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Thu, 04.26.1500

Colorism In Global Society, a story

*Colorism is written about on this date in c 1500. Colorism is discrimination based on skin color, also known as shadeism. 

It is prejudice and/or discrimination against people of similar ethnicity or race. It is not the same as racism. It results in people being treated differently based on the social implications that come with the cultural meanings that are attached to skin color.

Racism is understood to be discrimination committed against people of different ethnicity. On the other hand, colorism highlights biases that proliferate between persons who are members of different ethnic groups and between persons who are members of the same ethnic group. It is believed that someone with a lighter complexion is considered more beautiful or valuable than someone with dark skin.

Research has found extensive evidence of discrimination based on skin color in criminal justice, business, the economy, housing, health care, media, and politics in the United States and Europe. Lighter skin tones are considered preferable in many countries in Africa, Asia, and South America. The World Health Organization (WHO) warns that mercury salts, which inhibit the production of melanin, the chemical hydroquinone, their inclusion in many skin-lightening products, and frequent manufacturer and supplier evasion of regulations surrounding these harmful ingredients, make the use of such products an acute public health risk. Clobetasol propionate is another ingredient of concern.   

United States of America History

European orchestration of the Middle Passage, followed by their late 19th-century colonization of Africa, created a system of racial hierarchy and a race-based ideology. This led to a structure of domination that privileged whites over blacks. Biological differences in skin color were used to justify the enslavement and oppression of Africans and Native Americans, leading to the development of a social hierarchy that placed whites at the top and blacks at the bottom. Slaves with lighter complexion were allowed to engage in less strenuous tasks, like domestic duties, while darker-skinned slaves participated in hard labor, which was more than likely done outdoors.

Blacks with a partial white heritage were seen to be smarter and superior to dark-skinned blacks. As a result, they were given broader opportunities for education and the acquisition of land and property. Colorism was a device used by the white colonists to create a division between the Africans and further the idea that being as close to white as possible was the ideal image. One of the first forms of colorism was the white slave owners deciding that only the light-skinned slaves would work in the house while the darker ones were subjected to the harsh conditions of the fields. This led to a clear division between the slaves.

There were tests to determine who was light enough to work in the house and sometimes get special privileges. One of these tests was the brown paper bag test. If people's skins were darker than a brown paper bag, they were deemed too dark to work in the house. The skin tests were not just used by white people who tried to differentiate between Black people; Black people also used them. In addition to the bag test, the comb and the door tests were also used. The comb test measured the kinkiness of a person's hair. The objective was for the comb to pass through the hair without stopping. The door test was popular in some African American clubs and churches. The people in charge of those clubs and churches would paint their doors a certain shade of brown, similar to the bag test, and if people were darker than the doors, they were not admitted into the establishments.

These tests were used to measure what level of "blackness" was and was not acceptable worldwide. Because the lighter-skinned slaves were allowed to work in the house, they were more likely to be educated than the darker slaves were. Many Black educators have researched the issue of colorism, Kenneth Clarks Doll Study being one of the most relevant. This birthed the stereotype that dark people were stupid and ignorant. Scholars predict that in the future, the preferred color of beauty will not be black or white but mixed. Scholars also predict that the United States will adopt a "multicultural matrix" to help bridge the racial gap in efforts to achieve racial harmony, termed by some a coming "Browning of America."

The matrix has four components; the mixed race will help fix racial issues, it serves as a sign of racial progress, it suggests that racism is a phenomenon. It also suggests that the focus on race is racist due to the lack of racial neutrality. At the same time, some Americans view this "browning" as a racist conspiracy theory of demographic replacement, which has led to anxiety among the American white people believing that their identity and culture are under attack and will be displaced without changes to the US immigration system. 

Eric Peter Kaufmann explored these views among American whites and internationally in the 2018 book Whiteshift: Populism, Immigration and the Future of White Majorities. A parallel but opposite critique of this theory is made by Black scholars, who state that the problem is not racial neutrality but the negative way some races are unfairly perceived. As such, racial "browning" would be another way to erase dark skin without correcting how it is perceived. From this point of view, racial harmonization is not a valid response to racism. In his 2008 book The Browning of America and the Evasion of Social Justice, Ronald R. Sundstrom wrote, ...African American intellectual elites and public figures, as well as other liberals and progressives [perceive] the browning of America to be a threat to long-existing, or even traditional, claims of social justice by Native Americans and especially African Americans. Moreover, not only are their claims somehow threatened, but the very meaning of the legal principles, such as "civil rights," upon which their claims are based, is also experiencing transformation. For those who harbor such fears, the browning of America brings with it yet another opportunity for the nation to evade racial justice.


