One Word: Colorism

This article was originally published on July 7, 2020.

As the Black Lives Matter movement has rightfully blown up and is receiving the attention it deserves, many people are learning more about another practice of discrimination, colorism. While racism is when two people of different races and different skin colors are treated differently, colorism is when two people of the same race and different skin colors are treated differently.

What is colorism? Well, at the very least, you can say it is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. Colorism was first introduced to the United States via slavery, as slave owners were partial to light-skinned slaves. According to NCCJ, “slaves with lighter skin were assigned domestic tasks while slaves with darker skin were forced to work outside in the fields, doing much more grueling tasks. Lighter-skinned slaves were favored because they were often the product of a slave owner raping a slave, thus creating a lighter-skinned child.” Colorism is displayed all over the world, whether in court, the media, the medical world, and many more places. The commonality across all cultures is that those with lighter skin are more systematically privileged, while those with darker skin are devalued. Those who experience colorism may even develop a disliking for their own skin color and features which is called internalized racism. This can lead to low self-esteem.

To those who don’t believe that colorism has an effect on people, studies have shown a connection between colorism and lower incomes, lower marriage rates, longer prison terms, and fewer job prospects. For instance, lighter-skinned women were sentenced to approximately 12% less prison time compared to their darker-skinned counterparts. Moreover, a 2006 University of Georgia study showed that employees preferred lighter-skinned African men to darker-skinned African men as co-workers, regardless of their qualifications. Colorism has a strong presence in many parts of the world, including South America, parts of Asia, Africa, and America.

One of the most prominent products of colorism is skin bleaching substances. Skin bleaching services and creams, which serve to lighten your skin, are two main types of skin-whitening services and products which are advertised heavily. A few examples of companies that promote such products are Fair & Lovely and L’oréal. Many celebrities from all over the world tend to use such skin bleaching services and products to fit society’s idea of an attractive person. Sadly, in many countries where colorism is extremely internalized, aspiring celebrities who do not try to fit this “fair and lovely” mold are constantly put down by media reporters who insult their looks and by directors who do not offer them roles due to their skin color. As for medical services, those with darker skin experience less hospitality and more horrid experiences when compared to those with lighter skin. Many also claim that skin color definitely takes a toll on government decisions. This is proven by the fact that all of those who are involved in the murder of Breonna Taylor have not even been fired to the dismay of many.

Fortunately, we are seeing a gradual change in recent years. For example, a woman of Indian origin named Deepika Mutyala started a company called Live Tinted to help redefine beauty standards and defeat colorism. Moreover, entertainment industries including the acting industry and the music industry have become more open to accepting aspiring actors and musicians who have darker skin. As for the medical industry, we hope to see darker-skinned patients treated better. Furthermore, due to the recent uproar against discrimination, the US government has been better responding to cases of darker-skinned victims. For example, George Floyd was able to receive justice, as Derek Chauvin, the prime perpetrator of his murder, is serving jail time under third-degree murder. These are all significant strides that have helped decrease colorism’s impact on society, but we still have long ways to go.

As of now, the most important thing to do to help get rid of colorism in society is to use your voice to make sure that everybody is aware of the injustice happening to those with darker skin. One way you can do this is to take advantage of social media. For example, my fellow reporters at The Voice of Frisco and I have been using Instagram to constantly repost and share important information about the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, colorism, cultural appropriation, and female oppression. Signing petitions to fight for justice and donating money to movements is also very crucial. We also need to make sure that we avoid words and statements that help encourage colorism, such as encouraging bleaching creams, discouraging relationships with those of darker skin color, and saying that a person would look more beautiful if their skin color were to be lighter. It is our responsibility to reduce colorism’s influence on our lives by using our voices to speak up until it completely vanishes. This world has many problems, but it is good to see that we are slowly, but surely solving them.