The Content of Your Color: Skin Color Identity and its Determinants

Awarded Scholars:
Mara C. Ostfeld, University of Michigan
Project Date:
Dec 2016
Award Amount:
$34,995

RSF-funded research by Aliya Saperstein and Andrew Penner illustrated that people who identified as white were more likely to later identify as non-white after encountering stigmatizing experiences—such as unemployment—relative to those who did not encounter those experiences. Similarly, individuals who once identified as black were more likely to identify themselves as non-black after encountering status-boosting experiences such as moving to the suburbs. Why did some people shift their racial identity in response to a status change while others did not? What are the implications for our understanding of the relationship between race and political attitudes?          

Political scientist Mara Ostfeld and her research assistants will administer 1,500 in-person six-minute survey experiments in the Detroit and Chicago metropolitan areas to address three questions: Under what conditions do people report biased estimates of their own skin color relative to objective measures? What determines when people overestimate how dark versus how light their skin color is? And how do these misperceptions affect our understanding of the relationship between skin color and political attitudes?

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