In my last post, I briefly mentioned Shadeism.

Shadeism, or Colorism, is different than racism, as it often occurs within an ethnic group, or race.  It is when a group values a certain shade of skin, typically a lighter shade, over another.  Shadeism is prejudice based on social conclusions attached to skin color.  It is not dependent on ancestry, so we cannot call it racism.  Shadeism is solely based on color.  Warning, this post only scratches the surface of this subject and I am not an expert.  Hopefully, this post will get you interested in researching the topic further, or at the least, start a conversation.

Shadeism exists all over the world.  It even existed amongst Europeans at one time.  Tanned skin signaled you worked outside, in the fields and were of a lower class.  Fairer skin, along with soft hands, signaled you were of the aristocracy, or higher class.  When the Europeans colonized the world, they brought the notion, sometimes inadvertently, that lighter is better.

Sometimes, this notion already existed in cultures, before the introduction of Europeans to a society.  Although certainly exacerbated after being colonized by the British, Indians already had a caste system and Shadeism was sometimes a byproduct of it.  In Japan, both men and women used rice powder to lighten their skin and hide imperfections.  In both cultures, lighter skin implied wealth and membership to a higher, non-working class.

The introduction of slavery to the Americas brought race, and racism, into the mix.  Because slavery in America was based on race, a superiority of the white race because of ancestry and a right to own slaves because of this so-called superiority, Shadeism took on a whole new meaning in the black community.  Many of the white masters raped their slaves and this produced many bi-racial children.  The lighter slaves were given favor and allowed to work in the house, while the darker slaves worked in the fields.  The mixing was so prevalent that some of the “slaves” were unrecognizable as being black, and this challenged the “right” to own slaves based on color or superiority.  It also frightened white Northerners who could be accused of being black, and without sufficient evidence to prove otherwise, could be shipped to the south and work on a plantation.  This, along with other reasons, helped the Abolitionist movement to end slavery.

A “white” slave:

Shadeism after reconstruction fractured the black community.  Newly freed slaves developed their own societies.  Because the dominant white society placed extra value on blacks mixed with white ancestry, light-skinned blacks began to intermarry and create special societies and social clubs.  Entrance into these social clubs involved ridiculous tests: brown paper bags, combs, flashlights, amongst other things.  These clubs were purely meant to exclude, not include. Having lighter skin made it easier to get an education, own land, and start a business. 


2 clips from Spike Lee’s School Daze:

The beautiful and fair Aishwarya Rai

The beautiful and fair Aishwarya Rai

This strive for “whiteness” still occurs in present day.  Bleaching creams in India, Asia, and Africa are big-business.  Preference is still placed on lighter-skinned Bollywood actors.  In Asia, fair-skinned Asians are valued; and although the diversity of black people used in ads is getting better, the preference for light-skinned, long-haired black girls still persists in rap videos.

The good news is more and more people are rejecting these ideals of beauty and Shadeism.  The peachy color named “skin” in a box of crayons sold in India has been challenged.  Lupita Nyong’o has been named one of the world’s most beautiful people.  We’ve crowned an Indian woman Miss America.  Idris Elba is universally one of the sexiest men alive.  White people are tanning…



Lupita Nyong’o, People’s Most Beautiful Woman in 2014:

SHADEISM via Swirl Nation Blog

So, if this notion of lighter is better still persists in your culture, please know and embrace ALL shades, from the fairest to the darkest and everything in between, are beautiful, especially if it is yours.

Shadeism Part 1:

Shadeism Part 2: