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Colourism - An Uncomfortable Conversation Topic

Ambrie shares her thoughts, reflections and/or experiences on subject matters that many can relate to.

Are you comfortable to talk about it?

Are you comfortable to talk about it?

Colourism is -

... bias and prejudice within the same racial group, based on skin colour. For example in the black race, it's when people with lighter/whiter skin, straighter hair and/or more Eurocentric features are favoured over those having darker skin, afro hair and Afrocentric features.

Sadly it can constitute infighting and division within a race of people.

Colourism, also known as shadeism, is often viewed as a legacy of slavery and white supremacy and is closely related to racism which pertains to bias and prejudice between different racial groups.

From a Very Young Age We -

... unconsciously soak up bias from our families, our neighbours, the media and the world around us that white skin trumps darker/brown/black skin. So if we’re in the business of examining our own actions and thoughts as concerns racism, let’s also examine ourselves as regards colourism within our own ethnicity, whatever that ethnicity is - because colourism is a close ally of racism.

This page includes thought provoking questions to ponder, observations and links that reveal the extent to which skin tone bias can permeate a person's life.

Colourism -

... doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as racism - but it impacts life outcomes in diverse ways.

Perhaps the Reason Skin Tone is Such an Uncomfortable Topic -

... of conversation is its association with the era of slavery and the light skinned black slaves being the result or legacy of the rape of black slave women by white slave masters or their white employees. The light skinned slaves were given preferential treatment creating demarcation within the race, and giving way to a divide and rule dimension which benefited the slavers.

Still today, white people may distinguish between lighter and darker skinned negros, some being more inclined to employ, befriend or associate with light skinned black people rather than those with dark skin.

It’s also noteworthy that historically, colourism isn’t always attributable to slavery, colonialism and western ideals. In a number of cultures around the world, lighter skin colour has been associated with social class, wealth and success, stemming from the fact that the poor had to work outdoors where their skin would become tanned and darker, differentiating them from their prosperous, paler, lighter skinned compatriots who didn’t have to toil in the sun.

Notably, some will say that white people are subject to a variant of colourism in that white people with blond hair and blue eyes may be favoured over their brown eyed or darker haired white counterparts.

Skin Tone Facts

  • Colourism Arrest and Jail Time
    Light-skinned African Americans have a 36% chance of going to jail in their lifetimes. Dark-skinned African Americans, meanwhile, have a 66% chance.

Disturbing and Concerning

As I reflect on this topic

  • It’s concerning to think of Asian women being advised not to eat certain foods lest it darken their baby’s skin. Leaving aside the credibility of such advice, it’s woeful to think that the skin colour of the baby is so paramount as to make this advice a necessity.
  • It’s disturbing to think of children of colour having to heed advice not to play out in the sunshine lest their skin become even darken and risk them being subject to increased discrimination. This appears to be more important than potential health risks from sun damage.
  • It’s concerning to think that some people won’t consider partnering or marrying someone with darker skin than their own.
  • It’s disturbing to think that “marrying light” is an aspiration many adhere to. Some explain that having experienced colourism from their own race, and both racism and colourism from other races, they want to minimise as far as possible the likelihood of this happening to their own young. Obviously having a partner who is lighter in colour makes it more likely that the children will be lighter skinned.
  • It’s concerning that some have difficulty explaining their aspiration to marry light or simply do not wish to put their reasons into words, perhaps due to a feeling of betraying their own race, or embarrassment, or denial and/or out of deep sadness that they feel compelled to take this stance concerning their spouse and offspring.
  • It's disturbing that some people feel marrying light is their only option because of the expectations or demands of parents, friends and peers.
  • It’s concerning that, without ever examining where such preferences may be rooted, some may say “Well I just happen to like blond hair and blue eyes” or “It’s just that I’m more attracted to lighter skin tone, straighter hair and more Eurocentric facial features.”
  • It’s disturbing that some dark skinned women can attest to skin tone bias affecting their marriage prospects as a sizeable number of males in their race lean to the “light-skin ideal” order of beauty, to the exclusion of the darker ladies.
  • It’s concerning too that, even among people who marry darker than their own skin colour, there will be some among them who would hesitate or refrain in marrying or partnering with a person who was significantly darker than they are or someone who had the deepest, blackest skin tone.
  • It's disturbing that there are enough people feeling dissatisfied or inferior about their natural skin colour to fuel a multi-million dollar skin bleaching industry. (Links for further reading below)

