African American Women and “Colorism”




Ideally, the term “colorism” is based on the belief that one type of skin color is more superior to another (Hersch, 2002). In many cases, the white skin is believed to be superior to the black skin. However, there are different definitions of colorism, as various scholars define the concept differently. According to Bonnie Berry, colorism refers to the biased treatment of a person based on the color of their skin, and it can occur both interracially and interracially.  Berry added that colorism could also be associated with other race features like the shape of the nose and lips, including hair texture. Gerald Jaynes also came up with a different definition (Hunter, 2007). She defined colorism as a broad term that includes stereotypes, sets of attitudes, and practices. Despite the different definition of the concept, many people associate colorism with biased treatment based on the skin color of a person. In societies with different races, colorism mainly targets black persons.

Colorism is a historical problem in the America, and it can be traced the back to the slavery era. During slavery era in the US, African American slaves with lighter colors were accorded preferential treatment in comparison to African-American slaves who had darks skins (Hersch, 2002). For instance, the lighter skin slaves were given the opportunity to work in houses while dark skin slaves were subjected to hard labor in the plantation fields. As a result, colorism has been manifesting in the American society in the form of societal constructs. To such extent, it has significantly affected the way African-Americans perceive themselves and how they develop their identity. At the same time, colorism substantially influences the way African-Americans interact with other people, particular individuals with lighter skin color. Moreover, colorism has not ended in America since it started many years ago due to internalized racism and the impact of dominant culture on how black people perceive themselves. Therefore, colorism is a reality in American society.

Colorism does affect not only female African American but also black male living in America. However, findings show that African American women are affected more by colorism than their male counterparts. Arguably, the psychological impact of colorism in African American woman is much higher than that of an African-American man (Hunter, 2007). Colorism causes a substantial effect on the self-esteem of African American women, especially those with dark skins. Consequently, many African American women have been found experiencing a high level of body dissatisfaction, mainly due to the stigmatization and discrimination associated with dark skin.

Colorism has affected how African American women perceive themselves, especially regarding attractiveness. According to studies carried out by Hunter in 2002, light skin women in America have higher chances of living a better life, earn higher incomes, and find spouses who belong to higher social status in the society (Hunter, 2007). As a result, colorism affects the social and economic life of African American women. Unfortunately, colorism plays a role in the selection of spouses in the US, and many African American men prefer African American women with lighter skins to those with darker skins, which can be used to explain dark African women have remained in poverty for many years. Besides, the fact that light skinned women are more likely to be married to men in the higher social class can be used to demonstrate why light skin women America dominate positions of power and authority compared to their dark skin counterparts. Besides, it is much easier for a light skin woman in the US got get employed in an established organization and occupied higher management position than dark skin African America. Hence, colorism negatively affects African American living in America.

Therefore, colorism is still rampant in American society, and it is significantly affecting lives of many black people. More importantly, because African-American women are more likely to be affected by colorism than their male counterparts, they are the hardest hit. Unlike men, women pay a lot of attention to physical beauty. Unfortunately, light skin women are perceived to be more beautiful in comparison to dark skin African American. Consequently, this leads to low self-esteem among African American women, and it can also lead to depression and other psychological problems. Colorism affects African American women than any other group in American society.


Contrary to how the American people pay attention to racism, colorism is a type of discrimination that has been ignored in the US, and no one is willing to talk about it openly. Even some people deny the fact that colorism exists in the American society. At the same time, even the people who are directly affected by colorism are not ready to open up and make their plights known despite the fact that they face such challenges. Importantly, colorism significantly shapes the social, economic and social life of African American people, as they do not have many opportunities as their light skin counterpart. Therefore, I am persuaded that it is important to talk about colorism and how it affects African American people.

Specifically, after previous studies revealed that colorism has more effect on African American women than any other group in American society, I felt that it is important to find in-depth information about colorism. To such extent, I felt like sharing it with the world to find a solution to the problems if possible. Indeed, it is my concern that the world needs to know the impact of colorism on African American women, because many scholars have ignored the topics. Additionally, it appears crucial for people to know how colorism is affecting millions of African American women in American society. Therefore, I think the topic is important because both scholars and the society as a whole have ignored the issue of colorism among African American women.



Historically, there was a perception that women with light skin tone were more attractive and intelligent that their dark skin tone counterparts. Consequently, African American women, especially those with dark skin could not feature in advertisements where beauty is highly required. The perception that dark skin African American women were less beautiful and intelligent than their white counterparts was also vividly portrayed in various films that were produced a few centuries ago. The same situation was seen even among the African American people themselves as they held their counterparts with lighter skin tone with high esteem. Even though colorism dates back to the slavery era, there has not been a significant change in how African American women are perceived in the current world, as they face the same challenges and treatments like their counterparts who lived many years ago.

