Since the beginning of time, skin color has continued to serve as the most obvious determinant in how a person will be judged and treated. Because this country was built on the principles of racism, it is a known concept that light skin is favored over dark skin. This privilege of lighter skinned persons over dark-skinned persons is called colorism.
Colorism is not something that only impacts Black Americans of the United States however, colorism is felt around the world including Latin America, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and Africa. During our country’s period of enslaving people, those with lighter skin or more European features were given more favorable treatment. This strategy was intended to pit darker skinned people against lighter skinned people.
Although it would be wonderful to live in a world where skin color didn’t matter, this “colorblindness” suggests that in our society, race does not matter when it very much does.
And, like racism, colorism is also engrained into the fabric of America.
Therefore, in order to correct the past damage of our forefathers, we have to acknowledge our history and embrace our responsibility to see color better than those who lived before us.
That said, the conversation surrounding our societal preference of lighter skinned women is one that should begin in our homes. Families of every ethnicity and nationality should begin to celebrate the spectrum of human skin color instead of praising one over the other. It is in doing so that we can become a more inclusive society, equalizing the path to success for all women, regardless of the color of our skin.
Existing research suggests that the darker the skin tone of a woman, the more likely they are to report suffering from discrimination and prejudice in their daily lives. In terms of access to mental health resources, lighter-skinned women have better outcomes than those of darker-skinned women.
And as a result of this ill-minded favoritism, one’s health, opportunity for success, housing, wealth, education and mental health is very well determined by the color of their skin.
Colorism also plays a large role in the presence of low self-esteem of darker-skinned African American women. These ideas of wanting to be accepted or “beautiful” are relatable, however there shouldn’t be standards held to which skin tone is more beautiful.
Many light-skinned African American women like myself, are constantly having our race or ethnicity questioned.
“What are you?”
Although the question might not result in any form of actual oppression, it does result in a psychological burden. Because of this, many light-skinned women have felt the need to prove their blackness to both Black and non-Black people. Considering how significant racial-identity is to our society, feeling like you can’t identify with a group presents a variety of mental health problems.
“You’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl”
This statement might seem like a compliment however it is actually both insulting and belittling. In exposing the multiple stigmas surrounding colorism, we can work to spark a conversation and enlighten those around us on how this racial favoritism affects our mental health.
Teaching the little girls and boys of our community to embrace their genetic makeup and to accept themselves without altering their features, can have a profound impact on the generations to come.
We must work together to create a society that teaches us to value our own skin color whether we are light or dark.
I encourage our readers to “love the skin that you’re in”, to love every bit of yourself. Being confident and knowing your worth is something we have to apply to both ourselves as well as those around us. Women are the strongest people on earth, and taking the time to support other strong women regardless of how light or dark she is, can work wonders on someone’s self-esteem.
Learning to embrace all parts of ourselves is a constant and ever-growing process, but loving yourself is the first step in being happy and being able to acknowledge your full potential.
I hope to encourage our readers to stand with those who want a better future for the next generation, a future where we embrace all shades of skin color and wear it proudly.
— Rachael Bailey, She/Her