by Zainab Khan

Colorism Controls the Country

Taking a deeper dive into America’s colorism problem.

In this article, writer Zainab Khan explores the effects of colorism on the lives of people of color in the United States.

We need to be having more conversations about colorism.

The word was first used by Alice Walker in her 1983 book of essays, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose. She defined it as:

“Prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.”

Although the word colorism first appeared in 1983, the mindset is much older. While racism and colorism may seem like they’re the same thing, race and color are separate from one another and must be treated as separate issues. All people of color experience colorism—whether it’s helpful or a hindrance depends on their complexion.

Colorism has an impact on almost every aspect of the life of a person of color, from their economic opportunities to the way they feel about themselves.

What kind of influence does colorism have on the job market?

It’s a fact that in America, people with darker skin are both given less opportunities for employment and are paid less. A study from the University of Georgia concluded that employers of all races preferred to hire black men with lighter skin than those with darker skin, with no consideration paid to their credentials.

This isn’t even a new issue, in the 1940’s, light skin was a job qualification, taking precedence over experience and any real qualifications.

If employers are only hiring people based on the color of their skin, then people with darker complexions are at an automatic and uncontrollable disadvantage. Hiring paying and/or more prestigious jobs tend to give better opportunities for upwards growth within an industry.

Darker skinned people of color are denied these opportunities for no reason other than the amount of melanin in their skin.

And what about beauty standards?

Colorism tends to have more of an impact on the self esteem of women of color than men because of the links it has to what’s considered conventionally beautiful.

Actress Lupita Nyong’o said that when growing up, she used to pray for lighter skin because she saw hers as “an obstacle to overcome.”

Vogue, the most famous women's fashion magazine in the world, has featured a grossly disproportionate amount of dark skinned women on their covers. Dark skinned girls and women rarely see people who look like them in major fashion publications

This sends them the message that they’re not beautiful enough to be there.

Skin lightening creams are still being sold, used, and marketed as beauty products— you cannot argue that colorism doesn’t impact beauty standards because if this was true then skin lighteners would not be marketed as beauty products.

Women of color use these creams knowing there’s a high chance they’ll get skin cancer.


When we’ve made dark skinned people hate their complexions so much that they see cancer as a better alternative, you have to wonder how could it have gotten this bad? And what are the steps that we can take to undo the centuries of prejudice that have led us here?





Zainab Khan

Zainab Khan is a student at the American Community School of Abu Dhabi and is apart of the Asian Hispanic Empowerment Organization's Executive Leadership Team. She is passionate about social justice and change and is motivated to get involved in her community so like -minded young people can come together to make a difference.