The below excerpt is my first attempt at writing about the issue of Colorism, during my sophomore year in college. I’ll share with you the first three pages of this 20-page research paper. This essay along with a few others eventually helped me win the Excellence in Communication Award at Penn State. If you decide you would like to read more about Colorism, please read the book The Color Complex, it’s one of the most thought-provoking books I’ve ever read regarding this issue:


April 2008

If you’re black get back/if you’re brown stick around/ if your light you’re all right.

Being Black or being White has historically separated people in America and around the world but what many people fail to realize or even acknowledge is a gap has been bridged within the black race as a result of the differentiation and discrimination based on skin tones. Colorism is the coined word to describe the dirty little secret that our community perpetuates through its idealizations of Eurocentric beauty standards and denouncement of Afrocentric standards of beauty. Skin complexion, hair type, and body image have always been conscious issues for African American’s but it is the root of self-loathing and low self-esteem as well. This form of intra-racism has proved to be psychologically detrimental to African Americans’ sense of self. Colorism is immoral, unethical, and undeniably one of the reasons why black people do not feel accepted within their own race. It promotes insecurity and inequality because people are no longer being judged by their intelligence or capabilities; they are being judged by the lightness or darkness of their skin. If we are going to successfully progress into a bright future we need to learn and understand our history. If more African Americans took the time to understand their troubled past they would understand that colorism is essentially a construct and does not dictate the type of person you are, nor does it dictate your self-worth. Understanding the dark history behind colorism is one of the first steps towards progress. The next step toward progress is acceptance. The internalized self-hate one feels towards oneself because other members in society deem them inferior is one of the reasons why we may never advance towards a society that does not judge people based on the color of their skin. Accepting that being black is not necessarily a dilemma but an armor you should wear with pride is foremost.

Imagine an undocumented color spectrum where the closer you are to the white ideal the better you are deemed. Contrarily, the darker you are on the spectrum the less desirable you are deemed. This is an illustrative example of Colorism. According to The Color Complex, by Kathy Russell, Midge Wilson, and Ronald Hall, if we want to trace all the way back to where Colorism began we must return to the year 1607, when the settlers of the New World docked their ships in Jamestown, Virginia. They write “What might have been unthinkable in Europe and Africa was an everyday occurrence in the wilderness. Miscegenation, or race mixing, became widespread as Europeans, Africans, and Native Americans mixed their seed and substance to produce a Kaleidoscope of skin tones and features” (Russell 9). The mixture between the races allowed for a mixture of colors including lighter colored Blacks and Native Americans. Native Americans were seduced and/or raped and the first generation of blue-eyed light-skinned Native Americans began to appear in the colonies (Russell 10). The Africans were brought over as slaves to the colonies in the mid-to-late 1600s. As with the Native Americans, the Africans were also seduced and raped by the Europeans and mixed-race blacks also known as “mulattos” started to resonate. Ultimately attitudes regarding skin color arose.

Colorism among African Americans can be dated back to slavery. As a race, blacks were deemed inferior to whites. They were dehumanized and believed to be nothing more than property. Members of an oppressed group will frequently internalize their attitudes towards their oppressors and direct their aggression on to one another. Plantations owners strategically bridged a gap between lighter-skinned blacks and darker-skinned blacks so tensions could be redirected from the oppressor and on to members of their own race. This form of manipulation was illustrated by the plantation owner’s preferential treatment towards lighter-skinned blacks. Lighter skinned slaves were more than likely taught how to read and they were more likely to work in the house as opposed to the fields. They were granted better living conditions and received freedom before their darker counterparts yet they were preyed upon by their masters. Consequently, the field slaves on the outside looking in, believed that house slave’s had a better life. Darker toned field slaves were said to be the ones that were beaten, hanged, and forced to work under laborious and exploitive conditions. No matter their fate, a slave was a slave and this heinous institution dehumanized both groups but the damage was already done.


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