Colorism: Definition and Meaning

When human enslavement was a prevalent practice, colorism developed in the United States. Slaves with lighter skin tones were frequently treated more favorably by their captors. While light-skinned enslaved individuals typically worked indoors at much less arduous domestic jobs, dark-skinned enslaved people typically toiled outdoors in the fields. Due to the fact that they were frequently family members, enslavers had a preference for light-skinned slaves.

Meaning of Colorism

Colorism is the term for prejudice based on skin tone. People with darker skin are penalized by colorism while those with lighter skin are given privileges. According to research, colorism results in darker-skinned persons having poorer wages, fewer marriages, longer prison sentences, and fewer job opportunities. In and outside of Black America, colorism has persisted for ages. It's a pervasive sort of prejudice that needs to be opposed as urgently as racism does.

Light-skinned children of slaves were the clearest indicators of these sexual assaults since enslavers routinely coerced captive women into intercourse. While enslavers did not formally recognize their mixed-race children, they did grant them privileges that were not available to dark-skinned enslaved people. In the group of enslaved people, pale skin thus became valued.

Outside of the US, colorism might be more closely linked to class than to white supremacy. Colorism is thought to have existed in Asian nations prior to European contact, despite the fact that European colonization surely left its mark on the world. There, the belief that white skin is preferable to black skin may have originated from the fact that governing classes often have paler complexions than peasant classes.

Why Racism is Prevalent?

People with light skin benefit in the real world from colorism. Shankar Vedantam, author of "The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives," for instance, claims that light-skinned Latinos make $5,000 more than dark-skinned Latinos on a yearly basis. Black women with lighter skin tones earned shorter sentences than those with deeper skin tones, according to a Villanova University study of more than 12,000 black women in jail in North Carolina.

Darker-skinned black offenders had a twofold higher likelihood of receiving the death penalty for crimes against white victims, according to research by Stanford psychologist Jennifer Eberhardt. In the world of romance, colorism is also present. Black women with a fair complexion are more likely to be married than those with darker skin because fair skin is associated with status and beauty.

Researchers who carried out a study titled "Shedding 'Light' on Marriage" found that young black women are roughly 15% more likely to marry if they have a light complexion as evaluated by survey interviewers.

Minority Group Colorism

Numerous groups, including black, Asian, and Latino American communities, are affected by colorism, a social and cultural construct with roots in racism. "Colorism can happen intra-racially, or inside groups, as well as interracially, or between different ethno-racial groupings." Both interpersonally and systemically, it can appear, according to Campbell.

Effect of Colorism on Societal Advancement

Colorism can be just as damaging to Black Americans' growth as racism is, if not more so. Darker-skinned Blacks may perform worse than their fairer counterparts in various areas, including education and money, as a result of Whites and Blacks' preference for lighter-skinned Blacks.

Even your health and marital status may be impacted. Within groups, there is a similar stratification to that shown in racial outcomes between black and white. In some ways, the disparity between blacks with light and dark skin tones has been more prominent than the gap between blacks and whites.

Examples of Colorism

People of various races and ethnicities are impacted by colorism in various ways. According to some studies, colorism among African Americans has a variety of negative repercussions. A study at least suggests a connection between poorer physical health and darker skin.

Additionally, studies link the following negative traits to darker skin −

  • Socioeconomic well-being

  • Electoral politics

  • Education

  • Labor market

  • Criminal justice system

Many respondents in a recent study of more than 3,300 Latino people in the U.S. indicated colorism had a significant impact on their lives. For instance, 62% of respondents stated they thought that Latinos' capacity to succeed in the United States is at least somewhat hampered by having a darker complexion.

However, 59% of respondents thought Latinos had an edge because of their lighter skin. More than half reported that their skin tone has a significant or minimal impact on their quality of life. According to a colorism specialist, skin tone can also be seen as a subtle but significant indicator of class and beauty in some Asian American groups. The expert claims that the use of skin color to establish distinctions and hierarchies within those societies is also possible.

Additionally, a study of Asian Americans found that people with white skin were more likely than people with light brown skin to have a college education. Asian Americans with light skin tones had a higher likelihood of earning a bachelor's or higher degree.

Is Colorism Different from Racism

Colorism is the prejudice or discrimination against a person's skin tone. Racism is the unfair treatment of individuals based on factors such as their race, ethnicity, or place of origin.

Racism comes in various forms, including −

  • Individually, that is, when it's done to someone in front of them or behind their back.

  • Institutionalized means that the policies and procedures followed by an organization as a whole produce result that benefit some racial groups and disadvantage others.

  • Structural, which refers to a combination of laws, institutional procedures, social pressures, beliefs, and processes that create and work to maintain racial inequality in society.

In other instances, colorism may be the result of prejudice that developed within an ethnic group of individuals. According to one expert, persons with the luxury of staying indoors and avoiding labor outside had lighter skin in societies in Asia in the distant past, and that color came to represent better social status.


Discrimination based on skin color, also known as "colorism" or "shadeism," is a type of prejudice and discrimination in which individuals with similar ethnic characteristics and those who are perceived to be members of a darker-skinned race are treated differently based on the social repercussions and cultural connotations associated with their darker skin.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What do you mean by Persecution?

Ans. The systematic abuse of a person or group by another person or organization is known as persecution. Although there is naturally some overlap between these labels, political, racist, and religious persecution are the most prevalent types.

Q2. Define the term Defamation?

Ans. False remarks about a person, place, or item are communicated to a third party with the intent to harm their reputation. This is referred to as defamation. Slander or libel can be expressed verbally or in writing. It is either illegal or a tort.

Q3. What is Sinology?

Ans. A study of China through Chinese philosophy, language, literature, culture, and history is the primary emphasis of the academic field known as sinology, or Chinese studies. Western scholarship is frequently cited in this context. Its genesis "may be attributed to the study that Chinese scholars conducted of their own civilization."

Updated on: 08-May-2023


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