“That bubble of doubt within? It’s time to stick a pin in it. And wear your dark and lovely face with a grin on it.” ― Princess Latifah, “Pretty For a Dark Skin?

Colorism is a pressing issue that causes division amongst the Black community and other BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) communities. 

Merriam-Webster defines colorism as prejudice or discrimination, especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin.

Indeed, colorism is the “daughter of racism” as stated by actress, Lupita Nyong’o, and continues to run rampant in society.

The History of Colorism

Colorism has roots in slavery as white colonists created a division between the Africans and furthered the idea that being as close to white as possible was the ideal image. Lighter-skinned slaves were allowed to work indoors and carry out domestic tasks, while darker-skinned slaves participated in strenuous hard labor outdoors in the field. Lighter-skinned slaves also were afforded better opportunities to become educated and learn to read a write while working in the house. 

In addition, enslavers administered tests to determine who was light enough to work in the house called the brown paper bag test.  If people’s skins were darker than a brown paper bag, they were deemed too dark to work in the house. Black people also used tests that perpetuated colorism. According to The African American Registry, Black people also used the comb and the door tests to determine who was allowed in certain establishments. The comb test measured the kinkiness of a person’s hair by using a comb to see if it could pass through the hair without stopping. The door test was used in some African American clubs and churches, where they would paint their doors a certain shade of brown and if people were darker than the doors, they would not be let in.

Proximity to whiteness meant certain freedoms for Black individuals, which is why many lighter-complexioned Black people engaged in “passing.” According to PureWow Journalist, Chelsea Candelario, “White-passing is when someone perceives a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color) as a white person. Some BIPOC people labeled as white-passing are viewed as having more privilege than other individuals in their community.”

The Continuing Legacy

Colorism has continued to live on and we see it working every day on social media, in film, in music, in families, and in school and work settings. 

There are countless examples in media, such as light-skinned women being portrayed as more desirable and more feminine than dark-skinned women in shows like “Martin,” or light-skinned actresses receiving more attention and getting roles over dark-skinned actresses. For example, the fiasco that was the 2016 Nina Simone biopic starring Afro-Latinx actress Zoe Saldana portraying the iconic singer. Instead of casting a dark-skinned actress, producers cast a lighter one and altered her to look like Simone. For the role, Saldana donned a prosthetic nose and skin-color-altering makeup to mimic Simone’s appearance. This just furthers the argument that darker-skinned people don’t get nearly the amount of opportunities that lighter-skinned people do.

Research shows people with darker skin experience an increased number of problems, including socioeconomic issues.

Colorism is linked to smaller incomes, lower marital rates for women, longer prison terms, fewer job prospects, decreased mental and physical health, and a lower perceived intelligence for darker-skinned people. Dark-skinned girls are also three times more likely to be suspended from school than their light-skinned peers. Additionally, research by Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt found that darker-skinned Black defendants were twice as likely as lighter-skinned Black defendants to get the death penalty for crimes involving white victims

Countless dark-skinned people can recall being the source of name-calling growing up because of their skin color—not to mention how many dark-skinned Black women have been told that they’re “pretty for a dark skin girl.” This can be extremely detrimental to one’s self-esteem and can result in self-hatred and skin bleaching.

How Do We Eliminate Colorism?

As long as colorism has existed in our communities, many still deny its existence. In order to change the narrative of how darker-skinned people are seen, we must acknowledge that colorism exists and have the conversation. People must check their biases and champion for darker-skinned people to get the same opportunities that people of lighter complexion do. With shows showcasing dark-skinned black people leads like “Insecure”, “Bel-Air” and “Blood and Water,” there has been some progression of representation in media, but there is still much further to go. It’s also important that we begin teaching our youth about colorism and empower them to speak up for change. Colorism is a major form of discrimination that should be treated with the same seriousness as racism.