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Updated: Feb 1

What is Colorism?

Colorism is the discrimination or prejudice against people of color that typically occurs amongst people of the same racial or ethnic group.

Colorism, also known as shadeism, causes members of the same race to be treated differently due to social implications and cultural meanings attached to darker skin tones.

Colorism vs. Racism

Colorism pertains to prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory acts against people based on their skin tone.

Racism relates to prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory actions against people based on their perceived or actual race.

People of the same race can have different skin tones, while people of other races could have the same skin tone.

In the case of colorism, two people of the same race but utterly different skin tones are treated differently. With racism, two people of varying races but identical skin color are treated differently.

Harmful Effects

Countless research has shown that across ethnic and racial groups, light-skinned people of color have an advantage over darker-skinned people of color.

Even when including background variables such as socioeconomic status and parental dynamics, colorism is primarily related to institutional racism across the USA and could not exist without it.

Colorism negatively impacts one’s self-esteem, beauty standards, and relationships. Usually, when faced with racism, people of color can turn to their communities for support, but that is not necessarily the case with colorism. People subjected to colorism may experience self-hatred related to the negative attention they receive for having a darker skin tone.

Who is Impacted?

Colorism does not just affect the Black community but exists and is an issue within all communities of color.

When colorism is discussed, it is often referred to as being an issue only within the black community; however, colorism does affect all people of color. Colorism is not something that white people experience themselves, but it is something that white people utilize to discriminate against people of color.

In mainstream media, colorism is rarely discussed. However, when colorism is mentioned, it is often in terms of “black-on-black” discrimination. This is not the only case of colorism. White people discriminate against people of color based on their skin tone, even if someone is not outright saying it. For example, the lack of diverse representation in the entertainment industry and adequate makeup palette shades are both examples of colorism in action.

Combating Colorism

Colorism, similar to racism, can be combated with the conscious recognition of biases that we may have towards lighter skin tones. In the case of colorism, we must not judge people of color based on their skin tone’s lightness.

An image displaying four beautiful women and their different skin tones. The image represents that regardless of skin tone, people of any race are equally stunning. (Image Source: “Dark Girls” Documentary)

Combatting colorism may seem simple, but it is not. Of course, we should all accept people of any race regardless of their skin tone. It seems evident that people should not be judged on their race or skin tone but on their character’s content. However, colorism is already integrated within multiple societies all over the world.

An advertisement displaying an Indian woman using and promoting skin-lightening products. (Image Source: Neutrogena)


For example, within Bollywood in India, it is common to use skin-lightening products to acquire the generally more "desired" skin tone. These skin-lightening products make up a multi-billion dollar industry within India. To combat colorism, we need to celebrate all races, regardless of skin tone, and stop supporting companies that sell pro-colorism products.


We must not elevate people because they have a lighter skin tone. It is important to remember that white people, or people of color with lighter skin tones, can still have negative characters. Judging people based on the color of their skin creates a detriment to people of color as a whole.



colorism. (n.d.). The Merriam-Webster.Com Dictionary.

Grant, C. S. G. (2020, November 21). What Is Colorism? Verywell Mind.

Webb, S. L. (2020, February 29). Colorism vs. Racism: What’s the Difference? Colorism Healing.

Webb, S. L. (2013, September 13). Colorism - NCCJ. ColorismHealing.

Hunter, M. H. (n.d.). The consequences of colorism. APA PsycNet.

Nittle, N. K. N. (2021, March 21). The Harmful Effects of Colorism. ThoughtCo.

Thelwell, K. (2020, October 2). Poverty and Colorism in India. The Borgen Project.

Hannon, L. (2015). White Colorism. Social Currents, 2(1), 13–21.


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