Colorism, pigmentocracy, color stratification, color discrimination, skin tone stratification, skin color bias, the color complex, and color struck are all turns of phrase to signify social evaluations based on complexion. Skin tone stratification is an effect of colorism that is underwritten by skin color bias (prejudice based on skin tone). Colorism is a form of discrimination in which one's skin tone becomes the basis for awarding, restricting, or denying access and/or resources. "Colorism is part and parcel of racism and exists because of it." Indeed, "Without a larger system of racial oppression that whites have imposed on various peoples of color, colorism based on skin tone would not exist." (Hunter, 1999: 8)
Skin tone stratification represents a two-tiered system of discrimination that ranks racial groups according to phenotype, and then re-ranks members within the group according to hue. The color complex is in effect when "Color is made to function as a cultural index for racial determination whenever it is conceived of as a valid external symbol of supposedly intrinsic qualities. The presence or absence of these qualities determines whether a person belongs to an 'inferior' or 'superior' social group, whether his life chances are circumscribed or maximized in terms of his group membership." C. Eric Lincoln goes on to state that, "In the United States, color is often used to denigrate, discriminate, and segregate" standardizing outcomes, and many times options, by stratifying hue-man value. I am both intrigued and perturbed by this status convention therefore The Black Tax: Hue-man Capital and Social Dispossession is a disquisition on skin tone as an axis of stratification and organizing principle of social inequality.
Two types of empirical questions are driving this research. The first set of questions—How is skin tone a predictor of status attainment? How does skin tone stratify outcomes and opportunities for individuals?—were investigated through survey analysis from the Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality (MCSUI). I used the MCSUI to demonstrate how gradients in skin tone manipulate quality of life for Asians, blacks, Latinos, and whites according to large-scale socioeconomic indicators. The argument being that the darker one is the less status and advantage one is accorded (i.e., the socially dispossessed) despite racial designation.
The second set of questions—How does skin tone affect women and men's interpersonal relationships within their respective racial and ethnic groups? How does skin tone stratification operate differently across racial and ethnic communities, for men and for women?—were investigated through in-depth interviews with a collection of reflective individuals who had faced challenges associated with skin tone issues.