Color Outside the Lines: Colorism

Hello and welcome to Color Outside the Lines, a weekly discussion space for people of color. A HUGE thank you Merve and a continued thank you to Ardhanari for this thread and all their work in maintaining it coming up with so many topics, which I’m sure will trip me up down the line eventually. I, your friendly neighborhood cynical Razz Matazz, will be posting this thread for the first three Wednesdays of each month. If you have any suggestions or prompts you’d like to discuss, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Thread Rules

  1. We ask that only those who identify as people of color participate in this discussion. White Avocados, while valued members of this community, should remain in ‘lurk’ mode.
  2. Shaming and hateful speech are unacceptable.
  3. Please keep potentially traumatic content safely behind spoiler tags.
  4. Nobody on this thread is more or less a person of color than anyone else. (We will not set clearly delineated boundaries on who qualifies as a ‘person of color.’ As a starting point, this thread uses the definition of ‘non-European heritage of sufficient prominence to affect one’s navigation of a society built on white normativity.’ However, we recognize that there are identities which skirt either side of the divide. If people feel that they meaningfully experience the identity of being a person of color, then they are welcome to participate.)

1) The term ‘people of color’ encompasses a broad range of experiences. We are not a monolith. Therefore, we ask that participants respect each other’s experiences during the discussion, and refrain from promoting one particular experience as being more true to our shared identity as people of color. Furthermore, we ask that participants attempt to voice their own experiences as opposed to generalizing on behalf of the community as a whole. Of course, there are some exceptions. Participants are welcome to interrogate how shared experiences like marginalization help to forge common bonds within our community, but please remain courteous towards others in doing so.

2) We ask that participants remind mindful of the following: we would like to keep this space as safe from white privilege as possible. Even people of color can help to perpetuate systems of white privilege. For example, people who enjoy passing privilege may not understand the experience of being a visible minority. What people of one ethnicity know about people of another ethnicity might operate through the proxy of whiteness. We simply ask that a conscious effort is made to acknowledge white privilege. Likewise, we ask that visible minorities consider the unique challenges of passing privilege when posting. Again, we are only asking that participants keep this in mind while commenting.


The Prompt

Today we’re talking about colorism, a particularly fraught and difficult topic for many people of color to grapple with because oftentimes the call is coming from inside the house.

Colorism refers to the belief that those with lighter skin tones are superior to those of darker skin tones. Proximity to whiteness has often meant more power in one capacity or another, and colorism exists as a particularly overt symptom of this by rewarding those that physically appear closer to whiteness in their skin color. While colorism’s origins may come from systems of white supremacy and colonialism, the lived effect is that people of color ourselves often propagate this belief.

The effects of colorism are everywhere: from comments about “pretty for a dark skinned girl” to chastising children for getting darker in the sun, to the preference for lighter skinned actors–particularly women–on television and in film, to “paper bag tests” in black communities, to billion dollar skin bleaching industries, to lighter jail sentences, perceptions of higher intelligence, etc. Even among things as seemingly mundane as dating, being “colorstruck” is a real and common phenomenon that suggests darker skinned people are inherently less desirable and less attractive.

What are your experiences with colorism in your own community and the larger world?