Colorism: Racism and Prejudice between Skin Tones

Written by Aliyah Hurt

Negativity is a given aspect of society throughout the world. When it comes to survival tactics, for hundreds of years people have had no problem putting groups of other people down for their own personal gain. This is clearly seen when speaking in terms of racism and prejudice. The lighter an individual’s skin tone is, the more acceptable they are to society. Colorism is the “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group”. Although that mindset is problematic in a multitude of ways, it does help the “superior seeming” group get ahead in society. For the sake of this conversation, I’ll say the oppressors here are those who have lighter skin tones, and the oppressed are the darker skinned folks.

This may sound like “just another black issue” for the African American community, but think again dear reader. Colorism occurs across all ethnic groups. If you take a moment to look back through history, racism was a natural drive to get ahead in the world. White peoples created a pyramid of superiority based on skin tones, and outward appearances. This is still seen today. Fair skin, blonde hair, blue eyes, and lighter appearances are viewed as more attractive, acceptable, and appropriate to society. There are skin lighteners on the market, the makeup industry produces much more product for lighter shades, Hollywood produces movies with white actors in ethnic roles, and advertisements are geared towards the “white” lifestyle.

It makes sense to try to be lighter or view yourself being superior because you are lighter than your fellow brethren. Racism and prejudice are taught. You learn to view certain people as lesser because society puts that image in the forefront of your brain. You don’t want to be a certain way because you are consistently shown that said way gets you nowhere in life. But the reality is that black (African) people are black, Asian people are Asian, Hispanic people are Hispanic, and so on and so forth; and none of your ethnic/racial existence is determined by the color of your skin. A lighter skinned person of any race is not considered less a member of said race because of their skin. A darker skinned person of any race is not considered any more of a member of said race because of their skin either. Bottom line is that you are what you are is black copy

I myself am of mixed race. Although I am made of more than one ethnicity and people, I have the right to claim each part equally because that is who I am. I choose to identify myself as a black individual because that it what my outward appearance shows to the world. I am also Belgian and Native American (and probably a mix of several other things would appear in my DNA if I were to get tested), but I rarely state that information. Why you may ask? Because I do not live either of those lifestyles. My skin is light yet still brown, and I appear black in all features from my nose to my hair to my body structure. I would feel as though I was appropriating cultures if I were to “act/present as Belgian” or “act/present as Native American”. I honestly don’t even know what that would look like. I put those elements in quotes because I personal do not believe you can “act/present” as an ethnic group. People are people with cultural differences, but we as humans do not act different solely based on the element of race.

I must point out the fact that being mixed does not mean you can choose to discard one of your racial elements. I choose not to act as certain aspects of my races/ethnicities out of respect, not to gain anything. People choose to do this all the time as to not be looked down upon in society, but it is the wrong decision. You and the people around you may not be accepting of one element of your racial/ethnic makeup, but no matter what you say or do, you will never be able to remove it from your being. It is a reality you will live forever. Lightening your skin does not remove your race and place you closer to living a white reality. It will never happen. Removing cultural slang from your ethnic language and speaking what is seen as “properly” by society, does not make you “whiter”. Speaking well is viewed as educated (and I realize some elements of that are rooted in ableism, but that is a different conversation to be had. I apologize if anyone reading this is offended). There is no action you could take, or choice you could make to be white if you aren’t. I myself am part white, but I will never be the “ideal white person” society wants.

Colorism is a survival tactic, a mere means to get ahead by putting others down. As humans we should be accepting of our own kind, no matter the skin color or tone. In a world where people are unfortunately made lesser due to their race in ethnicity, we should be accepting of each other within our own ethnic/cultural communities. We must support each other. A color doesn’t matter, the person inside the skin does.