Colorism: Bias within the Black Community

Colorism: Bias within the Black Community

Even before rapper, Kodak Black admitted that he didn't like his own skin complexion or dating dark skinned women (more on this later), we have been facing the long-battled light skin vs dark skin nonsense.  It's sad that even in the age of Black Lives Matter and promoting racial justice, we still face the issue of Colorism within our own community.

What is Colorism?

Colorism is defined as a prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.  Usually individuals with a lighter complexion will receive preferential treatment in contrast to their counterparts that are deeper shades of brown. 

A Long History

This notion of Colorism was ingrained in descendants of Africa many moons ago.  We can look at history to see how this discrimination evolved into what we see being perpetuated in today's society. 

This great nation built its early wealth through the use of a Slave Economy.  Free labor made it easy for colonists to grow and harvest crops such as Tobacco, in order to get supplies and money from it's parent country, Britain.  Soon, there would be a distinction made between slaves. These individuals were given various tasks based on the color of their skin: Lighter slaves would perform domestic work in the house, while darker slaves would often work outside in the fields.

A perfect example of how Colorism came to be can be found in the myth/legend of Willie Lynch and his alleged letter/speech. The speech supposedly tells white slave owners how to control slaves in the colonies.  Within the speech, Willie talks of "pitching" the young against the old and vice versa.  He also mentions "pitching" the light slaves against the dark slaves. Lynch goes on to state that the slaves must love and depend on only the white master.  Although this letter/speech was was deemed to be a fabrication, we know that some Slave Masters carried similar sentiments. If you would like to read the full text of Willie Lynch's purported letter click HERE.

The Rhodes Colossus

Striding from Cape Town to Cairo

Punch, 10 December 1892

During the Age of Imperialism, European nations dominated African countries and proceeded to change their entire way of life. The Belgians, for example, pitted the lighter Tutsis against the darker Hutus in Rwanda.  They favored the Tutsi because they viewed them as more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. 

Looking at the three examples above, one could see how this ideology of colorism has created a great divide in the African American Community.  We have been trained to classify someone's beauty, femininity/masculinity, and worth on the pure basis of skin complexion.  

Colorism Today

You don't have to venture very far to see colorism in action, today. Turn on the radio, and you will hear from the likes of A$AP Rocky, Lil Wayne, and even Childish Gambino rapping their praises of light skinned women. These rappers subliminally send messages to young ladies and men, that in order to be considered attractive, their skin needs to be light. 

Kodak Black went as far as to say that dark skinned women were to "gutta" and too tough.  He liked the fact that light skinned women were more sensitive.  

Go into any black barbershop or secondary classroom and you may hear the infamous phrase, "She's cute for a dark girl."  It's almost as if these men are putting an asterisk on the beauty of women with a darker shade. Why does the shade of brown determine how beautiful someone is? 

I can recall a time in high school, when a male classmate was talking with my boyfriend (at the time) about a girl he was interested in.  He made comments about her being sexy and then exclaimed, "...AND SHE'S LIGHT SKINNED TOO!"  He said it as if she earned bonus points for being lighter.   

There is absolutely nothing wrong with having a preference. However, when society overwhelming jams that preference down the throats of every African American, it can easily influence our self image in a negative manner.  The negativity can brew into either a hatred for self or hatred for those that are receiving preferential treatment. 

How is it that in a society where African Americans face the harsh reality of police brutality, unfair hiring practices, and discrimination from those in power, we can still be hating our own.  We claim to be united but then we make comments, crack jokes, and dish insults based on how much melanin someone's skin possesses. We say Black Lives Matter, but only when some blatant transgression against a black person has occurred by the opposite race. If we are going to say that Black Lives Matter, then it needs to matter all the time.  We should be finding ways to uplift all shades of brown; letting our children know that your shade is beautiful no matter how light or dark it may be.  

The three celebrities posted above are black in varying shades. Alicia Keys, Gabrielle Union, and Danai Guiria serve as proof that beauty can be found in all shades. Someone's complexion does not determine their beauty, intelligence, attitude, or characteristics as some misinformed people would have you to believe. 



  1. What are your thoughts on colorism? Have you experienced it?

  2. Awesome post! It would be interesting to discuss colorism in other places with large African populations like Brazil. You could also discuss how the beauty industry benefits from colorism, especially in the Caribbean and Africa ( i.e. Skin bleaching and tanning).

    1. Thanks, DeYeasa! I would love to touch on skin bleaching. Thanks for the idea!

  3. This is something even I struggle with! As an afro-latina, there are soo many times people treat me differntly because of my skin tone. I love the fact that you touch this subject! Definitely going to share!

    1. It's a shame that people face these type of issues even in a "modern" society.

  4. Yes, all so true. I think it's interesting too to note how darker skin is being celebrated more, particularly on the internet, but the individual has to be of a particular height, body frame, and level of attractiveness. Almost like in order to still be accepted, you have to be drop dead gorgeous.

  5. It's sad how Black beauty if often the source of ridicule and attack. I know personally my husband has been asked by other men, "how light I am?" when he mentions his wife is Black. As if my he's a luckier man the lighter I am. I'll be happy when as a community we can learn to praise, love, and appreciate every form of Blackness. Good read.

    Leslie / @hautemommie /

    1. Wow!!! That is absolutely ridiculous. All shades of black are beautiful.

  6. Omg!!! This was great to read. So well written.