Colorism: Let's Talk About Melanin
Has anyone in your family or group of friends of color said...
“Get out of the sun!”
“You look prettier with lighter (skin)”
“You look so ugly when you tan”
“Don’t bring home a Black boyfriend”
“Use bleach cream to make your skin lighter”
“You’re pretty for a darked-skinned girl”
(all comments made to people with skin perceived to be “too dark”)
“You’re too light to be a true Mexican”
“You’re not black enough”
“Hey there, light-brite”
(all comments made to people with skin perceived to be “too white”)
If you have, then you’ve experienced colorism. Colorism affects us in different ways based on our skin tone, our own experiences (via our communities, our culture, and even media).
Colorism… It’s a symptom of anti-blackness that is internalized in communities of color. It’s an expression of racism but not racism itself. It’s discrimination based on skin color. And we need to start talking about colorism.
In the latinx community, having lighter skin is still seen as being “better”. That leads to having more privileges such as earning more money, completing higher levels of education, living in more integrated neighborhoods, and having better mental health. Sometimes, having lighter skin gets you the job because you are viewed as being more intelligent. Colorism encourages the mechanism of “white passing,” in which a person of lighter skin color is accepted as a member of the white racial group.
Self-image and language are two other elements of culture that perpetuate colorism. In many latinx communities there are words that are used such as “caffre” which shares roots with the South African word “kaffir”.
Being silent about colorism is being complicit with white supremacy. Not anymore! Speak up.
Your voice can help others in ways you never imagined. Whether it’s speaking up for yourself or being a bystander and speaking up. Motivate those around you to speak up too.
We need to hold each other and our culture(s) accountable. This happens in many cultures of color, I’ve seen it in the Filipino community, the Latinx community, and the Black community. We are better than this. No more division based on skin tone.
The systemic consequences of colorism are deadly. We’ve seen this too many times in the media and in our community, especially when someone says “they fit the description”. C’mon now, not every darker skinned person looks the same. That can no longer be a reason for someone being accused of a crime.
We all need your help to spread awareness and begin the healing process by changing this preconceived notion of different skin tones being "good" or "bad". We have to disrupt the systemic colorism that is embedded in our communities. Engage in color-conscious discourse.
Remember, the work starts within yourself, check your own colorism bias. Then speak up! Growth is inevitable. Embrace it, learn from it, and do better. That’s the only way our communities will start to grow too. Remember: Every shade is beautiful!!
Further reading/watching resources
Book: Race, Gender, and the Politics of Skin Tone by Margaret L. Hunter
Article: Colorism (with lots of links to further reading and video clips)
Website: Colorism Healing - Dr. Sarah L. Webb
Video: What Is White Latinx and White Passing Privilege? - from Pero Like Page on Facebook
Movie: Skin (2019) - a documentary on Netflix