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Commonly, when researchers examine race, they focus on groups as a whole. How, for example, do the experiences of Latinos differ from those of Whites? Are there different opportunities for meaningful work or to hold leadership positions?
Lost in these analyses are within-group differences. Members of a given race are not all alike. They have different life experiences, education, and social networks. They also frequently have different skin tone.
It is this difference that served as the focus of a recent study conducted by Jen McGovern of Monmouth University. She collected decades of data from baseball records, examining who held leadership positions as a player, manager, or broadcaster. She also collected data on the players’ place of birth, their ethnicity, and their skin tone.
She found that, in the baseball context, skin tone was a better predictor of having a leadership role than ethnicity was. Regardless of their ethnicity, lighter skinned individuals were more likely to be in prominent leadership positions, both on and off the field.
Light skinned individuals were the smallest proportion of Latino players, but they were most likely among Latinos to work as managers, coaches, and broadcasters. They were also most likely to play catcher—one of the key positions on the team.
But why do these findings occur? McGovern suggests that deeply embedded cultural norms and understanding might be to blame. Since colonial times, having light skin has been linked with intelligence, capability, and beauty. On the other hand, darker skin was associated with danger and inferiority. Though some of these stereotypes have decreased, they are still prevalent, influencing people’s behaviors and attitudes.
Overall, the findings show that a number of factors influence the relationship between race and leadership opportunities, including one’s skin color.