Colorism in The Black Community: The View from a Black Girl’s Perspective

Lindsay Labady, Staff Writer

What is colorism? Is it the same as racism or prejudice?

According to, colorism is the preferential treatment of people with lighter skin tones. Colorism is often a taboo subject in the black community, a topic that is left in the dark and rarely spoken about because of how normalized it has become. 

If you’re still confused about what colorism is, let’s travel back to our childhood memories for a little bit. When you were young, were you ever told by your mom, dad, grandparents, or siblings about staying outside too long? Did they ever say, “don’t play too long in the sun or else your skin will turn darker” or something akin to this? Comments such as this are often people’s first experience with colorism. 

Sadly, this gets worse as we age. Black tweens and teenagers start to compare each other’s skin tone to check who’s darker at school. Lighter-skinned children getting less punishment at school. Experiencing the pain of dark-skinned blacks, especially dark-skinned black women being bashed on social media just for existing as well as being excluded from many peoples’ dating options and preferences. 

In the romance department, dark-skinned black women are less likely to be married compared to their lighter-skinned counterparts. According to Dream McClinton, a writer at the, 55% of light-skinned women are married while only 23% of dark-skinned women are married due to the effects of colorism in the black community. 

Colorism shows up in even starker ways, such as the difference in pay rates between darker-skinned and lighter-skinned men. This mirrors the differences in pay between whites and blacks with lighter-skinned black men getting paid 10% more than their dark-skinned male counterparts according to Even more insidious, colorism even affects how we are remembered. According to, lighter-skinned black people are perceived to be more intelligent. Educated black people, regardless of their actual skin color, are remembered by job interviewers as having lighter skin. 

Deborah Mathis, a syndicated columnist and professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University examined how skin shade impacted incarceration. According to Mathis, who reported on the issue in 2006, darker-skinned black people are given longer prison sentences than their light-skinned counterparts and this discrimination starts young. 

And the issue goes much deeper.  According to Jamaal Abdul-Alim’s article “Darker-Skinned African-American Students Suspended More Frequently” from 2014,  he notes “Dark-skinned black children are three times more likely to be suspended from school than light-skinned peers due to the popular, toxic stereotype in the black community that lighter-skinned black children are more well behaved than darker-skinned black children.” 

The daily toll of living with colorism is inescapable. According to Kaitlyn Greenidge, a writer at the Guardian online newspaper, darker-skinned people report higher experiences of microaggressions; heavier-set dark-skinned men report the highest levels of microaggressions and darker-skinned black women report more physiological deterioration and self-report worse health than lighter-skinned women. All of this severely affects black people, especially black women, mental health and well-being as a whole. 

The effects of colorism also play out in the lives of regular teenage black girls like my good friend Julissa Ramero, a student at the Brentwood Freshman Center in Long Island, NY. We usually like to text about TV Shows and traveling, but today I asked her if she’s ever felt diminished by others due to her dark complexion. “Yes. I remember last year before school went online,” she recalled, “I almost got into a fight with a lighter-skinned girl at school and while I was sitting in the principal’s office, I felt like the adults were believing the other girl’s side of the story more than mine even though she started the fight and there was proof she did. They let her off the hook and almost suspended me.” 

Another student, Daniel Louis, an 8th-grade student at Francis Scott Key Middle School, provided some insight into how a black male sees colorism play out during school. “Um, I would often see kids at school ask each other if they were team light-skinned or team dark-skinned,” recalled Louis, “and kids at school would also compare their skin tone to each other to see if their skin got darker over the summer and they would also compare each other’s skin tone to see if it got lighter during the winter.” 

Another student, Julia Wadly, A 10th-grader at James Hubert Blake High School, talked about her opinion on colorism and how it has affected her romance-wise. She says, “Whenever I would go up to my crushes, most would accept me but there are a few who have told me, I only date light-skinned girls or you’re pretty for a dark-skinned girl and I’m not gonna lie, those comments kinda made me sad for the rest of the day.” 

The black community is filled with amazing people, people with a wide array of skin tones. Black people with darker skin tones shouldn’t be treated and seen as less than and disrespected just because they are dark. The black community needs to acknowledge the beauty in every skin tone, not just light skin, because all skin tones are beautiful and equal.