Colorism is a form of discrimination in which human beings are accorded differing social and treatment based on skin color. The preference often gets translated to economic status because of opportunities for work. Colorism can be found across the world. The term generally is used for the phenomenon peoples discriminating within their own ethnic groups.

The term colorism usually refers to when darker skin tones are preferred and lighter skin is considered less desirable or vice versa. In the U.S., the phenomenon also occurs in other populations, such as among Chicanos and other Latinos and Indian immigrants.

Also labeled as colorism, which is more discussed than others, is the phenomenon of darker-skinned people discriminating against lighter tones within the same ethnic group.

While colorism still exists in the U.S., it has diminished since the Civil Rights Movement.

African-Americans in the United States

The "brown paper bag test" was a ritual once practiced by certain African-American and Creole fraternities and sororities who discriminated against people who were "too dark." That is, these groups would not let anyone into the sorority or fraternity whose skin tone was darker than a paper lunch bag, in order to maintain a perception of standards. Spike Lee's film School Daze satirized this practice at historically black colleges and universities.

While stated less explicitly, colorism has been portrayed in episodes of the NBC drama Homicide: Life on the Street. Lighter-skinned African American superior officers Deputy Commissioner of Operations James C. Harris and Colonel George Barnfather appear to discriminate against main character Baltimore Police Lieutenant Al Giardello, a darker-skinned African American. Additionally, African American women have discriminated against Giardello on the grounds that his appearance is "too black".

Americo Liberians

In Liberia, descendants of African-American settlers (renamed Americo-Liberians) in part defined social class and standing by raising people with lighter skin above those with dark skin. The first Americo-Liberian presidents such as Joseph Jenkins Roberts, James Spriggs-Payne, and Alfred Francis Russell had considerable proportions of European ancestry. Most may have been only one-quarter or one-eighth African American. Other aspects of their rising to power, however, likely related to their chances for having obtained education and work that provided good livings.

Edward Roye was the first representative of dark-skinned African-American settlers in Liberia.( The light- skinned party was the Republican Party (Liberia) and the dark-skinned party was the True Whig Party.

In addition to rivalries among descendants of African Americans, the Americans held themselves above the native Africans in Liberia. Thus, descendants of Americans held and kept power out of proportion to their representation in the population of the entire country, so there was a larger issue than color at work.

The "Blue Vein Society"

Following the Emancipation, mulatto societies such as as "The Blue Vein Society" came into prominence. Its members were often well-connected free-born or freed individuals of mixed African, European, and occasionally of Native American blood. To be eligible for membership, one's skin color had to be pale enough that the "blue veins" on the underside of the arm were visible. Such restrictive organizations allowed its members and their offspring to meet, co-mingle and marry, thereby preserving what small privilege the mulatto elite had enjoyed before all slaves were set free. Uneducated, or economically disadvantaged mixed-race individuals, even those whose skin color was technically light enough to qualify them for admission, were rarely welcomed, demonstrating that there were more than color issues under consideration.

The original "Blue Veins" were said to have been organized in New England. Their primary objective was to establish and maintain "correct" social standards among people who had achieved some social, educational and economic standing.

Colorism outside the United States

Colorism also occurs in other western cultures where fair people are considered to be more superior, affluent, and powerful then those of a darker skin tone. In some Latin American countries such as Brazil, "race" classification is more a matter of skin tone and social status than actual ancestry.

Colorism can be identified as a direct consequence of the social stratification of colonial societies, especially the ones affected by slavery. The phenomenon exists in the Americas from United States to Caribbean countries to South America.

In the French West Indies, new born children can be deemed as "sauvé" (saved) when their skin tone is light enough to represent a chance at better social status.

The same conceptions that discriminate against dark skin are often applied to other physical features that are directly linked to African heritage: hair, face features, etc.

Colorism in Brazil

Brazil has the second largest population of African descendents in the world. This large number was a result of the African Slave trade. In Brazil, skin color plays a large role in differences among the races. Social status and privileges are related to skin color. Individuals with lighter skin and who are racially mixed face higher rates of social mobility.

Like in the United States, there are a disproportionate number of white elites than those of African descent. The Brazilian society is set up to have white elites continually stay in power. Individuals with darker skin have higher mortality, poorer health, higher rates of physical disease and mental health problems. There are large health, education and income disparities between the races in Brazil.

Colorism in Indian societies

Colorism in Anglo-Indian societies

Even prior to any interactions between Europeans and Indians, colorism has been an issue for Indian cultures. Historical Indian caste differences as well as a long history of invasion and colonization may play a part in this prejudice. Individuals of these societies have tended to see "whiter" as more beautiful. In Anglo-Indian cultures, skin color serves as a signal of status. Those individuals with fairer skin color enjoy more privileges and opportunities than those with "dark skin." Anglo-Indians with more "European" features have often been more upwardly mobile and had affluent status. These individuals gain preferences in education and in employment. Darker skinned Anglo-Indians can be socially and economically disadvantaged due to their appearance. Being dark skinned, black or "colored" constitutes a disadvantage in society for Indian men and women.

Colorism in Bengali societies

In Bengali Societies, colorism affects perceptions of women's beauty. Men evaluate a woman’s beauty based on the color of their skin instead of other characteristics. The Bengali film industry filled with lighter skinned actors and actress demonstrates the low value associated with dark skin in the Bengali culture. White skin signifies beauty, purity, happiness and cleanliness. Women with whiter skin tend be more privileged than those women with darker skin. Despite the impressions of women’s skin color, skin color for men doesn’t have any significance in their roles in Bengali society.

Colorism in Indian societies today

In the Indian Sub-continent, light skin is often deemed more beautiful in both men and women. Indian actors and actress almost always have light skin, or use lots of makeup to make themselves look lighter. Indians have many skin colors, ranging from very pale to black and everything in between. Many Indians think it's natural to consider light skin to be more beautiful than dark skin. Evidence of this comes from beauty products used help women achieve lighter skin. The product "Fair and Lovely" by Lever Brothers was created to help lighten darker skin. This facial cream is one of the best selling facial creams in the world. This cream shows the importance of lighter skins in Indian societies.

See also


7. Neal, Angela & Wilson, Midge(1989). The role of skin color and features in the. black community: Implications for black women and therapy. Clinical Psyhology Review, Vol 9(3), 1989. pp. 323-333.

Books about colorism

External links

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