Colorism And Its Impact On Society

Colorism And Its Impact On Society

The war we never seem to overcome...
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“If you’re black, stay back;
if you’re brown, stick around;
if you’re yellow, you’re mellow;
if you’re white, you’re all right.”



Throughout humankind, there have been many wars that have peaked headlines and global interest but there is one war that has outlasted all precedent.

That war is within us, within the people around us, within our own race. That war deteriorates us from the inside out and it is called colorism.

What is colorism?

In a changing American culture with an increasing minority population, skin color is becoming a more common gauge for some Americans--of all races--to determine who fits in and who does not.

A caste system that novelist Alice Walker termed "colorism" has existed in the black community since slavery, stemmed from the hierarchy established by slave masters for the light-skinned blacks who worked in the house and dark-skinned slaves who tended the fields. (Washington Post)

Colorism is a form of intergroup stratification generally associated with Black people in the United States but present among all peoples of color.

Colorism subjectively ranks individuals according to the perceived color tones of their skin. People who "look white" receive preferential or prejudicial treatment both within and between races.

Social statuses, marriage desirability, economic and educational attainment often have been historically related to light skin tones.

Many racial groups are known to have pride in their heritage, culture, and roots, so is the fact that one race could be racist against their own kind preposterous? How did colorism surface?

In the United States colorism has its roots in slavery. That’s because slave-owners typically gave preferential treatment to slaves of lighter complexions.

While dark-skinned slaves toiled outdoors in the fields, their light-skinned counterparts usually worked indoors, completing domestic tasks that were far less grueling.

Slave-owners were partial to light-skinned slaves because they were often family members. Slave-owners frequently engaged in sexual intercourse with slave women, and light-skinned offspring were the telltale signs of these unions.

While the owners did not officially recognize their mixed-race children as blood, they gave them privileges that dark-skinned slaves did not enjoy. Accordingly, light skin came to be viewed as an asset among the slave community.

After slavery ended in the United States, colorism did not disappear forever. In black America, those with light skin received employment opportunities off limits to darker-skinned African Americans.

This is why upper-class families in black society were largely light-skinned. Soon light skin and privilege were considered one in the same in the black community, with light skin being the sole criterion for acceptance into the black aristocracy.

Upper echelon blacks routinely administered the brown paper bag test to determine if fellow blacks were light enough to socialize with. (“The paper bag would be held against your skin. And if you were darker than the paper bag, you weren’t admitted,” explained Marita Golden, author of "Don't Play in the Sun: One Woman's Journey Through the Color Complex.")

The lingering question is why is this relevant to our society now? We have a black president and live in a so-called post-racial society so why would race still be a question? Research shows that colorism yields real-world advantages for individuals with light skin.

For example, light-skinned Latinos make $5,000 more on average than dark-skinned Latinos, according to Shankar Vedantam, author of "The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars and Save Our Lives."

Moreover, a Villanova University study of more than 12,000 African-American women imprisoned in North Carolina found that lighter-skinned black women received shorter sentences than their darker-skinned counterparts.

Previous research by Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt found that darker-skinned black defendants were two times more likely than lighter-skinned black defendants to get the death penalty for crimes involving white victims.

Colorism does not just play a role when it comes to work or in the criminal justice system but in the romantic realm as well.

Because fair skin is associated with beauty and status, light-skinned black women are more likely to be married than darker-skinned black women, according to some reports.

“We find that the light-skin shade as measured by survey interviewers is associated with about a 15 percent greater probability of marriage for young black women,” said researchers who conducted a study called “Shedding ‘Light’ on Marriage.”

Light skin is so coveted that whitening creams continue to be best-sellers in the U.S., Asia and other nations. Mexican-American women in Arizona, California and Texas have reportedly suffered mercury poisoning after turning to whitening creams to bleach their skin.

In India, popular skin-bleaching lines target both women and men with dark skin. Skin-bleaching cosmetics have persisted for decades, signaling the enduring legacy of colorism.

From Asia to India, from the United States to Africa, from Oprah to filmmakers such as Spike Lee, to playwrights such as May Miller, colorism had reached and impacted all fields, despite language and cultural barriers and remains prevalent in our society today.

In sum, colorism refers to discrimination based on skin color.

Colorism disadvantages dark-skinned people, while privileging those with lighter skin. Research has linked colorism to smaller incomes, lower marriage rates, longer prison terms and fewer job prospects for darker-skinned people.

Colorism has existed for centuries both in and outside of black America. That makes it a persistent form of discrimination that should be fought with the same urgency that racism is. Interracial colorism has played a significant role in the plethora of ills that exist among people of color.

In the millennium, colorism is still an issue that continues to separate and divide people of color.

Despite the overabundance of insidious discriminatory acts inflicted upon people of color, acts of discrimination occurring among members belonging to the same racial group are just as insidious.

W.E.B. Du Bois once wrote, “for the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line”. “The problem of the twenty-first century is still the problem of the color line" (Culbreth, 2006).

“As an individual of color, it is extremely hard, especially as a female, to grow up in a society such as this. Our past is poisoning our future and unless we surpass the skin barrier, we are limiting bright opportunities and trapping ourselves in a stagnant river that will only leave us to drown in our own ignorance.”

Cover Image Credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jermfestphotography/5092337967/

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It's Time To Thank Your First Roommate

Not the horror story kind of roommate, but the one that was truly awesome.
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Nostalgic feelings have recently caused me to reflect back on my freshman year of college. No other year of my life has been filled with more ups and downs, and highs and lows, than freshman year. Throughout all of the madness, one factor remained constant: my roommate. It is time to thank her for everything. These are only a few of the many reasons to do so, and this goes for roommates everywhere.

You have been through all the college "firsts" together.

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You were even each other's first real college friend.

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You saw each other at your absolute lowest.

It was difficult being away from home. It hurt watching relationships end and losing touch with your hometown friends. It was stressful trying to get in the swing of college level classes. Despite all of the above, your roommate saw, listened, and strengthened you.

...but you also saw each other during your highest highs.

After seeing each other during the lows, seeing each other during the highs was such a great feeling. Getting involved on campus, making new friends, and succeeding in classes are only a few of the many ways you have watched each other grow.

There was so much time to bond before the stresses of college would later take over.

Freshman year was not "easy," but looking back on it, it was more manageable than you thought at the time. College only gets busier the more the years go on, which means less free time. Freshman year you went to lunch, dinner, the gym, class, events, and everything else possible together. You had the chance to be each other's go-to before it got tough.

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Cover Image Credit: Katie Ward

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Our Leaders Need A 'Time-Out'

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Watch out, hold hands, and stick together.

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Clean up your own mess.

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Don't lie.

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