Implied by the suffix “-ism,” colorism, like racism, is a system. It is a power structure by which people with darker skin are systemically treated worse than people with lighter skin. This stems from days of slavery, when African slaves with skin lighter than a paper bag, hence the “brown paper bag test,” were allowed to work inside the house, whereas their dark counterparts were forced to work in the fields under horrifyingly worse conditions. Lighter skin, being closer to the European beauty standard was also seen as more beautiful, elegant, and preferred while darker skin was seen as burnt, ugly, and constantly compared to roaches and other unpleasant dark things.
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While colorism is harmful all around to everyone, it is important to note intersectionality as a factor for different treatments. Yes, dark men and dark women receive different treatments simply because of the labels we have accepted and assigned to dark skin. For centuries, darker skinned women have been insulted, underrepresented, and seen as unattractive. Dark skinned men, on the other hand are often hypersexualized and seen as very masculine and aggressive.
Neither of these are good attributes to either side because they reinforce negative stereotypes and affect how black people are seen and treated. For example, individuals with a darker complexion are more likely to be pulled over and assaulted by cops, more likely to earn a lower income, and less likely to be offered a job by employers. They are also more likely to receive the death penalty and more likely to receive longer prison sentences than their lighter-skinned counterparts. This is all rooted in the association of dark skin and being uneducated, loud and aggressive. Combine these associations with the fact that men and women already experience things differently in this society, and you’ve got one hell of an oppressive system.
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Similarly to racism, there is not one set way to be colorist. It takes many forms and while some people are blatant about it, there are people who do not realize that their behavior is colorist, whether on an individual or institutional level. Colorism can take the form of telling someone “you are pretty for a dark skinned girl” or saying “I only date light skinned black people.” It could take the form of jokingly suggesting to a dark skinned person to “try not to stay in the sun for too long”. The point is, colorism has become so normalized and embedded in our society to perpetuate these standards and characteristics.
It is nearly 2019 and skin bleaching creams are being sold successfully, those with dark skin are still being misrepresented in media, and dark children are still growing up being taught to hate their complexion. I could go on and on about how unfair and down-putting this issue is, but that will not change the centuries of deep rooted history that still carry into today. All I can say is to be the change, claim to “see color,” and fight the limitations placed upon it.
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