Living in a dynamic, multicultural, and seemingly tolerant world of today, it may seem that we’ve progressed beyond forming primitive judgments based on the hue of a person’s skin. However, the bitter truth is that racism and colorism still form an extensive, structural problem, not confined to Hollywood but spread across the globe, affecting a multitude of ethnicities and races.
Racism, an issue widely understood and acknowledged, involves bias or discrimination grounded in the race of a person. However, colorism, a less familiar but equally damaging concept, represents the prejudice against those with a darker skin tone, typically within the same racial or ethnic group. The narrative of the renowned Hollywood actress Leslie Jones, an African American, encapsulates her struggle with online hate and prejudice based on her skin tone, adding more layers to this complex issue. The question then arises: Is it her racial identity or the specific shade of her skin that becomes a problem?
Colorism has deep historical roots that can be traced back to the era of slavery. During this period, slaves with darker skin tones were often assigned the most strenuous fieldwork, whereas those with lighter skin, often of mixed heritage, were given less physically demanding tasks inside the plantation homes. This practice instilled a perception of superiority linked to lighter skin tones, resulting in a divisive culture that continues to the present day.
The impact of this historical colorism is evident across numerous communities, including Hispanic, Caribbean, Latin American, and South and East Asian populations. In places like India, lighter skin is often considered more attractive, with matrimonial advertisements often demanding a ‘fair’ bride. The Latin phrase “mejorar la raza,” which translates to “improve the race,” signifies an aspiration to ‘whiten’ one’s skin tone and that of future generations through marrying individuals with lighter skin tones.
This kind of discrimination even earned its own name, the ‘paper bag test,’ which involved excluding individuals whose skin tone was darker than a brown paper grocery bag from certain social circles. This practice, although more clandestine today, continues to exist in numerous societies.
Hollywood isn’t immune to this form of discrimination either. Acclaimed actresses like Viola Davis and Lupita Nyong’o have vocalized their experiences, stating that colorism and the ‘paper bag test’ are still ingrained in the industry. It appears Hollywood prefers its black leads to be perceived as ‘safe’ unless the role explicitly demands a darker-skinned actor.
This rampant colorism has given rise to a thriving industry for skin-lightening products. The global skin lightening market is expected to reach nearly $12 billion by 2026. This statistic alone signifies the extent of the issue.
In conclusion, the widespread problems of racism and colorism are far from being relics of a bygone era; they form a living, ongoing social issue that continues to affect societies today. While efforts to counter overt racism are crucial, it’s equally important to tackle the subtler yet deeply damaging practice of colorism. The broad spectrum of our skin tones, from the lightest to the darkest, should not be seen as a metric of value or attractiveness, but as a representation of the rich diversity of our collective human journey. Let’s work towards embracing this variety, standing up against and dismantling the harmful ideologies of colorism at every opportunity.