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Arts & CultureSocietyStudent

Understanding colourism among young people in the UK

Colourism, skin shade prejudice in which people with dark skin experience disadvantages compared with those with lighter skin shades, affects the life chances of people of colour, including their educational achievement, job prospects and relationship opportunities.

Our previous research with adults in the UK (Phoenix and Craddock, 2022) has found that colourism affects people in childhood and adolescence, including at schools, with lasting consequences. This is why we feel that it is important to examine colourism amongst young people growing up today.


The project seeks to answer three main research questions:

  • How do young people in the UK experience colourism?
  • How does its extent and impact vary according to characteristics such as skin shade, ethnicity and gender?
  • How is colourism understood and negotiated?

Additional research questions include:

  • What impact does colourism have on the self-esteem and wellbeing of young people in the UK?
  • How do young people and their peers help to perpetuate colourism in their everyday lives?
  • What impact do families, teachers and the media have on understandings and experiences of colourism?


The research will use qualitative and quantitative methods. It will begin with focus groups with 432 young people and teachers, followed by interviews with 180 young people and parents, and then a national survey of 1,000 secondary school-aged young people (11-18 years). The focus groups and interviews will enable in-depth analyses of the colourism narratives of young people of different ethnicities in London, Bristol and Manchester (three cities with long-established multi-ethnic populations).

The focus groups will explore young people’s experiences and perceptions of colourism. The individual interviews will elicit narrative accounts that examine the personal experiences of students of colour with regards to colourism and consider the impact of families, the media and schools on their experiences and perspectives.

The qualitative data will both inform the development of the quantitative research and add valuable insights to the quantitative data. The results of the survey will be used to provide an indication of the prevalence of colourism and its impact on young people of different ethnicities, skin shades, genders, social classes and sexual orientations.


The research will help to shape and develop understandings of ‘racialisation’ in the UK by providing valuable data on how colourism operates and how it affects secondary school-aged people in the UK. It will have a significant impact on promoting equality and social justice in schools, the media and amongst policymakers and the general public. The pathways to this impact will include collaborations with NGOs.

The research will form the basis of an animation on colourism among young people by an artist of colour produced by PositiveNegatives, a company that creates comics, animations and podcasts from research.

The research team will also work with teachers to produce a single-session intervention on colourism for schools for students in Key Stage 3 (aged 11 to 14). In London, Bristol and Manchester freelance artists will be hired to work with students who are in years 7-9 on artworks inspired by narratives on colourism from the research, which will feature in exhibitions. We will disseminate the research through an event at each of the six participating schools.

We will also produce a policy briefing in conjunction with KCL’s Policy Institute highlighting the research findings and outlining steps policymakers can take to ensure that colourism and its effects are recognised.

Project status: Ongoing

Principal Investigator



Funding Body: UKRI ESRC

Amount: £967,848.88

Period: August 2022 - July 2027