Effects of Colorism

By: Lexi Fleck

Colorism: discrimination based on skin color, also known as shadeism, is a form of prejudice or discrimination usually from members of the same race in which people are treated differently based on the social implications from cultural meanings attached to skin color.

Colorism is a relatively new social issue. Coined in the 1980s, colorism can occur within racial groups, making it similar, but not the same as racism. Colorism is when people with darker skin are seen as less than those with lighter skin. Those who embrace colorism not only tend to value lighter-skinned people over their darker-skinned counterparts, they also view people with lighter skin as more intelligent and attractive. Colorism is deeper than just skin tone, colorism discriminates against those already discriminated.

This is an issue that is seen on an international scale. For instance, colorism was seen in Africa during the slave trade, when slaves with darker skin tones were perceived as less monetarily valuable than slaves who had lighter skin tones. In the modern-day, skin tone is still a large determinant of social class.

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." Colorism is also seen in family communities, potentially leading to parents favoring one child over the other solely based on skin tone. This can negatively affect the less-favored child's feelings of self-worth. Rather than acknowledging that charm can be seen in all skin tones, colorists narrow beauty standards by saying that some skin tones are more beautiful than others.

The average rate of imprisonment of African-Americans in state prisons is more than five times that of white people. In some states, such as Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, Vermont, and Wisconsin, there is ten times the number of Black people in prison compared to white people. Around 3% of people who live in the United States are in prison. What’s even more horrible is one-third of the black population is in prison. A new study done by a Racial and Ethnic journal breaks down this problem of prejudice in the American judicial system in even more disturbing detail. According to the study, being Black is not the only thing that makes someone more likely to be sentenced to jail in the US, it’s how Black they are. The darkness of a person’s skin, the study found, is directly proportional to the likelihood of them being arrested.

It is important for everyone to understand their worth. Commentary such as, “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl,” or, “She is pretty because she is light-skinned,” are insulting and belittling. These statements should never be said; they are ignorant. The power behind maintaining colorism lies in all of us who participate in applying hierarchical value to someone’s physical features. Dismantling colorism lies in correcting those who perpetrate it.


Forbes-Vierling, Suzanne. “Dark Skin Pain, Light Skin Privilege: Nine Solutions to Dismantling Colorism in the Black Community.” Medium, Medium, 19 Oct. 2017, medium.com/@suzanneforbesvierling/moving-forward-with-radical-action-nine-solutions-that-the-black-community-can-adopt-to-dismantle-8edfb15917cb.

Merelli, Annalisa. “The Darker Your Skin the More Likely You'll End up in an American Jail.” Quartz, Quartz, 16 Oct. 2019, qz.com/1724590/colorism-influences-probability-of-going-to-jail-new-study-finds/.

Nittle, Nadra Kareem. "Why the Effects of Colorism Are So Damaging." ThoughtCo, Feb. 11, 2020, thoughtco.com/the-effects-of-colorism-2834962.

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