In this bulletin, we will be discussing the topic of Colorism. You will find history, videos, articles/handouts, statistics and questions to ponder related to this issue.

When discussing Colorism it is important to be aware that Colorism is referred to as only being an issue in the black community and while it manifests there, it is more wide-spread and exists within all communities of color. Colorism is not something that white people experience.


Colorism: A practice of discrimination by which those with lighter skin are treated more favorably than those with darker skin. This practice is a product of racism in the United States, in that it upholds the white standards of beauty and benefits white people in the institutions of oppression (media, medical world, etc.).

Racism:  The individual, cultural, and institutional beliefs and discrimination that systematically oppress people of color (Blacks, Latino/as, Native Americans, and Asians).

Discrimination: The mistreatment of an individual or group based on their social membership, regardless of their social power. Anyone can experience discrimination.



  • Slaves with lighter skin are assigned domestic tasks while slaves with darker skin were forced to work outside in the fields, doing much more grueling tasks. Lighter-skinned slaves were favored because they were often the product of a slave owner raping a slave, thus creating a lighter-skinned child.

The Paper Bag Test

  • In the 19th and 20th century, the “paper bag test” was often utilized in black spaces and in hiring of black people. If someone was the same color as or lighter-skinned than a paper bag, they would be allowed into the space/considered for hire. If they were any darker than a paper bag, they would not.

Hiring Practices

  • Skin tone was often the most important factor in applying for work as a person of color in the mid-20th century. Light skin was often reported on a resume ahead of any other information or experience.

Source 1
Source 2


Video Gallery

Shades of Black – Colorism, Skin Color Discrimination

Colorism in the Media

Colorism PSA

More Information


  • The researchers found that light-skinned women were sentenced to approximately 12% less time behind bars than their darker-skinned counter parts. | The Root
  • Women with light skin served 11% less time in prison than darker women | The Root
  • A 2006 University of Georgia study showed that employers prefer light skinned black men to dark skinned men, regardless of their qualifications. | The Inclusion Solution
  • light skinned black male with a Bachelor’s degree and typical work experience was preferred over a dark skinned black male with an MBA and past managerial positions. | The Inclusion Solution
  • A law professor at Vanderbilt University conducted a study of over 2,000 immigrants from around the world and found that those with the lightest skin earned on average 8-15% more than similarly qualified immigrants of darker hues. | The Inclusion Solution
  • Dark skinned defendants are more likely to be convicted and receive the death penalty than lighter skinned ones. | MS Magazine
  • India’s skin lightening cream, Fair and Lovely, (Fair and Lovely promises an even tone of glowing skin with skin lightening) boasts 38 million users worldwide. | MS Magazine
  • Dark skinned Brazilians make up 63% of the poorest sectors of Brazil. | MS Magazine


  • Why is colorism so widespread but not often talked about?
  • How does colorism impact your community?
  • What are the standards of beauty according to colorism? Where and how is this learned?
  • Light is often used in media to represent what is “good”, while darkness is often used to represent what is “bad”. What effect can this trope have on someone who has dark skin? What effect can this have on someone with light skin?
  • How does colorism support white supremacy?
  • What are some actions to take around challenging and ending colorism?


What is Colorism? 

Black Actresses Speak Out About Colorism 

5 Truths About Colorism 

Colorism is a Big Problem 

Teaching Kids About Colorism 


Toolkit for “What is Colorism?”

A presentation on Colorism 


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