Colorism is distinct from racism through its meaning, and therefore more implicit. Activist Alice Walker is known for being the first person to use the term “colorism.” In an essay from her 1983 book, In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens, Walker defines colorism as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.” Conversely, racism refers to a racial hierarchy that enforces the oppression of minority races. Junior Zainab Fayyaz says that this issue “degrades people in a [community] where they’re supposed to belong.” Colorism creates exclusion and division within ethnic groups.
The birth of colorism in the Black community in America dates back to slavery. According to Colorism Healing, some slave owners would rape female slaves impregnating them to bear mixed race children with light skin. These slaves with lighter skin were favored and would undertake easier tasks, instead of field work. Yet, colorism did not die with the freedom of the slaves in the United States. Both status and affluence in the African-American community became correlated with skin color. Those who were light-skinned, were at the top, while dark-skinned African-Americans were at the bottom of the social ladder. “This hurts people’s self image,” said Senior Roland Duncombe. Colorism continues to affect people globally today in terms of opportunity and psychology.
This social issue disadvantages a greater part of our community in terms of opportunity. For instance, Sociologist Margaret Hunter wrote in one of her books in 2007 that light skinned Mexican Americans “earn more money, complete more years of education, live in more integrated neighborhoods and have better mental health than do darker skinned …Mexican Americans.” For Mexican Americans, this prejudice is unavoidable because skin color is not something that can be hidden.
Conforming with behavioral scientists, countless studies show even white people are more favorable with lighter skin. A study recorded by the Winters Group showed participants a number of photos of white people, including some pictures of the same person edited to make their skin appear darker. Whites gave lower scores on intelligence to people with darker skin. Despite being of the same ethnic or racial group, light skinned white people are seen as less intelligent than their darker skinned counterparts.
Colorism can also be harmful to one’s demeanor. Senior Kushi Matharu, who originates from North India, says that within the Indian community, “because [my family has] lighter skin [as North Indians], we are often treated better than those of darker skin [from South India].” This stigma around those of darker hue has lead people to bleach their skin. Many nations in Asia produce an abundance of skin lightening products. India owns one of the most well-known skin lightening creams, Fair and lovely, which promises fair glowy skin. This company alone boasts 38 million users worldwide. The idea of fair and glowy skin has become a goal for many dark skinned individuals throughout India. This standard of beauty has occupied the nation’s culture.
Colorism, despite being implicit at times, disadvantages an entire demographic of people socially. This social bias is ingrained in the psyche of the majority of the global population and leads to explicit discrimination as well as internalized oppression. Colorism is another bias that contributes to social inequality.