Colourism, or colorism, sometimes called shadism, is where light-skinned people are seen as more beautiful or just plain better than dark-skinned ones of the same race. You see it among blacks in America, the Caribbean, Britain, Brazil and probably elsewhere. You also see it in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh where it probably goes back at least 3000 years.
This post is about the American sort.
In America anyone who looks at least part black African is considered to be “black” - the One Drop Rule. To whites the big thing is whether or not you are are white. While they may favour light-skinned blacks over dark-skinned ones, they still see both as black and all that goes with that. “Black is black”.
Blacks, on the other hand, make a much bigger deal about the different shades, even within families.
Some dark-skinned blacks think the light-skinned ones have an easier life and hate them for it – and yet wish they were more like them!
Some of the light-skinned ones, on the other hand, feel their blackness is doubted and questioned, even though they experience racism too – though, yes, some are glad they are not so dark and may even look down on those who are!
All this is an effect of white thinking on black people: white is good, black is bad and therefore light skin is better than dark skin. It is a part of black-on-black racism.
On one level everyone knows light-skinned people are no better than dark-skinned people. But at another level people believe what they have been told since they were children in a thousand ways: that light skin is better.
And, yes, in some ways light skin is better:
- Studies show that light-skinned blacks have more education and make more money. Some say this goes all the way back to slave days when light-skinned blacks worked as house slaves - because they were often the master’s children – while dark-skinned ones were field slaves.
- Many black men prefer women with light skin and “good hair” over dark skin and natural hair, despite their lip service to black beauty. Thus the phrase, “You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl.” Light-skinned women are more likely to get married. They also find themselves hated by dark-skinned women.
There has always been black men who truly love natural black beauty, all of it, over white beauty, even before the 1960s and the whole “Black is beautiful” thing. But, both then and now, they seem to be outnumbered by black men who prefer whiter-looking women.
But keep in mind that colourism can work both ways: sometimes light-skinned blacks are picked on growing up, being told that they are not “black enough”.
But in practice it is not so simple. What is dark in Louisiana, for example, can be considered light in Georgia.
- All blacks are racist
- internalized racism
- One Drop Rule
- Race in America
- Race in Brazil
- acceptable blackness