Reverse Colourism

Keep in mind also that there are very light skinned black people who look to marry someone considerably darker skinned than they are, perhaps because growing up they found themselves marginalised for being “not black enough” by the black children in their locality and not wanting their own offspring to be subject to the same hurtful experiences. That said, it is commonplace for light skinned black people to be favoured and envied for their skin colour by other black people.


Some people of colour who are married to/partnered with someone whose skin is darker than their own feel that this status enables them to censure others who say they would not marry anyone darker than their own skin colour. Certainly some will be justifiably disappointed or angry that people within their own race choose to cherry pick prospective marriage partners/co-parents based on skin tone, citing that this practise contributes to and propagates both colourism and racism.

The Wide Ranging Scope of Skin Tone

Ingrained or Unconscious Shadeism and Denial

It’s disquieting when people who actively abhor and rail against racism, practise skin tone bias within their own family, friendship units and work life, some perhaps barely giving such behaviour a second thought, it being an ingrained unconscious bias.

Whatever the reason given, or not given, for making skin tone a key factor in choosing a mate, when people make such choices they need to be aware and own that they are perpetuating bias and prejudice.

Preferably people will acknowledge that if racism is wrong then colourism is wrong too. Further, just because it's the norm within a person's circle, it doesn’t make it alright to jump on the shadeism bandwagon. Two wrongs don’t make a right!

Discussing colourism with a measured calm approach can edify all concerned. Preferably people will be conscious of whether they have a tendency to gloss over it and/or summarily dismiss those who try to discuss the subject as being oversensitive, wearisome, or envious. Denial of the existence of such bias is an easy option, but not a helpful one.

Skin Tone Hierarchy Within the Same Racial Group -

is often a conversational taboo - but It's just as necessary to speak about it as it is to speak about racism.

Uncomfortable Personal Questions for You to Ponder

  • Would your significant other have partnered with you if your skin was several shades darker? If the answer is no, does that bother you?
  • Concerning dating and marriage, would you have contemplated marrying a man or woman who was significantly darker than you are or significantly darker than your current and/or past partners or spouse - and if not, why not?
  • Would you encourage or support a very light skinned black person to "pass for white"? (i.e. conceal their racial origin in order to be accepted as white.

Self Esteem that Doesn't Denigrate - A Prayer


Nobody gets to choose the skin tone they are born with.

Encouragingly -

  • albeit at a very slow rate, more people with deeper darker skin tones are being promoted and embraced by the world at large.
  • there are many people who do indeed choose to marry/partner with a person with darker skin than their own regardless, or in defiance, of the “light skin ideals” in the society they live in and regardless of the prospect of having children who are darker in skin colour than they are.

Further Reading

  • Colourism in Entertainment
    Do light skinned black women have skin color privilege? The answer is yes! And while we tend to think about people being judged by the color of their skin, a...

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Ambrie Anders


Ambrie Anders (author) on September 16, 2020:

Many thanks for sharing Dora. Unfortunately it’s one of those worldwide issues that will take a long time, or a miracle, to eradicate.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on September 15, 2020:

Growing up in the Caribbean, there weren't many white people around but most our prejudice came out in our preference for lighter skin tones among ourselves. I don't think we've talked enough about it.

Ambrie Anders (author) on September 12, 2020:

Many thanks for your encouragement Umesh.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on September 12, 2020:

It is better not to be prejudiced by colour. You have presented it so nicely.