'Colorism' impacts health of black Canadians

October 19, 2011

A University of British Columbia study finds that darker-skinned black Canadians are more likely to report poorer health than lighter-skinned black Canadians, and that a mismatched racial identity can negatively affect health, Medical News Today reports.

Vancouver, British Columbia - A University of British Columbia study finds that darker-skinned black Canadians are more likely to report poorer health than lighter-skinned black Canadians, and that a mismatched racial identity can negatively affect health, Medical News Today reports.

Researchers surveyed the self-reported racial identities - Asian, black, South Asian and white - of nearly 1,500 participants across four key health indicators: high blood pressure, depression, mental health and overall health. Investigators found that black Canadians with darker skin are as much as four times more likely to report poor overall health than black Canadians with lighter skin.

The study also found that mistaking an individual’s racial identity can have significant negative impact both physically and mentally. Participants who reported higher levels of racial identity mismatches were found to be at greater risk of high blood pressure, poorer self-rated mental health and poorer self-rated overall health.

U.S. researchers have studied the effects of colorism - discrimination targeted more strongly at darker-skinned than lighter-skinned people of color - for blacks, including effects on health. According to study author and professor of sociology Gerry Veenstra, Ph.D., this is the first study to suggest that colorism can affect the health of Canadians as well.

ScienceDaily quotes Dr. Veenstra as saying, “The findings indicate that for black Canadians, levels of discrimination can depend on the relative darkness or lightness of their skin. For health researchers and policymakers, this means that the broad racial classifications typically used by health researchers may actually underestimate the magnitude of racial health inequalities in this country. This is a first step to understanding colorism’s manifestations in Canada and the degree to which and for whom it affects health and well-being.”

Dr. Veenstra says he plans to study whether colorism affects other Canadian racial identities.

The study was published online in the journal Social Science & Medicine.

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