Colorism For Dummies

In my mother’s generation, it was called being colorstuck.

There’s a entire industry dedicated to skin and the changing of its hue. But there is an element to colorism that is insidious. The fact you whole self can be discriminated against over how dark or light your skin is seem especially mean. Colorism was used, is used to further divide us as African-Americans, as black people, using a European standard of beauty. The same system of oppression that sought to buy and bind us, makes us hate the one thing uncontrollable and beautiful about ourselves.

From house negroes to field negroes or mulattos,  colorism is steeped in perceived advantages–if you are light, the closer you are to white, can you do what lighter (i.e., whiter) people do, and will you treat, can you, would you, treat people who are darker (i.e., blacker) than you the way white people do?


Is darker skin undesirable, because it is an ancestral reminder of what we were, are and descended from? One of the tenets of colorism is self-hate! Colorism desires us as people to grade, gauge, and degrade each other on a European beauty standard. Everything about the beauty of us as a people flies in the face of that standard:  our lips, eye color, and body shape. We are a delicious anomaly! And because we are, and the gradient our melanin comes in so dope, of course the euro-ethnic standard of beauty seeks to control that and smash it into one standard to be equitable to that standard.

Last year, almost two years ago now, I came across the documentary, Dark Girls. This documentary is mandatory if you have a black daughter to raise, or black female child to influence. Dark Girl with unsparing detail, spoke to women whom dealt with colorism from the spectrum of bullying to fetish. There was one woman they interviewed–whose hue was almost ebony–reported her friend whom was lighter had a child and was told her, “Girl, I’m so glad she didn’t come out dark.” Her friend cried remembering the conversation.

The documentary depicts the roots of this phenomenon, and its perpetuation not just through African-American culture, but others as well–where was an Asian-American woman interviewed who was bullied because her skin wasn’t egg white, a cultural ideal esthetic. See? I told you it was insidious. Even to how dolls are marketed to little girls of color–there were always more white dolls growing up. I had more white Barbie dolls with ‘the pretty hair’ than I ever had black doll–if for the simple fact there just weren’t enough of them.

In looking through this lens of sociology and psychology of colorism, I sugguest lookoing at  The Doll Test , first administered by Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark. The test was administered in the 1940s to examine the role of segregation on African-American children. The test has been augmented and readministered since then, with similar outcomes:  the lighter/white doll is or may be seen as pretty or smart or good, while the darker/black doll is not.

In this standard, in this deception of colorism, the other tenet is to make you feel like you are ever enough–to be accepted, you must be less than–you must change. Your blackness is not immutable but malleable. In being malleable, it is subject to the whim of your oppressor–even if they are in a mirror.


[images from and]

3 thoughts on “Colorism For Dummies

  1. Hi Jennifer,

    Is the first image your own? Or did you get it from somewhere? I would like to use it for my Journalism project. I would be grateful if I could get permission to use it or be linked to the original artist!

    Many thanks,



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