January 6, 2018 | Author: Anonymous | Category: Social Science, Sociology
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A JOURNAL OF COLOUR: A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF COLOURISM TODAY Date : Tuesday October 4th 2011. Student Name: Meloney Whitney, A.W.C.C.A., B.S.W., M.S.W Candidate


Colourism is a form of discrimination that results not from racial categorization, but rather values associated with skin colour itself which as a result triggers differential treatment (Jones, 2000).

Photo: http://www.lyndsaycabildo.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/races.jpg



Colourism’ operates both intraracially and interracially. Herring (2004) describes the definition and difference between these two key terms: 

Interracial colorism occurs when members of one racial group make distinctions based upon skin color between members of another racial group. Intraracial colorism occurs when members of a racial group make distinctions based upon skin color between members of their own race (p.3).

My Practice Research Paper (PRP) focused on intraracial colourism specifically within the Black community. Photo: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-6IzYew_E8Tg/Tejiyla3r2I/AAAAAAAAAE4/IEnMFbOBxJY/s1600/dark-skinlight-skin-pic_edited-3.jpg



The purpose of this research was to build a critical analysis of colourism, as a contemporary form of colonialism, and as a devastating remnant from the legacy of slavery. I sought to build a connection between our present day issues with colourism, to colonization and slavery. There were three tentative sub-questions that framed the approach to this research statement, which were as follows: 1. How is colourism today related to historical remnants of slavery, and present day colonialism? 2. In what ways are the Black community, and in particular individuals who are dark skinned, affected by colourism? 3. How is colourism manifested and perpetuated daily?

Keywords: Colourism, Colonialism and Slavery 4


Critical Race Theory is the primary theoretical framework for my study. This theory embraces the concept of the personal is political, even when undertaking research and scholarly pursuits, and was an excellent choice for this study as it promotes race –consciousness, and strives to advance a social justice framework. Crenshaw, K., Gotanda, N., Peller, G., & Thomas, K. (1995) explain that: With its explicit embrace of race –consciousness, Critical Race Theory aims to re-examine the terms by which race and racism have been negotiated in American [and Canadian] consciousness, and to recover and revitalize the radical tradition of race-consciousness among African – Americans and other peoples of color – a tradition that was discarded when integration, assimilation and the ideal of colorblindness became the official norms of racial enlightment (p. xiv). 5


The literature on colourism, comes to a consensus that within racial and ethnic groups, in particular within the Black community, colourism arose out of colonial conquests and slavery. Herring (2004) found that, “the legacy of colonialism, racial oppression during slavery, legalized discrimination in the Jim Crow era, and de facto segregation in the post-civil rights era have all functioned to create and perpetuate skin color stratification in communities of color” (Herring, 2004, p.1 -2). Similarly, Carpenter (2009) stated that, “slavery, as an institution as well as a practice, not only promulgated colorism in terms of distinguishing between black and white, but it also fostered qualitative judgments regarding the gradations of skin color among African Americans” (p.19). She adds that “the known facts, of course, are important to offer students so that they can understand that rather than originating in the psyche of African Americans, color-consciousness was born out of White racism (Carpenter, 2009, p.18).


LITERATURE REVIEW FINDINGS: HISTORICAL EXAMPLES OF INTERRACIAL COLOURISM : Colour caste system on the plantation : Enslaved Blacks assigned tasks by colour (e.g. house and field work)  Differential treatment affected one’s living conditions, degree of violence from overseers, educational opportunities etc. (Hunter, 2004). Slave Auction Block : Qualitative judgements made concerning light and dark skin slaves; Prices of slaves differed based on skin colour (Carpenter, 2009).  Lighter skin slaves served as a symbol of wealth and prestige. Privileges during and after slavery : White plantation owners and legislators freed their own bi –racial children, help them find jobs, start business, give them property etc. (Russell et. Al, 1992).  Privileges granted to light skinned Blacks under slavery and when free enabled them to progress farther educationally and occupationally (Russell et. Al, 1992). Law : Blacks with with light-enough skin and European features commonly got around the law by simply passing as White (Russell et al., 1992, p.15).


Segregated clubs: Restrictions set by the biracial community that stopped dark skinned Blacks from joining and gaining membership in variety of arenas.  (e.g.) social clubs, vacation resorts, and within churches in the Black community (Russell et. al, 1992). Skin colour and hair tests: Skin colour tests and even hair tests that were imposed on Black families by other lighter skinned Blacks in society.  Russell et al. (1992) informs that “at the turn of the century, Black families wishing to join a color-conscious congregation [e.g. church] might first be required to pass the paper –bag, the door, or the comb test” (p.27).

Education system:  The education system was another area, in which “perhaps the most insidious form of color discrimination was found in Black preparatory schools and colleges established by and for the mulatto elite” (Russell et al., 7 1992, p.28). Russell et al. (1992) stated that “dark skinned Blacks were often denied admission regardless of their academic qualification” (p.28).


The methodological approach I used to address the research problem and questions were a qualitative and exploratory method. The autobiographical element to this paper occurred through several journal entries in which case I documented the manifestations of colourism that I have seen or that have occurred in my life. I also chose to include a few secondary sources of data (e.g. newspaper stories, online sources) in which case personal accounts of colourism and its impact were discussed by other individuals of colour.


