In a recent interview with KNBC-TV’s Michael Brownlee, U.S. hurdles champion Dawn Harper lamented the fact that her competitor Lolo Jones gets a ton of press, while she gets very little. “Since the [’08 Beijing] Olympics, [Jones] hasn’t really beaten me outdoors at all,” Harper pointed out.

If Harper’s the more consistent athlete, ousting all competition, including Jones, on a regular basis, what reasons might there be for her comparatively low amount of media attention?

Have we gotten to the point where every athlete needs a human interest hook in order to gain media attention for their athletic performance? Has being in the top one percent of the population in terms of speed, strength, and endurance stopped being interesting enough? Jones has gained notoriety in recent months for discussing her virginity — and dating woes related to it — in interviews. Before this, only fans who followed her events were familiar with her.

Is it possible that, because Harper (or her publicist) hasn’t found a way to market her effectively to the press and the public, her athletic successes are being eclipsed by Jones’ personal life? Or is the reason even shallower: Does Jones fit the U.S. media’s standard of mainstream beauty more than Harper does? More specifically: Might colorism be to blame for Harper’s media snubs?

It’s no secret that, in terms of marketing and advertising, complexion factors into casting. In an April 2012 article in The Philadelphia Tribune, A. Bruce Crawley reports that a recent casting call for an Acura television commercial specified its desire for an African-American man, “friendly, but not too dark.” The incident was leaked and a larger discussion ensued about the public’s persistent associations with dark skin as untrustworthy, suspicious, and unfriendly:

In a 2008 doctoral thesis, “Effect of African-American Skin Tone on Advertising Communication,” Yuvay Jeanine Meyers set out to determine how the “skin tone” of a black model in an advertisement affects specific outcome measures of advertising.”

According to the study, “More favorable attitudes were formed when the black model’s skin tone was ‘light,’ as opposed to when the black model’s skin was ‘dark.’”

The author cited earlier studies, including one from 2005, on the subject of “colorism,” i.e., the process of discrimination that gives privilege to people of a lighter skin tone over their dark-skinned counterparts.

Meyers’ scientific analysis considered the fact that the advertising industry, in trying to make the most favorable and productive use of black models and actors, certainly needed to have a clear understanding of “colorism” and its potential impact on its clients’ sales.

Could the pervasiveness of colorism in advertising be a factor in rerouting the endorsement deals that could be Harper’s to the lighter-skinned Jones? It’s an idea worth considering, as is the idea that she isn’t “interesting enough” off the track to warrant the non-sports enthusiast’s notice. The Philly Tribune article went on to note:

… In a study done in 2006, a majority of African-American college students at a Midwestern university said that, “Lighter complexions are more attractive than darker ones.” Indeed, 96 percent of the men preferred a medium-to-light complexion in women, while “70 percent of women found light skin of value in men.”

These stats could be used to account for how seldom brown-skinned women are featured in sex-selling sports spreads like Sports Illustrated‘s Swimsuit issue and ESPN the Magazine‘s Body issue (the latter of which featured Jones in the nude in 2009. Though the issue also featured a nude Serena Williams on its cover, the tennis phenom was considered an anomaly, while women with complexions closer to Jones’ appeared in abundance).

What do you think? Is Dawn Harper’s publicist to blame for not marketing her with a “human interest” angle? Or is the public’s colorism at the core of Harper’s dearth of endorsements and acclaim?

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  • AMW

    I am voting with my pocketbook. I will never buy an Acura product nor will I support any company that does not support me and my dark sisters.

  • Wesley Snipes

    She’s just too black!

    • Don Cheadle

      I agree with Wesley!

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