prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.
Colorism is a term that’s rather unfamiliar to mainstream, as the term isn’t used as commonly as racism. Many might not realize that the terms are unequivocally intertwined. Colorism is a byproduct of centuries of embedded racism that has integrated its way into a diversity of cultures. We see colorism in Asian cultures, in the black community, and in the Latinx community. But we more than often refuse to acknowledge colorism exists, claiming it fragments us further. However claiming that colorism doesn’t exist doesn’t help the problem, it just feeds the problem.
In chapter IV of Dear White People, we see a symbolic clash between Coco and Sam, representative of the light-skinned vs dark-skinned debate in the black community. Throughout this episode Coco, the dark-skinned, weave wearing black girl is seen by Sam as a white washed brown-noser. Coco calls Sam out, saying it’s her “light-skinned privilege” to be woke and to be angry about black issues because the whole world (at least the black community in this episode) would actually listen to her. We also see a young Coco being told to take the “ugly doll” as she plays with other girls. the “ugly” doll turns out to be the dark-skinned girl with kinky natural hair. Here again, we see colorism in a grassroots form, although not candidly mentioned. Colorism, though not synonymous with racism, is a branch and consequence of years of embedded racism, which is why it goes unnoticed in mainstream culture. Tanning culture and Eurocentric beauty standards, in general, have let us believe that what’s white, is what’s right.
The question is though, how deep do these differences subject us to different societal social castes? Yeah, yeah, race is a social construct but it’s also systemic, working to benefit white people and in turn people who look like them. White-passing POC and lighter skinned POC like Sam, don’t have to adhere to the same standards or discriminations as their darker counterparts. They can be as loud, overbearing and “quirky” as they want because the way the world sees them doesn’t affect the way the world treats them.
Across all cultures, especially in the black community, colorism fundamentally changes the interactions and beauty standards for those who are within that culture, specifically for women. Like racism, colorism is intertwined with sexism, forming archetypes that we dignify by telling ourselves they are harmless jokes or just the way things are. The loud, ghetto dark-skinned black girl has no say in her sublimation when you put her in that position in the first place, now does she?
Colorism isn’t just an idea or a far-fetched concept. It presents itself in divergent facets and avenues, you could say it has roots even deeper than racism. Colorism is the reason Kylie Jenner can wake up and choose her lips and preferred skin color, and be revered for it. Colorism is the reason Lexi4prez, a white passing latina, is praised for being woke, scraping the bare minimum while her darker counterparts are being silenced and ignored. Colorism is centuries of Jim-crowed miscegenation that work to displace us in our indigenous communities today.
Colorism speaks volumes. It speaks on how we continuously seek to oppress even when we don’t know that we’re doing so. Whether we like to admit it or not, each of us are held to an infinite amount of privilege. To assume that there aren’t levels, that there aren’t systems within the systems that work to regress minority communities, wouldn’t just be ignorant, but cruel. Not acknowledging colorism, (regardless of what race you are, but recognizing systemic implication) is not acknowledging racism, and not acknowledging racism makes you racist.