MSU Professor Explores ‘Racism in the 21st Century’

Andy Henion, MSU News (East Lansing), September 4, 2008

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Skin color has come to replace race as an important cause of discrimination, Ronald Hall, associate professor of social work, says in “Racism in the 21st Century.” The book, published by Springer, will be available Friday.

Hall and his fellow authors argue that lighter-skinned blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities often receive preferential treatment over their darker-skinned counterparts in everything from education to employment to housing. As an example, immigrant workers with lighter skin color make more money on average than those with darker complexions, according to the research of contributor and Vanderbilt University professor Joni Hersch.

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He said discrimination based on skin color—which some call “colorism”—is a centuries-old product of Western colonialism. But it has long remained a taboo subject, he said, even as the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s dominated the public discourse and ultimately led to significant gains.

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Hall predicts the complex problem won’t see significant improvement for at least another generation or two.

“As we move further into the 21st century, with increased levels of interracial marriage, we won’t be able to make racial differentiations,” he said. “You’re going to have people, for example, with Asian facial features, African hair texture and Caucasian skin tones—and that’s unprecedented. But the way we’ll continue to assess one another, unfortunately, is going to be based on the manifestations of skin color.”

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