Currently, the situation of African American women on colorism can best be explained using their representation in the media. Even though the number of African American women featuring in mainstream media and film has increased, the issue of colorism persists. The representation of African American women in the media still has elements of colorism. For instance, in the 50 “Most Beautiful Women” magazine that is always published by the People, only four African American women have appeared since 2005. At the same time, the four who appeared in the list were African American women who have the lighter skin tone, and they came from mix black/white heritage. Some of the African American women who managed to appear in the list included Alicia Keys and Halle Berry (Hersch, 2002). Consequently, from the evidence of the “50 Most Beautiful Women” list, it is possible to conclude that light skin tone is still perceived to be more attractive than dark skin.

Moreover, the number of African American women who appear in the international beauty and talent award is also limited. Dorothy Dandridge was the first African-American women to win the Oscar for the Best Actress Award on 1954. Besides, Halle Berry managed to with the Best Actress in 2001 (Hersch, 2002). However, one thing that is common between the two African American women is that they both have light skin tone and they originate from Eurocentric heritage. Therefore, it is worth concluding that the same way in which African Americans were viewed in 1954 has not changed up now. Observably, many movies still depict dark-skinned African American women as less desirable compared to their light skin counterparts. Light skin is still associated with beauty and intelligence despite the fact that African American women have proved they have the same qualities and abilities just like white women.

Additionally, the current situation of colorism among African American women can be seen in the emerging trend of eurogamy, which is a discriminatory marital pattern that is based on the skin color. Here, the skin color is used to decide the most suitable mates. The recent study conducted in the US revealed that the number of men who prefer dating light skin women have increased to 33% and those who would like to marry light skin women has surged to 38.3% (Hersch, 2002). The same trend is seen in the socio-economic sectors such as employment and income. In such economic sectors, African American women work in lower socioeconomic divisions and earn less salary and wages in comparison to other groups. Therefore, it is observed that the situation of African American women is yet to change even in the 21st century.

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Mass media and popular culture are the reasons why colorism is still prevalent among African American women and why it is working against them (Hunter, 2007). The mass media pays a lot of attention to white-skin women compared to dark skin people. At the same time, media portray black skin women to be inferiors compared to their dark skin counterparts. Consequently, people, including African American women, have been made to believe that a woman can only be beautiful if she has light skin. At the same time, mass media is glorifying and aggressively promoting light-skin products, especially beauty products like facial and body oils. According to studies, the action of the media has been reinforced by the structured discrimination of African American women, which make it hard to climb the social ladder in the society. Indeed, structural marginalization of African American women in critical sectors such as education and employment has been used to justify the position of black women in the US (Hunter, 2007). Consequently, African American women and the society have been socialized to glorify the white skin and despise dark skin.

Stratification of the society is also another major reason why colorism is still working against the African American women. Stratification has created a clear division between black and white people in any society of the world (Hunter, 2007). As a result, African American women find themselves socializing together and are not willing to freely mingle with white people. This behavior starts at early stages, and it is mainly manifested in the learning institutions. As a result, discrimination based on skin color starts emerging, and it becomes a norm in the society. Therefore, mass media, dominant cultures, structural marginalization, and stratifications are the main reasons why colorism still exists.


I interviewed three African American women to understand how they perceive the situation. All my interviewees were coming from Detroit, the city with the largest number of African Americans in the whole of US.  My first interviewee was Mary. According to Mary, many African American women are not proud of their skin colors, especially when they are interacting with people who have light skin tone. Unexpectedly, she agreed that she does not like her dark skin color mainly because other people look down on her. Mary contented that colorism is so common in the US that people no longer talk about it, as they have taken it as a norm in the society. Concerning the solution the problem, she explained that the solution starts with African American women themselves because they are the people who should be proud of their color.

Another interviewee was known as Patricia who had a slightly different opinion compared to Mary, as she was optimistic that colorism is slowly but gradually fading in American society. According to Patricia, the colour of skin is no longer an issue among Americans. Patricia gave the example of the election of Barrack Obama as the US president. Though she was relatively darker compared to Mary, Patricia has no problem with her skin color. She confirmed to me that she freely mingles with light skin people, though she sometimes expects discrimination due to skin color. Also, she blamed the media for colorism, and she argued that solution can only come when the mass media change the way it portrays black.

The last interviewee was Jenifer. Like Mary, Jennifer told me that she has a problem with her skin because of the way she has been treated in some of the social places. At the same time, she recalled how she could not get a job because of her skin color. Therefore, according to her, colorism is still rampant in American society. Notably, Jenifer said that solution could only be found when the government came up with the right policies and laws that discourage colorism.


