged by researchers, scholars, and practitioners to better understand and assess the widespread scope of trauma in the African American community.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)797-815
Number of pages19
JournalPerspectives on Psychological Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2019


  • colorism
  • health
  • skin tone
  • skin-tone trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Psychology


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