Figure 1: The Inclusion Solution, Bold Conversations About Race: Colorism — What Is It and Why Is It Important?

Colorism has been a sneaky contender upon the lifestyles of everyone around us. Skin color plays a large role in decision making and other things alike. Colorism is defined as the prejudicing of an individual on the basis of skin shade or tone.

Contents:

  1. History of Colorism
  2. Colorism Today
  3. Colorism in the workplace

History of Colorism

Though colorism has existed for a very long time, an early example would from the end of the Reconstruction Era. People with a lighter skin tone, usually due to the mixing of races by slave owners were referred to as “mulattoes”. People who were considered mulatto were assumed to be “more intelligent” than people who were black, but never seen as equal to people of the “white community” (Banks 1714). White people saw mulattoes as “intellectually superior” to people who were considered black, but “physically degenerate” since they were “hybrids” of the two races (Banks 1715). Since mulattoes were typically allowed additional privileges such as “working indoors” and being allowed to learn to “read” and write, they were assumed to be more reliable and successful in the workplace (Salters). According to Taunya Banks, professor at The University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, some historians believe that after the abolition of slavery, “many light skinned blacks” had many “economic advantages” in comparison to “dark skinned blacks” because of the opportunity to acquire many skills that blacks with darker skin could not (Banks 1715). Some of these advantages included being early leaders for the African American community in the following fields: “business leaders, clergy, teachers, and artisans” (Hunter). 

Colorism Today

According to Margaret Hunter, professor of sociology at Mills College, today, colorism is driven by “the maintenance of white supremacy” (Hunter). It has been assumed that shades of darker skin tend to represent “savagery” in comparison to white skin that represents “civility” and “rationality” (Hunter). Colorism is still demonstrated to society through, television shows, advertisements, and even magazine covers. For example, in the Latin American culture, telenovelas are very popular. According to Hunter, “almost all of the actors” appear to favor a white person, unless the actor/actress is playing the role of a maid, in which they appear to have darker skin; reiterating the belief that the darker the skin, the lower the socioeconomic status (Hunter). Another example of colorism would be in the magazine industry. When conducting shoots and putting together the final product, production teams and celebrities such as India.Arie, Beyoncé, and Lupita Nyong’o get hit hard with condoning the fact that women of color, despite their skin tone, “are not light enough for mainstream  media” due to the simple fact that they “are not white” (Phoenix). Stated by editor of British Vogue, Alexandra Shulman, “the evidence suggests that black cover girls don’t sell as well as white cover girls’” (Phoenix).

Colorism in the Workplace

One of the earliest and official cases of colorism was Walker v. Secretary of the Treasury. This case, from 1986, stemed from a disagreement between Tracy Walker, “a black clerk-typist”, who worked for the Internal Revenue Service, also known as the IRS and her supervisor, Ruby Lewis (Banks 1714). Tracy Walker was a lighter skinned woman who was accused of arriving “late for work” and being “lazy” (Banks 1714). Walker felt that she was being targeted on the basis of being a lighter skinned woman and since Ruby Lewis was a darker skinned woman, she felt that she resented her for it because her skin tone favored that of a white person. This goes to show that people of lighter skin tones are even resented by their fellow African Americans with darker skin tones because it is felt that they have more advantages. Another example would be a string of workplace cases on the basis of skin tone. According to Hunter’s article, the manager of a Mexican restaurant local to San Antonio, Texas, was instructed by the owners to only hire “light skinned staff to work the dining room” of the facility (Hunter). Whether the owners thought this would please the customers or whether it was personal preference, it was wrong. The last example, also presented by Hunter, concluded that Latinxs that indicate they are white when applying for a job had an income “about $5000 more per year” than Latinxs who indicated that they were black (Hunter). This shows colorism because even though both groups are Latinx, on the basis of skin tone, they make less or more money. These examples show clear bias towards people based on their skin tone which is still an epidemic in society to this day.

Works Cited:

Banks, Taunya Lovell. “Colorism: A darker shade of pale.” UcLa L. Rev. 47 (1999): 1705.

Hunter, Margaret. “The persistent problem of colorism: Skin tone, status, and inequality.” Sociology compass 1.1 (2007): 237-254.

Phoenix, Aisha. “Colourism and the Politics of Beauty.” Feminist Review, no. 108, 2014, pp. 97–105. JSTORwww.jstor.org/stable/24571924. Accessed 18 Feb. 2020.

Salters, J.n. “‘You’re Pretty for a Dark-Skinned Girl’: The Continuing Significance of Skin Tone in ‘the Black Community.’” HuffPost, HuffPost, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffpost.com/entry/youre-pretty-for-a-dark-skinned-girl_b_3360767.

Want to know more? Check out:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jun/16/perfect-magazine-cover-girl-cheryl-cole

https://pudding.cool/2019/04/vogue/

https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/fall-2015/whats-colorism


Kamiya Mayfield is a 19 year old Sophomore who currently attends Old Dominion University. She is pursing a major in Pre-Nursing and a minor in Women’s Studies. Currently, she works as a Newborn Hearing Screen Technician for St. Francis Medical Center in Midlothian, Virginia. At Old Dominion, she holds an Executive Board position for The League of Distinction which is an organization dedicated to community service, leadership, and making a differences in the lives around them. Her dream is to finish school and pursue a career as Labor & Delivery Nurse. Her favorite quote is one by Maya Angelou, “Nothing can dim the light that shines from within.”