Colorism found within racial groups

by Associate Life Editor Monday Sanderson

“If you’re white, you’re alright. If you’re brown, stick around. If you’re yellow, you’re mellow. But if you’re black, get back.”

An anonymous writer wrote this children’s chant during the Jim Crow time period. This poem reflects the thoughts of the time, but they are not correct. While the chant is about racism, it also describes colorism.

“Colorism, unlike racism, deals with the color of your skin,” said Director of the Office of Diversity and Institutional Equity Joan Williams. “It’s discrimination based on your skin tone.”

She said people within a racial group usually participate in colorism.

Everyone can see colorism in mainstream media, said junior Mikesha Evans.

“Singers, actresses and everyone else are normally lighter skinned,” she said. “There are those who have darker skin, but they’re not put in the spotlight as much.”

The term is new but the concept is familiar, said freshman Kyle Brown.

“I have heard about this in the business world,” he said. “I feel like most of the people who own businesses (have lighter skin) rather than (darker skin).”

He said it is not fair for others to think people with lighter skin are better than those with darker skin.

It is a concept others see across the world, said Assistant Professor of History Ansley Quiros.

“I know in India darker skinned Indians are sometimes treated worse than lighter skinned Indians,” she said. “There’s a glorification of a certain type of look.”

Brown said Americans saw the beginning of colorism with slavery.

“If you think about slavery, slaves who were of lighter tones were treated differently,” Williams said. “They received preferential treatment. Oftentimes, they were given jobs inside the homes. The darker colored slaves had to do harder work outside.”

Quiros said colorism affects women more than men.

“Men are held to different standards,” she said. “(Women) are immediately judged on their looks.”

Evans said the documentary “Dark Girls,” which students can find on YouTube, portrays how colorism influences females.

“Some girls (bleached their skin), and some were criticized by their family members,” she said. “They started asking personal questions, such as, ‘What if I never get married because of my skin color?’”

Quiros said it shows a different perspective to a prevalent issue.

“The ‘Dark Girls’ documentary was very heartbreaking,” she said. “To hear from women and how they longed to look different made me feel sad. They feel judged immediately because of the way they look.”

Williams said while colorism is prominent, people do not discuss it much.

“It’s a more personal issue than racism,” she said. “Racism is systemic in nature. Colorism is the root of low self-esteem. I think it is uncomfortable for people to talk about.”

She said because of this issue she is unable to tell if students or faculty practice colorism.

Evans said people participate in it on campus when they create misconceptions at first glance. She said people with darker skin are considered ghetto and those with lighter skin are not.

Quiros said there are steps people can take to end colorism.

“We need to see more dark skinned women in advertisement and movies and not just movies about slavery,” she said. “They need to be held up as beautiful in our culture because little kids absorb this at an alarming rate.”

Williams said while students can take these steps, colorism will not go away completely.

“Anything that has been perpetuated for centuries doesn’t disappear right away,” she said. “Whether we are conscious of it or not, there are certainly remnants of it floating around.”