RACISM: Ethnic minorities and colorism impacts – By Akola Thompson


From the beginning of racism, colorism has existed; that is not an opinion, it is a fact. While many of us are aware of racism and its harmful impacts, a blank is usually drawn when it comes to the treatment that is meted out against persons of a dark skin tone. Colorism affects all non-white ethnicities but Black persons face the brunt of its impacts.       

When the topic of colorism is brought up, particularly in the Black community, there is a pushback against it. Persons seem to be of the belief that to speak about the realities of colorism is somehow divisive. As an already marginalized group of people, it is said that colorism dialogues seeks to push a wedge between communities. This reluctance to speak about it does not negate its everyday impacts on dark skinned people.   

While emanating from white supremacy, Black, Indigenous and People of Color are all active participants in promoting colorism through the perceptions they hold of Blackness and their actions against those seen as unambiguously Black. It is a worldwide problem that has seen the elevation of skin bleaching/lightening industries across Asia, the Caribbean and the Global North. Dark complexions are seen as being synonymous with violent and poor criminals while lighter ones are seen as being desirable, smart and trustworthy. Lighter skinned persons are also portrayed as being more “feminine” and weak than darker skinned persons. This of course buys into anti-Blackness as it conforms to the stereotype of dark skinned persons being “masculine” and aggressive.

As a light skinned Black woman, I am intimately aware that my experiences are much different from darker skinned Black women or those who are monoracial. Being of Black and Indigenous lineage, I have felt the weight of being an “exoticized” minority. While this is very reductive for those of mixed heritages, there are also societal benefits to it as diluted Blackness is seen as being more palatable. One is more easily accepted if it is that their complexion isn’t too dark, their hair isn’t too coarse and their features aren’t too Black. While misogynoir is the specific discrimination Black women face, misogynoir also intersects with colorism and has framed lighter skinned women as being more suitable leaders, scholars, artists and partners than darker skinned ones.

.One of my first experiences with the real world impacts of this was at my first official job. Through a discussion with my workmates one day on salaries, I realized that I was being paid considerably more than them. These women had been on the job for years while I was freshly out of high school. The only thing was that they were dark skinned Black women while I was lighter skinned. Although I have experienced incidents of structural racism and micro aggressions based on my race, I have for the most part had the privilege of learning about anti-Black racism and colorism from a theoretical level rather than one of lived experience.

It is important that we as a people are able to honestly address our privileges whether based on race, color, class and/or gender. These all impact the way we are able to move through the world and the opportunities we are provided with. This is important because in acknowledging those privileges we would then be able to go a step further in utilizing them towards collective upliftment of our communities.

There is the view that only white people can promote anti-Blackness but this is a simplistic and inaccurate one. Anti-Blackness is rooted in our history of colonialism and enslavement. Colorism took hold when white enslavers would rape Black women and their light skinned/white passing offspring would often be given preferential treatment over others. Preferential treatment manifested itself in several ways such as them being allowed to work in the house, gaining their freedom and inheriting wealth in some cases.

Today, light skinned persons continue to benefit from preferential treatment and are often lifted up as being the bastion of their communities. This is why we continue to see light skinned persons continue to dominate the media whenever Blackness is to be represented and why they are more frequently elevated in professional and social settings. Skin colour is associated with status and the closer one matches certain requirements of whiteness or the mixed ideal, the more status one is seen to have.

Dismantling colorism means truthfully examining where it came from and rejecting the negative stereotypes placed on those with dark complexions. There is a lot of unlearning that we all need to do when it comes to the things that have been internalized about the upliftment of whiteness and the demonization of Blackness. In a world that continues to portray dark skin as being lesser than, recognition and celebration of Black beauty is important.

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