Colorism is an issue that is rarely paid significant attention. The term signifies prejudice and discrimination in respect to the lightness or darkness of the skin of members within the same ethic community. Harmful stereotypes further marginalize ethnic groups into factions that simply cannot combat the malicious deeds of racism.
One misconception that numerous individuals encounter is that colorism is restricted by geographical boundaries and generational differences. Methodology used to carry out discriminatory actions changes over location and history. One could look at the micro-aggressions within mainstream media, advertisements and news outlets to visualize the basis of racial inequities.
The black community continuously suffers from colorism. Bill Duke’s documentary Dark Girls illustrates the intensity and history that led to this colorism in the black community in the United States.
After slavery, the “Brown Paper Bag Test” arose in the 20th century. This test subdivided the African-American community when it came to social acceptance in institutions like fraternities, sororities and even churches. The test decided that if a person’s skin was lighter than a paper bag, they were accepted; if their skin was darker than a paper bag, they were rejected.
Most individuals assume that just because we live in a more accepting society, colorism has somewhat faded. But colorism didn’t fade—it morphed into something unrecognizable by previous generations.
More recently, colorism is illustrated in the Thai beauty company Seoul Secret’s January advertisement which was heavily criticized by CNN and other media outlets. The commercial’s actress Cris Horwang says, “Just being white, you will win.” She continues to bluntly admit, “The whiteness I have invested in will just vanish.” At the end of the commercial, the actress’ skin shifted from a fair tone to a ridiculous charcoal color.
Seoul Secret reacted swiftly to the negative attention garnered by the commercial and decided to remove the video. The Thai community, however, does not ostracize commercials with similar messages due to colorism becoming the norm.
Clearly, the company is trying to convince its consumers the idea that the whiter someone is, the better. At first glance, it is easily identifiable that these Western ideals are detrimental to Thai society—especially in an era when families have easy access to television and exploitative marketing tactics. When children view these kinds of commercials, they are going to associate white with success and dark with failure, initiating a division between children and their own social groups.
Children are also exposed to this whitewashed standard through children’s shows on Disney Channel or Nickelodeon. Protagonists of these shows almost always have fairer skin than the actors in the show’s supporting cast. The same can be said about children’s books and toys—whitewashed characters and imagery contribute to the ideals that the media portrays.
Colorism is a detrimental side effect of Westernized influence on ethnic groups. In order to combat the malevolent means of colorism, societies need to begin to change their standards of beauty in relations to success and power.
There is no real plausible way to eradicate this problem rather than just bringing awareness to the situation and embracing self-acceptance. Rejoice in your skin, because superficial features shouldn’t determine beauty and success.