Colourism is the concept of people with darker skin being discriminated against, often among people of the same ethnic or racial group. While it is intertwined with racism, it is its own problem. Though colourism undoubtedly exists in more convincing forms- oppressor to oppressed, amongst the minority groups it is extreme. How did such stigma originate? For the black community it is highly likely that colourism began during the period of slavery, though there are many other aspects that influenced the concept of colourism. As slave owners began to have children with their black slaves, which many of the times were deemed sexual assault, a privilege spectrum was created. Many of the black children, whose skin tones leaned towards or were heavily similar to their oppressors, were given more opportunities. These children were offered education, a little more food, and those kids with white fathers were allowed to do work in the house rather than the physical labour outside. This divide created a gap amongst the people in the black community. Similar divides can be seen in many other cultures, the underlying notion being that people with lighter skin are more privileged, they are better.
Though slavery in the literal aspect has ended (systematic oppression still being very much alive), the idea of colourism has still managed to retain.
Within the black community, colourism exists through small actions; which people are quick to overlook, when it should be anything but the opposite. It begins with people at the influential playing field. A lady named Maya Jama, a British television and radio presenter, is a clear example of such. Her tweet which surfaced in April of this year exampled the existence of colourism within the black community. In this tweet she poked fun at the idea of darker skinned women trying to achieve a certain look. Now the first time she apologized, she said “My genuine and sincerest apologies go out, not just to dark-skinned women but to ALL women.” This did indeed receive backlash as she was making fun of dark-skinned women not “ALL women” but that is not why this tweet seemed crucial to share. It is the fact that when she tweeted this she was 17. This is important because it shows what seemed normal to her at the time. This is the reality for many other women of colour, from a young age this is what they are taught, which is further amplified by society’s stereotypes.
People of the Latinx community range in skin tone, contrary to what is portrayed in the media. Now with all these ranges in skin tone, colourism is able to emerge even more. A term that is used within the community is “mejorar la raza” or “improve the race” which suggests that if you are darker, you should marry a lighter toned person, to lighten the skin colour of their children- to lighten the race. This quote directly targets darker tones Latinx as their skin tones are not the colour which is more “appealing”. Colourism within the Latinx community also exists in the aspect of media production. There are such things called “Novelas”, which are often associated with soap operas. Through some online research, I learned that members of the Latinax community, within their own productions noticed how darker skinned people were only seen in the dramas as maids to the lighter skinned protagonists. This aspect however is very common amongst all communities, the Asian community for example.
The Asian (all parts of Asia) community also has its own set of issues with colourism. Skin colour is very crucial in regards to who is “made for the screen”, and who isn’t. Many of the famous, more beautiful actors are considered as such because of the skin tone they pertain. Within the community, I notice, there are many products that advertise “fair” skin. These products are solely successful with the reason being that they can “lighten” skin tone. Those who are celebrated, who are discussed about in Asian culture, are often whitened in pictures to be deemed more beautiful. This whitening of photos even occurs amongst the general Asian population. I know this because I have seen that many times my friends say I don’t look as pretty in certain photos because my skin colour seems darker. The mention of skin tone somehow bleeds into conversations.
Regardless of the community there is the undeniable issue of colourism. This mentality which suggests that the lighter our skin, the better, affects us all the same way. It taints the way we look at ourselves, and dejects self-confidence. Many of the stories I saw online expressed how individuals felt left out in their community, some even feeling the need to not associate with their culture. This causes a generation to not learn about the beauties of their culture, because we as a group cannot confront and conquer such a topic.
How can we as a community come together to fix this issue? Acknowledge it and discuss it. Take the time to educate your friends, your family and those around you. To educate them can help conquer colourism in a small step that may seem insignificant now but will make a huge impact for the next child who feels like their skin tone is too dark. Though to truly eradicate a century’s old problem will also take centuries; still we must take the first step. To be able to truly show ourselves and demand the justice we deserve, we must fix such discriminating concepts like colourism within our own societies first.
By: Abonti Nur Ahmed
Disclaimer: I am a 16 year old permanent resident of Canada with South Asian heritage. I am attempting my best to cover the aspect of colourism with which I resonate with most. However, with that said, I am not from many of the communities I mention in the article, so I left out certain aspects as I knew I could not give proper justice to their explanations. I scratch the surface of this issue, and if you wish to learn and know more, there are several websites and books that you can refer to! Nevertheless, I hope you can understand and acknowledge what I have to say about colourism within the POC (people of colour) community.