With colorism being deeply rooted within black and brown cultures, and racism being the most systematic form of discrimination in the United States, it’s no wonder POC can’t catch a break.
by Aashna Chudgar
Colorism and racism are two terms that have historically been used interchangeably but, in reality, have very different meanings. Racism is the societal prejudice against people of color, most commonly against Black and Indigenous people but has expanded to the Latine community, and later on the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. It’s a system in which Caucasian Americans are given certain privileges in all domains of life specifically because of their skin color, including political and economic advantages, while people of color face hate crimes and discrimination.
Colorism on the other hand is something that is deeply rooted in ethnic cultures rather than a government. It is extremely prevalent within South Asian, East and Southeast Asian, Latine, and many cultures in the African Diaspora. Eurocentric beauty standards and colonist ideals have instilled a repulsion for dark skin within these cultures, to the point where dark skins have been told to bleach their skin to be pretty or they’ll never get married. Light skin preferential treatment is incredibly damaging to society.
This brings us to our trilemma: which is more damaging? Has Caucasian racism or light-skinned colorism separately impacted our social system? Or has a combination of both led to the constructs of race and ethnicity being plagued with a hatred for our identities? Let’s find out.
The Whitewashed Perspective:
**Before talking about racism, I would like to clarify that when I talk about racism stemming from white supremacy, I mean Caucasian/European whiteness. There are plenty of White Latines that can suffer from racism. I’ll also be using Latine as a gender-neutral term instead of Latinx as a respect for traditional opinions.
We’re all familiar with the Black community’s history with cops. The justice system in America was built on the idea that Black and Indigenous people are people of lowly places in society and should be subjected to extreme servitude and bodily harm because of their skin color. The high policing of Black neighborhoods in turn leads to higher crime rates associated with POC demographics and therefore less opportunities and more psychological stressors that prevent Black students and employees from breaking the racist system in America.
Racism also plays a large role in employment. The education system and the open market do have racist overtones. Although someone may get treated equally compared to their peers inside the classroom, many censuses show that not only do employers prefer hiring white people compared to Brown or Black POC due to the idea that white skinned people appear to be more educated, but consumers also preferring to see a white person attending to them; black and brown people are seen as threatening and dangerous, or immigrants who threaten to dismantle the economy and can barely speak english, not to mention the absolutely heartbreaking predatory stereotypes given to all colored races. The result of this is many Black and Latine families remaining in poverty due to the negligence of racial equity that goes back to the days of colonization, Indigenous people not getting the recognition they deserve because, again, the white narrative is one that has been perpetuated for so long in America, and Asian hate skyrocketing.
The Colorless Perspective:
Colorism varies greatly between different communities. It’s highly intersectional with misogyny; while dark skinned men do experience colorism, women do tend to experience it more often. British colonization is the primary cause of colorism, although over the years ethnic parents have taught their kids to prefer being lighter-skinned, and have in turn made it much more microaggressive. Some ways that a light skinned person may be prejudiced against a dark skinned person while still maintaining a supposedly progressive image includes, “a mother that might not accept a dark-skinned daughter-in-law, but that does not mean she wants to cause her any harm. If someone is bullied by friends for being dark, that is very hurtful, but that person’s teacher does not deduct his/her marks for being black/brown” (The Business Standard). Colorism doesn’t have to mean experiencing physical or mental abuse, it means stopping the alienation of brown and dark skinned people.
The role misogyny plays in colorism is also something that is especially damaging within POC communities. Dark women are told at a young age that no one will want to marry them unless they scrub their skin and try and bleach it to the point where it seems victorious that you’re light enough to get a sunburn. Especially in India, “Colorism is so ingrained in everyday life and society, in fact, that skin-lightening products make up a multi-billion dollar industry in India. Bollywood, India’s movie industry, casts predominately light-skinned actors, which perpetuates beauty as light-skinned. Many Bollywood actors also endorse skin-lightening creams. In Latine communities, while Mestizaje, or the mixing of skin colors, exists, Afro and Indigenous Latines get singled out and get no media representation. In turn, men of color are told to marry the women they see on TV, beautiful, light skinned women, and women are told to use beauty products to appear lighter skinned.
The Neutral Perspective:
Both racism and colorism have many prejudices in common. According to The Guardian, “the difference in pay rates between darker-skinned and lighter-skinned men mirrors the differences in pay between whites and blacks. Darker-skinned women are given longer prison sentences than their light-skinned counterparts. And this discrimination starts young—if you are a dark-skinned girl, you are three times more likely to be suspended from school than your light skinned peers”.
Both colorism and racism stem from European ideology, but neither consist of entirely white and light skinned oppressors. Anybody who enables racism and colorism, whether you’re white or black, light or dark, doesn’t matter because the only thing that stands in the way of true equality and equity is realizing that white and light skinned people aren’t the enemy, but rather anybody who chooses to let a system in which darker skinned individuals are forced to hate a part of themselves (that is so beautiful) perpetuate.
So what do you think? Aren’t we all human in the end?