People of color who describe themselves as being “mixed race” are considered more attractive by others than people who identify as black or African-American, a new study finds.
“Being exotic is a compelling idea,” Robert Reece, the study author and a doctoral candidate in sociology at Duke University, explained in a Duke Research Blog story. “So people are attracted to a certain type of difference. It’s also partially just racism — the notion that black people are ‘less attractive,’ so being partially not-black makes you ‘more attractive.’”
For Reece’s study, published in the Review of Black Political Economy, he used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, focusing on the results of in-person interviews of 3,200 black people by questioners of various races. They were asked about their racial backgrounds, among other details, and later the interviewers rated their subjects’ attractiveness on a scale of 1 to 5. Controlling for factors including gender, age, and skin tone, those who had self-identified as mixed race were given an average attractiveness rating of 3.74 — while those who identified as black were give a lower average of 3.47. It was a big gap, and one that took the researcher a little off guard.
“The most surprising part [of the study] was how stark the difference is in [perceived] attractiveness between people who identified as black, versus multiracial,” Reece tells Yahoo Beauty. “Light skin, we know, is viewed as being more attractive. But even the darkest skinned multi-racial people were rated as more attractive than lighter mono-racial people.”
“People tend to assume that historical multiraciality is at least partially responsible for the broad range of color among black people,” he told the Duke Research Blog. “I’ve even noticed some people in black communities casually using the terms ‘mixed’ and ‘light skinned’ interchangeably. So I wanted to begin an empirical investigation into the contemporary links between the two and how they combine to shape people’s life experiences. Attractiveness is one part of that.”
Reece adds that he came up with the idea to examine how multi- and mono-racial people were comparatively viewed when he was looking through research on colorism and attraction, and saw a gap in the literature. “The important thing [turned out to be] it doesn’t matter if the subjects are actually multiracial — it’s what they self-identify as,” he says.
Some celebrities of color — including Devyn Abdullah, Keyshia Cole, and Tiger Woods — may have long known, instinctively, what Reece discovered, as they have publicly self-identified, respectively, as “fair-skinned … [with] an international look,” “biracial,” and “Cablinasian.” Reece adds that some women working in strip clubs figured this out, too, referring to an earlier study that found the women discovered they could elicit more money from clients by describing their background as “multiracial” rather than black or African-American.
Still, while “exoticism” may sound a bit more hopeful than racism, “exoticism is racism — it’s a type of racism, especially in this context,” Reece notes. “It’s the idea that blackness is something so sticky that being black plus something else makes people cognitively more attractive.” On the Duke blog, he added, “Race is more than we think it is. It’s more than physical characteristics and ancestry and social class. The idea that you’re a certain race shapes how people view you.”
For his next bout of research, the doctoral candidate aims to turn his eagle eye on how gender and certain physical characteristics, such as height and hair texture, play into colorism and how attractive people are perceived as being. “Some say it matters more for women,” he says. Sounds about right to us. But hey, we shall see.