Colorism Today

Colorism Today

Lania Whiteside, Student Contributor

Colorism is an ever growing epidemic that affects multiple parts of the world.

Skin tone is quite often associated with positive and negative stereotypes. In comparison, the shade of someone’s skin is valued differently if not slightly alike in Asia.
In this part of the world, historically speaking, fair skin has been viewed as a sign of beauty, which implies a higher social and economic status.

Those who worked outdoors like manual laborers and farmers had darker skin, dark skin has come to be associated with a lower socioeconomic class. Many of the South Asian population are dark skinned, but film industries including modeling agencies continuously seek for a person who has the lightest skin.

Nandita Nas, an Indian actress, and film director became an activist for the “Dark Is Beautiful” a campaign against racism in the Indian media after someone told her to “lighten her skin” if she wanted a more important role. There was a global campaign against colorism on social media that was started by three students from The University of Texas at Austin sought to fight the under-representation of people of color on the big screens. The title of the campaign is “Unfair and Lovely”, they asked dark-skinned South Asians to post their pictures online and show that they stood in unity with the mission of the campaign.

More so than in the past the idea of diversity is being celebrated but colorism is still very much relevant. In every store and marketplace, skin lightening cream is high in demand in Bangalore. In such advertisements as soon as they use the “magical cream” meant to lighten their skin, they would instantly feel more confident and proud of their skin color.

Colorism doesn’t just stop in Asia, but it is also present in Latin America. During the time of the colonization and conquest of Mexico, and Latin America as a whole, the Spanish clung to a very intricate and complicated caste system known as the Sistema de Casta.At the top of the hierarchy being Criollos, who were white and born in Spain, after that the caste system levels blossom into an unsteady range of variations. For example, a Mestizo, phrase still used to this day to denote the descendants of a Caucasian person and one of Indigenous blood,and the proceeding “Salta atras”- which translates to “jump backward” – to indicate the descendants of a Mulatto(person of Black and Spanish blood) and Indigenous blood. This system of anti-Black and anti-Indigenous sole purpose was to upholding white supremacy, and it continues to do so to this very day.

An example of the anti-Black system is the acute “social cleansing” of Dominicans of Haitian descent from the Dominican Republic. There is a phrase “pelo chino” which is used to describe coarse and curly hair. In the caste system, a “chino” is the descendant of a Morisco (offspring of a mulatto person and white person), and a white person.

When a value is given more to lighter-skinned people and European features, it makes it harder for kids born in America to find where they fit in this multicultural and multiethnic society. Historically in America during slave times, the African female slaves were often raped by their owners; due to these heinous acts the effect of it would be pregnancy, almost always the children were born with light skin. That’s when lighter skin started to be associated with purity and dark skin impurity.

Centuries later the idea that lighter-skin is far more superior than dark-skin is still in existence. The Clark Doll Experiment, given by Kenneth and Mamie Clark, was an experiment that dealt with race and how children perceive it at a young age. The results were shocking but, to say the least. Clark presented six black children between the ages of six and nine a total of two dolls. There was one white doll and one black doll then proceeded to ask them these questions:


“Show me the doll that you like best or that you’d like to play with”
“Show me the doll that is the ‘nice’ doll,
“Show me the doll that looks ‘bad’,”
“Give me the doll that looks like a white child,”
“Give me the doll that looks like a colored child,”
“Give me the doll that looks like a Negro child,”
“Give me the doll that looks like you.”

In the end, over 44 percent of the black children chose the white doll over the doll that looked like them. This gained a lot of attention for the simple fact that black children disconnecting themselves with their true race.

The elephant in the room is quite clear: what made the children choose the white doll instead of one that was more close to them?

This is also relevant in the entertainment industry. Local musician Nomasonto “Mshoza” Mnisi, now several shades lighter, says her new skin makes her feel more beautiful and confident. The World Health Organization has reported that Nigerians are the biggest users of such products: 77 percent of Nigerian women use the products on a daily basis. Followed a by Togo with 59 percent; South Africa with 35 percent; and Mali at 25 percent. South Africa forbid merchandise containing more than 2% of hydroquinone – the most used active ingredient in the 1980s. Some creams contain harmful steroids and others mercury that are detrimental to one’s health. You’ll see some women with uncharacteristically light skin faces the rest of their bodies dark- some will have scabby burns on their cheeks due to the harmful chemicals used in the skin lightening cream used to strip the skin of pigmentation.


Mr. Marcelle – who is known as Africa’s Michael Jackson – says his mother would apply creams on him when he was young in order to make him appear “less black.” Engrained in the minds of many Africans and others from a young age is the motto “if it’s white, it’s all right” an idea that has cut away at the self-esteem of millions. You see colorism affects all walks of life even of places you never thought it would exist. We need to do better not only representing different skin tones but associating with what dark skin is: beautiful. We need to teach children and each other that our skin color is absolutely beautiful.