Exploring Colorism and Skin Color Issues

Exploring Colorism and Skin Color Issues

As long as racism is a problem in society, colorism will likely continue to be. Discrimination based on skin color remains a problem worldwide, with victims turning to bleaching cream and other “remedies” to buffer themselves against this form of bias that often pits people of the same racial group against one another. Increase your awareness of colorism by learning about the practice and its historical roots, the celebrities who've experienced it and how changing beauty standards may counter such discrimination.

What Is Colorism?

Image of a makeup palette to demonstrate the form of discrimination known as colorism. Jessica S./

Colorism is discrimination or bias based on skin color. Colorism has roots in racism and classism and is a well-documented problem in the black, Asian and Hispanic community. People who partake in colorism typically value people with lighter skin more than their darker-skinned counterparts. They're likely to view lighter-skinned people as more attractive, intelligent and generally more worthy of attention and praise than darker-skinned people. In essence, having lighter skin or being associated with light-skinned people is a status symbol. Members of the same racial group may participate in colorism, giving preferential treatment to the lighter-skinned members of their ethnic group. Outsiders may also participate in colorism, such as a white person who favors lighter-skinned blacks over their darker-skinned peers.

Celebrities on Colorism and Self-Esteem

Gabrielle Union.

Actresses such as Gabrielle Union and Lupita Nyong'o may be praised for their looks, but these entertainers and more admit to struggling with their self-esteem because of their skin color. Nyong'o said that as a youth she prayed to God to lighten her skin, a prayer that went unanswered. The Oscar winner said that when model Alek Wek became famous, she began to realize that someone with her skin tone and appearance could be considered beautiful. Gabrielle Union, who grew up one of few blacks in a white town, said she developed insecurities as a youth because of her skin color and facial features. She said that when she loses a role to another actress, she still questions whether her skin color played a part. Actress Tika Sumpter, on the other hand, said that her family loved and valued her early on, so having dark skin never felt like an obstacle to her.

People Names Lupita Nyong'o Most Beautiful

Actress Lupita Nyong'o named People's "Most Beatiful Woman.". People magazine

In a groundbreaking move, People magazine announced in April 2014 that it had chosen Kenyan actress Lupita Nyong'o to grace the cover of its “Most Beautiful” issue. While many media outlets and blogger applauded the move, noting how significant it was for a mainstream magazine to choose a dark-skinned African woman with cropped hair for its cover, commenters online suggested that People chose Nyong'o to be “politically correct.” A rep for People said that Nyong'o was the best choice because of her talent, humility, grace and beauty. Only two other black women, Beyonce and Halle Berry, have been named as “Most Beautiful” by People.

Stars Accused of Trying to Look White

Julie Chen. David Shankbone/

Due to increasing awareness about colorism and internalized racism, the public has often expressed concern that some celebrities appear to not only have bought into Eurocentric beauty standards but have also tried to morph themselves into white people. With his various cosmetic procedures and skin tone that grew increasingly lighter over the years, Michael Jackson consistently faced accusations that he was trying to make himself look “whiter.” Jackson denied having as many cosmetic procedures as reports claimed and said that the skin condition vitiligo resulted in him losing pigmentation in his skin. After his death, medical reports substantiated Jackson's vitiligo claims. In addition to Jackson, celebrities such as Julie Chen faced accusations of trying to look white when she admitted in 2013 to having double eyelid surgery to advance her journalism career. Baseball player Sammy Sosa faced similar accusations when he stepped out with a complexion several shades lighter than he normally has. Due in part to her love of long blonde wigs, the singer Beyonce has also been accused of trying to look white.

Wrapping Up

As public awareness about colorism grows and people in high-profile positions speak out about it, perhaps this form of bias will lessen in years to come.