A 2014 study in the Journal of Economic Growth found that anti-black violence and terrorism, as well as segregation laws, reduced economic activity and innovation. 

 Criminal Justice System.

A 2019 National Institute of Standards and Technology found that facial-recognition systems were substantially more likely to misidentify the faces of racial minorities. Some ethnic groups, such as Asian Americans and African Americans, were up to 100 times more likely to be misidentified than white men. 


A 2013 study used spectrophotometer readings to quantify the skin color of respondents. White women experience discrimination in education, with those having darker skin graduating from college at lower rates than those with lighter skin. This precise and repeatable test of skin color revealed that white women experience skin color discrimination in education at levels consistent with African Americans. White men are not affected in this way. 


A 2019 review of the Annual Review of Public Health found that structural racism, cultural racism, and individual-level discrimination are "a fundamental cause of adverse health outcomes for racial/ethnic minorities and racial/ethnic inequities in health." 

Housing and Land

A 2014 meta-analysis found extensive evidence of racial discrimination in the American housing market. Minority applicants for housing needed to make many more inquiries to view properties. The geographical steering of African Americans in US housing remains significant.

Labor Market

Several meta-analyses find extensive evidence of ethnic and racial discrimination in hiring in the American labor market. A 2017 meta-analysis found "no change in the levels of discrimination against African Americans since 1989, although we do find some indication of declining discrimination against Latinos.


Colorism in movies, print, and music can take several forms. It can be the representation of people of color in an ill light, the hiring of actors based on their skin color, the use of colors in costumes to differentiate good and evil characters, or simply failing to represent people of color. 

A 2017 report by Travis L. Dixon (of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) found that major media outlets tended to portray Black families as dysfunctional and dependent while white families were portrayed as stable.


A 2011 study found that white state legislators of both political parties were less likely to respond to constituents with African American names. A 2013 study found that in response to e-mail correspondence from a putatively black alias, "nonblack legislators were markedly less likely to respond when their political incentives were diminished. Black legislators typically continued to respond even when doing so promised little political reward. Black legislators thus appear more intrinsically motivated to advance blacks' interests." 

Some research suggests that white voters' voting behavior is motivated by racial threats. A 2016 study, for instance, found that white Chicago voters' turnout decreased when public housing was reconstructed, and 25,000 Blacks were displaced. This suggests that white voters' turnout decreased due to not living close to Blacks. 


Studies have shown that many people associate beauty with lighter skin due to societal influences. This is especially evident in children. This belief has led dark-skinned children to feel inadequate in who they are and inferior compared to lighter-skinned people. Black women believe they would have better luck dating if they were of lighter skin, especially when dating Black men. 


A 2018 study found evidence that non-black voters in Heisman Trophy voting were biased against non-black players. A 2021 study found that Black NBA players were 30% more likely to exit the league in any given season than white players with similar player statistics. A 2019 study found that after controlling for objective measures of performance, broadcast commentators were "more likely to discuss the performance and mental abilities of lighter-skinned players and the physical characteristics of darker-skinned players" in the Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.

A 2020 report found that football commentators were likelier to praise white players for their intelligence and leadership qualities while criticizing Black players for lacking those attributes. Black players were four times more likely to be praised for their strength and seven times more likely for their speed. A 2017 study found that racially resentful whites become less likely to favor salaries for college athletes when they are primed to think about African Americans. Several meta-analyses find extensive evidence of ethnic and racial discrimination in hiring in the North American and European labor markets.

In 2013, a young Black girl in New York produced a revealing video, “A Girl Like Me,” to support the reality of colorism in the 21st century.  A 2016 meta-analysis of 738 correspondence tests in 43 separate studies conducted in OECD countries between 1990 and 2015 finds extensive racial discrimination used within the European and North American hiring process. Equivalent minority candidates need to send around 50% more applications than majority candidates to be invited for an interview. Recent research in the U.S. shows that socioeconomic and health inequality among African Americans along the color continuum is often similar or even larger in magnitude than what exists between whites and African Americans.


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