The approach I took to analyzing my journal entries was that of thematic content analysis. Completed journal entries and gathered secondary data sources over a period of three months. Analyzed data by using thematic coding. I coded the entries line by line and eventually reduced the amount of themes from the journal entries to only a few major categories, which are discussed in my findings in chapter four. 8


The findings that emerged from the data revealed that, colourism today is found to be related to historical remnants of slavery, and contemporary forms of colonialism. The effects of colourism, especially intraracial colourism, were found to have a significant impact on some individuals within the Black community, but particularly those who are dark skinned and female. The findings that emerged from the study revealed that colourism can be manifested and perpetuated daily through a variety of mediums (e.g. media, stereotypes, family biases, Whiteness, European standards of ‘beauty’).



My findings were discussed in seven sections that represented the most commonly found themes that emerged from the data:       

SECTION 1. Family and community SECTION 2. Whiteness and Beauty Standards SECTION 3. The Media SECTION 4. Health and Well Being SECTION 5. Relationships and Men SECTION 6. Historical Connections Remain SECTION 7. Social Work

EXAMPLE SECTION 1. Family and community : 

This section discussed acts of intraracial colourism found within the journal entries that took place within families and in the community. Findings from the data displayed occurrences of family conflict due to intraracial colourism. Teasing, name calling, alienation, and differential treatment due to one’s skin colour was cited in the data. In sum, this section found that the family and community perpetuation of intraracial colourism can leave fewer safe spaces that are free from skin colour discrimination for some individuals within the Black community (particularly those who have dark skin complexions).



The perception of beauty was at times perceived to be in conjunction with one having light skin and European features, which was reflective of European standards. The perceived correlation at times between beauty and white and light skin may help fuel the global skin bleaching and skin whitening epidemic which was also an issue found in the data. This also speaks to the issue of commodity racism, which connects this issue back to the colonial history and the slave trade, as well as the mass media racism and colourism that emerged in the 1800’s. Media images and messages through music, film and television were found in the data to perpetuate and endorse skin colour biases towards white and light skin colours, and reinforce stereotypes based on skin colour. An individual’s health and wellbeing were also found to be impacted by intraracial colourism which may or may not lead to diminished levels of self –esteem depending on an individuals circumstance. There were socioeconomic impacts that were also found, which pointed to research findings that revealed that dark skin may lead to less socioeconomic opportunities and greater disadvantages in comparison to having lighter skin complexions.

Intraracial colourism was found to continue to create dividing practices today between Black men and women and also can negatively impact relationships between Black women. It was found that whether done consciously or not, Black men also play an integral role in perpetuating intraracial colourism especially towards Black women.



The issue of colourism is very complex and the intersectionality’s of race, class, gender, ability, and sexual orientation, can further complicate and interrogate this issue. The findings from this study point to the importance of raising consciousness about colourism, both interracially and intraracially through education on this issue. The chief recommendation I have, is for increased education and consciousness raising within communities of colour, regarding the history of colourism, its connection to contemporary manifestations of the issue, as well as the effects and impacts that result from skin colour biases and prejudices.

To end, my hope for this paper was to build an awareness, which aimed to promote social justice efforts for those who are affected by colourism. I sought to bring light to the impact and experiences of colourism as faced by some Black individuals in the Black community. This paper was also my attempt to push back at contemporary colonial violence, as perpetuated through acts of colourism.



Carpenter, C.F. (2009). Addressing “the complex”-ities of skin color: Intra-racism and the plays of hurston, kennedy, and or landersmith. Theatre Topics, 19(1), 15-27. Crenshaw, K., Gotanda, N., Peller, G., & Thomas, K. (1995) Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement. New York: New Press. Harris, A.P. (2008) From Color line to color chart? : Racism and colorism in the new century. Berkeley Journal of African American Law & Policy, x(1), 52 – 69. Herring, C. (2004) Skin deep: Race and complexion in the “color-blind” era. In C. Herring, Keith, V.M., & Horton, H, D (Eds.), Skin deep: How race and complexion matter in the “colorblind” era (pp. 1-21). Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois at Chicago. Hunter, M. (2004) Light, bright, and almost white: The advantages and disadvantages of light skin. In C. Herring, Keith, V.M., & Horton, H, D (Eds.), Skin deep: How race and complexion matter in the “color-blind” era (pp. 22-44). Urbana and Chicago: Loyola Marymount University. Jones, T. (2000). Shades of brown: The law of skin color. Duke Law Journal, 49 (1487), 1487 – 1557. Russell, K., Wilson, M., & Hall, R. (1992).The color complex: The politics of skin color among African Americans. New York: Anchor Books A Division of Random House Inc.


RACISM VS. COLOURISM Q and A: What’s the difference between racism and colourism? 

Racism and colourism represent two different, but overlapping systems of oppressions. Harris (2008) clears up the variances between the two, in the following excerpt: Conceptually, then, although it may in some circumstances make sense to analytically distinguish colorism from racism, race and color are not two different things. Rather, what we know as traditional racism and what we now recognize as colorism represent related ways to assign status and stigma. Traditional racism places a higher value on ancestry than colorism; traditional racism assigns people to discrete racial categories, while colorism assigns people to places along a spectrum from dark to light, indigenous or African to European (p.61). 14

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