Best Practices

The US society is mainly using the anti-discrimination laws to stop colorism against the African American women (Hernandez, 2015). Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the primary law that is applied in the US to ensure that African Americans are not discriminated based on the color of her skin. Specifically, the law prohibits discrimination in employment based on the color of the skin of the applicant or an employee. It is one of the laws that have been used to ensure that African American women get the same employment opportunities just like their white counterparts. Besides, the Civil Right Law open equal opportunity to African Americans in other sectors such as education, businesses, government assistance, and freedom of worship. Additionally, Equal Employment Opportunity law ensure that no African American is discriminate in the workplace because of his/her skin color.

The US government also formulated the Equal Credit Opportunity Act to make sure that African American women can accesses financial service, including credits without any form of discrimination. Equally, Voting Right Act of 1965 gives African American women the same opportunity as their white counterparts to free exercise their voting rights. Additionally, there exists Fair Housing Act that outlaws the discrimination of African American women in housing sector because of her color. Therefore, studies show that the US has come up with adequate laws to reduce colorism targeting African American women.

However, it is observed that the rules have not been implemented to the letter. Many African American women are still subjected to colorism. Such views are supported by the fact that the level of colorism in the US is still relatively high (Hernandez, 2015). Besides, the government has done little to stop the mass media from encouraging colorism through their programs. Arguably, no particular law exist in the US that regulates aspects of colorism that is now rampant in both mainstream and mass media. Currently, the US government cannot do anything to ensure that colorism does not prevail in the marriage institution. Therefore, it is worth arguing that the available laws have done little to solve colorism, leaving African American women helpless.

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Proposed Strategies

Some strategies exist that can be used to address colorism that is now affecting a significant number of African American women in American society. Firstly, the most viable and sustainable strategy is to change the perception of African American women about the issue surrounding the skin color. They should be made aware that skin color plays a minimal role in determining the beauty and intelligence of a person. At the same time, African American women should be empowered to elevate their social status in the society that makes them feel inferior. By changing the perception and empowering African American women, they will be able to develop high self-esteem that will enable them to cope with the color of their skin.

Secondly, mass media should be transformed to be racially sensitive. It is tough to change the perception of African American women without transforming the media. Specifically, mass media should be stopped from airing or publishing information that can enhance colorism in the society. Instead, it should be directed to air programs that make people believe that the color of the skin does not define the beauty of a person. The same should be done to beauty and talent organization such as Oscar Foundation. Such organization should ensure that beauty is not only restricted to the color of the skin.

Thirdly, the government should come up with practical measures to implement the anti-discrimination laws that already exist in the country. All the relevant agencies that enforce the anti-discrimination laws should make sure that any person found practicing colorism is severely punished. The same agencies should also ensure that they create a high level of awareness among people to reduce colorism. Besides, both state and federal governments should sufficiently fund the agencies to enhance their effectiveness in the execution of anti-discrimination laws and policies.

Additionally, the government in collaboration with the communities and other institutions should come up with anti-colorism programs. The programs should be aimed at mentoring young people to become anti-colorism citizens, and this can best be done in the learning institutions. Besides, there is need to come up with cross-colour programs that are specifically aimed at creating awareness about the negative impacts of colorism on the target group. Such programs can lead to sustainable solutions to the problem.

Three Strategic Steps

The first strategic step I will take is to come up with specific policies that will ensure the mass media does not encourage colorism. Through such policies, the Mass media will be under strict obligation to provide equal representation of both black and white women in their programs. Any media organization that propagates any form of colorism in their programs will be deregistered and its operation terminated. At the same time, the advertisement of fair beauty products will not be allowed to glorify light skin color as opposed to dark color in any media. Therefore, it will be the responsibility of mass media to ensure that marketers come up with colour-sensitive adverts. Besides, mass media will not be allowed to air films that propagate colorism. In other words, mass media can strategically be used to reduce colorism.

Secondly, cross-colour programs will be initiated to reduce the perception that one skin color is superior to another.  Importantly, I will come up with beauty contest between black and white women across the country. However, the beauty contest will not be based on the skin but the intelligence and special skills of the participants. Moreover, many African American women will be encouraged to participate in the contest. Winners of the contests will be evaluated based on the merit, and the proportion of African American and white women will almost be equal. However, to reach a wide audience, winners will be announced in all popular mass media in the country.

The final strategic step will be the strict implementation of the existing laws in all sectors. Laws plays an important role in regulating the behavior of the public, making them abide by the rules and code of conduct. Specifically, I will encourage the use of modern technologies such as digital camera, voice, and video recorders as well as cell phones to implement the anti-discrimination law. Any person who will be recorded practicing colorism against African American people will be prosecuted.

Did you like this sample?
  1. Hernandez, T. K. (2015). Colorism and the Law in Latin America-Global Perspectives on Colorism Conference Remarks. Wash. U. Global Stud. L. Rev., 14, 683.
  2. Hersch, J. (2002). Racism in the 21st Century: An Empirical Analysis of Skin Color. Library of Congress.
  3. Hunter, M. (2007). The persistent problem of colorism: Skin tone, status, and inequality. Sociology Compass, 1(1), 237-254.
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