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21.11.2018 | Ausgabe 1/2019 Open Access

Social Justice Research 1/2019

Operationalizing a Conceptual Model of Colorism in Local Policing

Social Justice Research > Ausgabe 1/2019
Henry Smart III
Wichtige Hinweise
The original version of this article was revised: The article was originally published in SpringerLink with open access. With the author(s)’ decision to reverse the Open Choice, the copyright of the article changed on 27 November 2018 to © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature.
A correction to this article is available online at https://​doi.​org/​10.​1007/​s11211-018-0319-4.


This thought experiment uses agent-based modeling (computational simulation) to demonstrate how colorism might operate within a local policing context. Colorism is the allocation of privilege and disadvantage based on skin color, with a prejudice for lighter skin. Colorism might help to explain some of the racial disparities in the US’ criminal justice system. I use simulated scenarios to explore the plausibility of this notion in the form of two questions: (1) How might colorism function within an organization, and (2) What might occur when managers apply the typical dilemmatic responses to detected colorism? The simulated world consists of three citizen-groups (lights, mediums, and darks), five policy responses to detected colorism, and two policing behaviors (fair and biased). Using NetLogo, one hundred simulations were conducted for each policy response and analyzed using one-way ANOVA and pairwise comparison of means. When the tenets of colorism were applied to a simulated organizational setting, only some of the tenets held true. For instance, those in the middle of the skin color spectrum experienced higher rates of incarceration when aggressive steps were taken to counter colorism, which ran counter to the expectations of the thought experiment. The study identified an opportunity to expand the description of colorism to help describe the plight of those in the middle of the skin color spectrum. The major contributions from this work include a conceptual model that describes the relationship between the distinct levels of colorism, and it progresses the notion of interactive colorism. The study also explored conditional statements that can be converted into hypotheses for future experiments.

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