Living In a world where skin defines you

 Have you ever experienced colorism? If not, have you ever heard someone use colorist jokes or phrases? If you’re not sure, here’s another question for you. Have you ever heard someone say where did a person, with a darker complexion, go when the lights were turned off? This is an example of colorism used in the form of a “joke”. Colorism is showing discrimination towards one with a darker skin tone. Colorism can affect someone’s self-esteem and personality. Colorism is not something new, it has been alive and used for many years in different shapes and forms.

Colorism angers me because no one should be judged by their skin. Your skin shade should not decide how intelligent, how kind, and how beautiful you are. Everyone should be treated the same and everyone should be judged by their personalities, not their physical features. 

Colorism is so old that it was even used in American Slavery times and even years before that. African-American slaves with lighter skin would usually work in their master’s house, doing domestic tasks. Light skin slaves had better housing, food, and clothes. Their bright skin made white people feel more comfortable with them because the slaves’ skin was somewhat similar to their own. But, slaves with darker skin worked in fields, ate food that was sometimes not even safe for an animal to eat, and wore sometimes no clothes. I find this ridiculous. It’s so surprising that a black slave with a bit European features still was seen less than white people, but their features gave them more opportunities than slaves with darker skin. Being a slave is not good at all, but there were some advantages of working in the house vs outside. 

During the 20th century, something called Jim Crow was occurring. Jim Crow was Southern laws, enforcing racial segregation between African-Americans and White people. Jim Crow laws started at the end of the Reconstruction Era 1877 to 1965 (The 1950s-1960s were the civil rights era). Jim Crow was “supposed” to be separate but equal, but in reality, it was just open discrimination against African-Americans. Riots, police brutality, unfair treatment, bombings, fewer job opportunities for African Americans and so much more were allowed due to Jim Crow. 

African-Americans in the 20th Century weren’t just facing colorism and racism from their White peers but also people in their community. In All-Black schools, girls with lighter skin and long “white alike” hair were usually chosen as Prom Queen and head of clubs/sports like Cheerleading. Boys during this time, usually dated girls who match this description. And the roles are reserved. Girls and Boys with darker skin tone and “kinky” hair were usually bullied by their peers and were never the head of sports and clubs. African-Americans during the Civil Rights Era were all going through a hard time, no matter their skin color, hair type, etc. But still, light skin people had more admiration and opportunities than people with darker skin.

During slavery times something called the Brown Paper test was introduced. If a slave’s skin was darker than a brown paper bag, then that would indicate that they would be a field slave. If a slave’s skin was lighter than the bag, that would indicate that they would be a house slave. In the 20th century, the brown paper bag test was also used in Black fraternities, churches, and sororities. This would decide if a person would be allowed to represent the group and/or pledge. An example of a sorority that used this method is the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. This is extremely disappointing. This is another example of someone being on the same side as you but still getting more advantages because of their skin complexion. Not even being allowed to pledge in your black sorority/fraternity just because your skin was “too dark” says a lot about the way we viewed each other and how we used stereotypes against us, in our community.

Still In the 21st-century colorism exists. Whether it’s on social media, in school, or at the workplace. Black women with lighter skin usually get a job before a Black woman with darker skin, even if the woman with the darker skin had more experience in the career or higher education. 

A way we could stop colorism is by teaching children earlier on to respect everyone. Children can still experience colorism by their peers and by insensitive adults. We have to teach children to always respect one another thoroughly, instead of repeating it over and over again to them. We have to show them why it’s important. The minds of children are pure, so actually advocating for them to treat everyone the same could help lessen colorism. Another way we could stop colorism is to speak out about it. Educate others about the insensitivity and history of colorism, because some don’t know how serious the topic is. Many make jokes about colorism. Lastly, colorism could also affect our mental state and the way we view ourselves. I recommend speaking out on the colorism you faced and trying to see the beauty in yourself. Talk to someone about your experience with colorism and always take time out of your day to try to appreciate your beauty. Examples of appreciating your beauty are writing positive notes to yourself, standing in a mirror analyzing the beauty of your skin, and watching inspiring interviews, documentaries, or shows that express the beauty of your skin. 

Aurora Smith

De La Salle Institute – DMSF Class of 2026

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