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In 2013 Nina Davuluri, an Asian Indian from Syracuse, NY, became the first South Asian-American Miss America. The largely congratulatory comments from South Asian bloggers while reveling in the significance of her win, also commented on her skin tone, characterizing the new Miss America as dark brown, some adding that Davuluri would have never won the Miss Indian America USA title because she is “too dark.” Early discussions of colorism, skin tone bias, by legal scholars focus on how the practice impacts black Americans or other persons with some African ancestry. Yet the comments from South Asians about Davuluri’s skin tone sound surprisingly similar to conventional American notions of colorism practices. South Asian commentators acknowledge a light-skinned preference within their communities but explain her selection as a national beauty queen as a preference by the dominant American culture for darker more “exotic” South Asians. Thus skin tone preferences impacting South Asians operate within and outside of their communities. What is not clear is whether intra-group or inter-group skin tone preferences involving South Asians carry over to workplace decisions. This inquiry is important because South Asians comprise a significant portion of this country’s growing non-white population. Focusing on Title VII employment discrimination cases this article asks whether colorism among or between racialized groups impacts immigrants from South Asia and their American-born offspring in the same way studies suggest that skin tone discrimination adversely impacts black Americans and Latinos in the workplace.

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14 Washington University Global Studies Law Review 665 (2015).


Civil Rights and Discrimination | Labor and Employment Law