Becoming White: What is Colorism? Is it Racism?

Barack Mandela, a military veteran, has experiened colorism and racism. (personal collection)

The term “colorism” was coined by African American writer Alice Walker in 1983. Walker defined “colorism” as “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their skin color.”

When I was a child growing up in Long Beach, California, other kids on the playground made hurtful “colorist” statements such as:

“Light bright, damn near white”.

“If you’re white, you’re all right. If you’re brown, stick around. But if you’re black, get back!”

“Don’t get too dark by playing in the sun.”

“Light skin is better than dark skin.”

“Never have dark skin, ashy skin, or nappy hair.”

As an African American, I learned the ‘social rules’ of colorism at a young age. Some people spent hundreds of dollars on bleaching cream or fade cream to lighten their skin. Others spent money on relaxer to straighten their “kinky” hair.

In my culture, some light skinned people were identified with “house slaves”, whereas dark skinned people were identified with “field slaves”.

During American Slavery, the light skinned “house slaves” had more privileges than the dark skinned “field slaves”. The “field slaves” worked harder in the hot sun and were often beaten by overseers and slave masters. The “house slaves” were considered superior to the “field slaves”.

Civil rights pioneer, Malcolm X, tried to end colorism by making speeches about house slaves and field slaves. Malcolm X spoke out against self-hatred and in support of the importance of racial pride.

However, even today, the problem of colorism is an issue around the world in places such as Africa, India, Nepal, Korea, China, Japan, Latin America, and Europe.

My good friends from India tell me that some light skinned Indians are generally considered more attractive than darker skinned Indians. Moreover, in India there is a lucrative industry of skin lightening products.

My good friends from South Korea and China tell me that lighter skin is generally favored in those countries and cultures.

When I lived in Israel for nearly six years, I didn’t notice any overt colorism. Although I noticed there is sometimes social tension between Sephardic, Mizrachi, Ethiopian, Russian, Arab, and Ashkenazi populations in Israel, I didn’t notice overt focus on light skin vs. dark skin people in Israel.

In my opinion, the United Nations should launch new international campaigns called “Dark Skin is Beautiful,” “Brown is Beautiful”, “Black is Beautiful, and Global Black Beauty with celebrity ambassadors such as: Michelle Obama, Oprah Winfrey, Priyanka Chopra, Deepak Chopra, Beyonce, Jay Z, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman, Lupita Nyong’o, Sech, Bad Bunny, Anuel AA, Lil Baby, Karol G, Becky G, Lil Nas X, Kelly Rowland, KRS-ONE, LL Cool J, NBA YoungBoy, Kodak Black, Kevin Gates, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, and Israeli Pnina Tamano-Shata.

We must create a world in which “dark skin” and “light skin” are equally valued as beautiful, attractive, and intelligent. We must create a world in which racial supremacy is replaced by human rights, dignity, mutual respect, mercy, love, and grace.

In addition, there must be an anti-colorism statement added to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

If you think that colorism is not a real issue, then ask yourself the following question: Who is more attractive—Angelina Jolie or Oprah Winfrey?

We must follow the old saying: “Red, yellow, black, and white, we are all one in God’s sight.”

Let’s end colorism and racism and promote equality and love for all.

By the way, I’m proud to be black. And that’s a fact.

About the Author
Licensed Attorney. I earned a Doctor of Law at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law (1997). I earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Riverside (1994). I was an international student at the University of Costa Rica Faculty of Law (1991-1992) and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Faculty of Law (Summer 1996). I am a military veteran of the United States Air Force, United States Army, and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). I am a laureate of the National Defense Service Medal from the Pentagon (2006). I am a financial donor to following: Harvard Law, Yale Law, Stanford Law, Berkeley Law, UC Hastings College of the Law, UC Davis Law, Columbine High School, Choate Rosemary Hall, Phillips Exeter Academy, Sidwell Friends School, Viewpoint School, Beverly Hills High School, Eton College in the United Kingdom, Special Olympics, Children's Defense Fund, Obama Foundation, Clinton Foundation, Barbra Streisand Foundation, Princeton University, Florida A&M, Howard University, Spelman College, Morehouse College, and the British Red Cross. I am former special assistant and staff attorney to Governor Pete Wilson of California. I was public affairs assistant to US Senator Barbara Boxer and Mayor Ehud Olmert of Jerusalem and Jerusalem spokesperson Haggai Elias. I am a member of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, and I am a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition.
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