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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

On a serious note, does anyone have any logical ideas of why the African American people of the US seem to be getting lighter over the decades?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (22109 points ) August 21st, 2011

For some time viewing vintage photos in history blogs, and book that were taken 1950s and earlier, the African Americans in them seem to be more the same color and darker in pigment than African Americans of today. I remember when I was a child my mother and her friends would describe certain people, usually men, as blue-black, because they were so dark, they picked up highlights off the blue sky. When I see ads, and articles today, at least to me, it appears the African Americans in them are lighter in appearance.

My kid brother is lighter in color than I, my niece slightly lighter than him, and her kids are way lighter than any of us. It seem as the generations go forward the family is being “lightened” up. I have my theories, which I would hold for now, as to not taint or direct the conversation on possible reasons why it might be. If you are older and have been around before the 70s, has it been anything you noticed? Please, lets keep the conversations civil and focused. Question might move to social.

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18 Answers

Response moderated (Writing Standards)
MilkyWay's avatar

I think that’s because inter-racial relationships between white and black people have become more common.

flutherother's avatar

This study found the average Afro American to have 80% African ancestry and 20% European. I would expect this to have an effect on skin colour. As the white population is now living in a hotter sunnier climate you would expect them to gradually evolve darker skins but there is no sign of this happening.

wilma's avatar

I have always thought it was because of what @MilkyWay said. Inter-racial relationships, and since I believe that those relationships have become more accepted and common then some dark skinned people have lighter skinned children and lighter skinned people will often have darker skinned children as well.

The_Idler's avatar

Both inter-breeding with lighter races and mixes and all sorts, and the fact people (in a lot of places) have had to work outside much less, which has made most people in general lighter.

Funnily enough, over here on this rainy isle, the fashion (for White British) has gone from being lighter, to show you are of a class which does not have to work outside (during agricultural era), to being darker, to show you are of a class that can afford to spend time in the sun (during industrial & ‘office’ era)

MilkyWay's avatar

@The_Idler
Funnily enough, over here on this rainy isle, the fashion (for White British) has gone from being lighter, to show you are of a class which does not have to work outside (during agricultural era), to being darker, to show you are of a class that can afford to spend time in the sun (during industrial & ‘office’ era)

GA.

The_Idler's avatar

Interestingly, the only ethnic minority in the UK with a shrinking population is African-Caribbean, due to low rate of immigration and high rate of inter-breeding with other ethnicities (though not necessarily just with ‘lighter’ people).

Probably much to do with being one of the oldest and most established minority communities in the country (of modern times), they are relatively well integrated socially and culturally.
Thankfully for me, reggae and ska are big here and the acts from the 60s and 70s are as legendary as they are in Jamaica, inspiring generations of (mostly white) imitation and reinvention.
Naturally, as always, ain’t nothing like the real thing…

anyway, back to hue, Fluther…

Kayak8's avatar

In real life, I have not noticed any differences over the years (but I haven’t lived through enough generations to have observed any kind of genetic shift). I am aware, however, that the selections of photographs used (either intentionally or unintentionally) can depict people in a manner that supports any preconceived ideas someone has about a group.

Photographs can be manipulated (e.g., airbrushed, etc.), but the actual selection of a particular photograph for use in the media, etc. can be equally manipulative. Photographs can be selected to make an individual or group look decidedly different from or similar to the so-called majority group and subtly reinforce stereotypes.

Furthermore, in a black and white photograph, contrast is often more clear than in a color photograph. So the early B&W photos may not offer the best comparison to today’s (shot in color, digital) photos. Back in the day, B&W photos could also be developed to appear different than the real life image being shot.

@The_Idler (loved the “back to hue” comment!)

incendiary_dan's avatar

If you’re basing it on ads, then that right there could be the source of the perceived change. Advertising is well known to prefer African Americans who happen to have features and styles closer to Euro-Americans. And there is the airbrushing @Kayak8 mentioned.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@Kayak8 In real life, I have not noticed any differences over the years (but I haven’t lived through enough generations to have observed any kind of genetic shift). I am aware, however, that the selections of photographs used (either intentionally or unintentionally) can depict people in a manner that supports any preconceived ideas someone has about a group. That is why I also premised the question with those who were actually old enough to maybe have seen it. I know as @MilkyWay points out that African Americans coupling with other nationalities, not necessarily Europeans or Caucasians but other nationalities more than ever. With all the digital manipulation that goes on I wanted to steer clear as much of that plausibility because I know it can muddy the waters from the issue at hand. I know my great nephew is lighter than all the rest of the family because he has the less amount of African genes in him. He is part Welsh, Irish, Dutch, and maybe German, then comes his African part, from which African region, I have no idea.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

It’s all about genetics and one’s ancestry. Sure, people can have their skin darken from natural and man-made resources unless they lack pigment. That is about stimulating the skin’s melanin. It won’t be a predictor of what skin tone their child has upon birth.

XOIIO's avatar

How was my question not up to writing standards? It was a perfectly good theory

Kayak8's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central I am over 50. I don’t know of anyone alive on the planet who has been around long enough to witness that magnitude of genetic change.

The_Idler's avatar

@Kayak8 but…. It only takes nine months…

bags's avatar

I’m an old fart, myself. And I have also wondered the same thing. I have ascribed it to intermarriage with Hispanics and Caucasians and other lighter skinned races. Personally, I love it. The racial appellations of white or black are almost pointless. Halle Berry, Mariah Carey….so many of today’s African Americans are lighter than many of their non-African derived counterparts.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@bags Mariah Carey is claiming her Black side now? Where have I been?

bags's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central I know. I had to be told she was a black girl, myself. Man, I felt like an idiot for a minute. But she is lighter skinned than I am, and has blonde hair. I’m not one that looks at a person and immediately tries to figure out their pedigree, but her ‘racial background’ isn’t readily apparent to a lot of folks, methinks!!

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@bags I think ypu can thank her hairstylist for the blonde hair, as is with many other entertainers of mixed African American descent. Interesting note Lisa Bonet who had a lighter complexion in her “Cosby days” never tinted her hair blonde or dodge questions of her African roots.

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