Racism Within a Culture: The Identification of Colorism

 Some students say they struggle with the effects of colorism throughout society.

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Some students say they struggle with the effects of “colorism” throughout society.

Recently, the topic of racism and discrimination has sparked major conversations within society. However, the idea of racism within a group or culture is deemed less important, and isn’t discussed. Colorism is the prejudice that exists and resides within a group or culture. Used by author and activist, Alice Walker, the word first appeared within the binds of her 1983 book, In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens. Walker defined colorism as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same race people based solely on their color.” It is the preference of light skin people, as opposed to dark skin people, within an ethnicity; this notion often labels lighter skinned people as “more beautiful.” 

The idea of colorism has long been an issue within cultures and society; however, it didn’t receive its label until 1983. According to an article published by Time in October 2016, Walker marked it as an “evil that must be stopped in order for African Americans to progress as people.” Since its use, the notion has expanded and become widely applicable to a plethora of races. Junior, Lola Akintola, admits that she has experienced it through remarks made by her African-American mother and other members of her family. 

“I have experienced colorism, primarily through people such as my mom and aunts. They would tell me to stop going outside, and things along that matter, because I was getting darker and my skin was not fair enough. But, I adapted and began to ignore what they were saying to me because it was ridiculous,” Akintola said. 

The history of colorism within the borders of America arguably stems as far back as the days of colonization and slavery. According to the National Conference for Community and Justice, the history of colorism can be derived from a multitude of sources. In terms of slavery, those with lighter skin were more often assigned domestic chores, while those with darker skin were forced to work on the field, completing more grueling tasks. Additionally, during the 19th and 20th centuries, employers began utilizing the Paper Bag Test. The test was usually used in majority black spaces and in the hiring of people of color; if one was the same skin tone or lighter than the color of a paper bag, they would be more considered for hire. However, if one was darker than the paper bag, they were not considered for hire. Colorism is still exploited today, with society showing more representation to those with lighter toned skin. Sarah Cole, junior, believes that this notion has only worsened due to society’s mistreatment of those with darker skin. 

“Society has undeniably played a huge role in colorism being so prevalent today. Negative stereotypes have plagued the media and news to the point where people begin to actually believe them as fact. This, on top of the lack of representation of those with darker complexions in the media, has caused these prejudices to increase dramatically, which continues to perpetuate these racist ideals,” said Cole. 

Colorism is not biased, however, and it affects ethnicities globally. Junior, Kayla Nguyen, admits that her own family has pushed these discriminatory ideals on to her. Nguyen is of Asian descent and has had to overcome her family members comparing her to a nonexistent beauty standard. 

“Partially, colorism stems from beauty standards. In history, people would always see those with lighter skin as more attractive, and the consequences of this agenda are still seen and felt today. I have had to deal with colorism within the bonds of my family. Some of my older family members will tell me that my skin is too dark for an asian girl. They make it seem as if dark skin isn’t also beautiful,” Nguyen said. 

The idea of colorism is partly contributed by the beauty standard. Cole states that society treats women or men with light skin as more attractive, or something of the sort, because their skin is more fair. 

“Society can treat women or men of color as less beautiful sometimes due to things they cannot control. For example, I was with my African-American friend at the mall once. This white guy came up to her and said, ‘You’re really pretty for a black girl,’ and asked for her Snapchat. The whole thing is really messed up because people, for some reason, view white people has higher up on the beauty scale simple due to their fair skin which is stupid. However, I do believe that as a society we’re making major improvements when it comes to breaking these beauty standards, but we aren’t totally there yet,” said Cole. 

This discriminatory agenda is sometimes exploited by the media and, in some cases, older generations, who deem light-skinned people as more attractive or more capable. As society moves forward, the recognition and the conscious act of putting an end to these racist ideals is vital for the progression of people.