“If You Is White, You’s Alright. . . .” Stories About Colorism in America

“If You Is White, You’s Alright. . . .” Stories About Colorism in America

Washington University Global Studies Law Review
Volume 14, Issue 4: Global Perspectives on Colorism (Symposium Edition) (2015)
pages 585-607

Kimberly Jade Norwood, Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law; Professor of African & African American Studies
Washington University School of Law, St. Louis, Missouri

Colorism, a term believed to be first coined in 1982 by Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker, was defined by her to mean the “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.” It is not racism although there is a clear relationship. A clear example of racism would involve a business that refuses to hire black people. Colorism would not preclude the hiring of a black person, but there would be a preference for a black person with a lighter skin tone than a darker skinned person. From this example one can see too that colorism can not only occur within same-raced peoples but also across races. Colorism also is often gendered. Because of its unique relationship to who and what is beautiful, it has a tendency, although not exclusively, to affect and infect women more than men.

Although my first experience with colorism occurred very early in life, it never went away or otherwise resolved itself. Rather, it grew with me. And in many ways, I grew to understand that the color hierarchy was simply the way of the world. I would eventually marry and have children of my own. And through those children, I would again see colorism grow and sting. I knew that, some day, one day when I had time, I would spend time discussing, highlighting and helping to eradicate colorism. This paper offers some of my experiences with colorism and my continued growth in understanding its complexities.

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