Mulattea is a blog written by Skye Haynes. Her posts explore mixed identity, feminism, race, religion, and privilege.

Let's Talk About Colorism

Let's Talk About Colorism

I was actually writing a different blog post when I realized I've never addressed colorism on my blog.

That's crazy! So let's spill the tea on colorism:

What is Colorism?

In short, colorism is the discrimination against people of darker skin tones. And you may be asking, Skye, isn't that just racism? But no, random italicized voice, colorism takes racism a step further. Colorism is specific to skin color, rather than race. It also defines a type of privilege within minorities.

For example, we're all familiar with the terms, "house slave," and, "field slave," which are based off of colorism. Or even the paper bag test:

"The Brown Paper Bag Test was a type of racial discrimination in the US. A brown paper bag was used as a way to determine whether or not an individual could have certain privileges: only individuals with a skin color that is the same color or lighter than a brown paper bag were allowed." —Wikipedia

And it isn't just a white vs. black concept either. Colorism is perpetuated by people within every racial community. No one is off the hook!

Why is Colorism Relevant?

You might be thinking, Skye we clearly don't have field slaves or paper bag tests anymore, so colorism isn't a real thing anymore.

Which, y'know, isn't true. 

Growing up, I knew colorism. I didn't have a name for it. But I saw it.

Going to a predominantly black school, I saw all types of black people. People who were white passing, others with darker skin, some people right in the middle. Just spending a day in class, you could see colorism at work. I never had to worry about it because I've always been light skinned (privilege). But if you were a dark skinned girl in middle school— forget it. I've already said that middle school boys suck, but man do they suck more if you find yourself being darkskinned. Don't take it from me, either. Here's what my friend Courtney had to say about it:

There are some people that are just really rude, calling you names saying you’d look better if you were lighter.

And while we don't currently have literal paper bag tests anymore, think about a more modern example of it like this:

Go into any Sephora and see what privilege is when it comes to colorism. I went on and clicked on the first foundation I saw, and here. Just look. 

The darkest shade isn't even the darkest skin tone a person can have! It's ridiculous. Also, because I love having receipts, here are some quick facts that show colorism isn't just a bunch of social justice BS:

  • Light skinned women have been shown to receive 12% less time behind bars when sentenced to jail.
  • India's largest skin lightening cream company, Fair and Lovely, has 38 million worldwide users.
  • Dark skinned people are more likely to receive the death penalty than light skinned people.
  • Brazilians who are dark skinned make up 63% of the poorest sectors in Brazil.
  • Employers have been shown to prefer light skinned black men to dark skinned black men, regardless of qualifications.

*statistics gained from the National Conference for Community and Justice.

How Colorism Relates to Being Mixed

Kanye West received a lot of backlash after tweeting a model casting call for his Yeezy Season 4 for "multiracial women only."

Do people think, like, ever?

In calling for multiracial people, what do you think he really meant? I discussed briefly in my piece on The Fetishization of Mixed Race People and Why It Needs to Stop how when people refer to someone as mixed, it's usually in the context of, "Oh you're cute, what are you mixed with?" as if being black, brown, or any color isn't beautiful enough to stand on its own. It's the possibility of a more anglo-saxon contribution to your appearance that outweighs your natural beauty. When Kanye West called for multiracial women only, do you think he meant dark-skinned women? Because dark-skinned women can be mixed. But probably not, because it doesn't fit the same stereotype that all mixed women are beautiful, small-nosed, light-skinned, hazel-eyed goddesses. In the same arena, when you think of asians, do you think of dark-skinned asians? Because they definitely exist. When you consider hispanics, is the first mental image you get of a dark skinned person? No. Why?

Because: across cultures, people with darker skin have faced erasure and marginalization in most forms of representation.

Examining Privilege, Yet Again

So all of this is to say— check your privilege. Everyone hates that phrase, but it's always helpful to evaluate where you stand in relation to others before passing judgement. I've said it before, I'll say it again: There are so many types of privilege. They don't fall neatly into the lines of race. They're multifaceted, intersectional, and they're worth considering. Colorism is just a drop in the bucket, but it's something you should consider. Also, if you're dark skinned, hopefully this quote from Courtney helps:

As you get older you just gotta learn to love yourself and see the benefits in how you look. Raise up other little girls with dark skin tones and let them know they’re loved.
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