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Booker-Smith Focuses Summer Research on Colorism in UNC-Chapel Hill Program

Charlotte, N.C./Aug. 17, 2022 – The last thing Madison Booker-Smith ’23, a Psychology major and African American studies minor, thought she’d be doing with her summer is spending time researching and analyzing data.

But the encouragement of advisors and professors influenced her to apply for more than five programs, two into which she was accepted. She chose to attend UNC-Chapel Hill’s Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program.

“Despite my initial hesitancy, I'm extremely happy that I made the decision to attend the MURAP,” said Booker-Smith. “I've learned so much about myself, my interests and grad school, and developed a new admiration for doing research and being in academia.”

Booker-Smith started the program in mid-May 2022, and began attending class and spending time in libraries and cafes researching her topic.

After thinking a while on what her area of focus would be, Booker-Smith settled on the topic of colorism.

“What brought me to my topic of colorism was honestly my experiences with it in the past and the lack of knowledge about it,” she said. “I feel that too many people brush it off and treat it like it doesn't exist or like it isn't that serious. I believe that this is a result of the lack of education regarding its origin and how it affects Black women. I honestly wanted to elaborate on it and its mental health effects as it pertains to Black women.”

Colorism is defined as prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a darker skin tone. Booker-Smith said her research and personal experiences have revealed that society tends to favor people of color with lighter skin over those with darker skin. 

This concept is connected to slavery and racism, and the painful history of race relations in the United States. 

“Having lighter skin places you closer to whiteness,” she said. “Specifically, with women, I've noticed that having lighter skin makes you more attractive in the eyes of some people because you possess Eurocentric lineaments, thus granting you special privileges.”

These privileges have always been a topic of interest in the United States, but has bolstered more conversations in the past several years after the deaths of Black people such as George Floyd, Eric Garner and Breonna Taylor, to name a few.

People with light skin color are statistically less likely to be exposed to profiling measures used by law enforcement and non-Black citizens. Additionally, skin tone has historically influenced pay, health care, education, hiring practices and other important outcomes.

“Being able to develop my own research project on this topic, create my own survey and to really be in charge of everything has been extremely empowering,” she said.

Booker-Smith compiled her research into a comprehensive study which she presented to her classmates and the MURAP team. 

She said that she’s learned to be better at time management, self-advocacy and much more, all of which she’s excited to bring back to JCSU in the fall.

She said she is grateful for her advisor and Professor of Psychology Dr. Ruth Greene and Dr. Jonathan Smalls, director of the Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, for their encouragement to apply and expand her research capabilities in an area of study she is interested in.

“Future Dr. Booker-Smith is an exceptional and resilient McNair Scholar,” said Smalls. “The McNair staff is excited about her engagement in research and co-curricular activities at UNC-Chapel Hill. Applying to research programs provides an incredible opportunity for students to hone their transferable skills in research, critical thinking, communication and leadership to be an asset to graduate school programs and academic careers.”


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