Colorism, the discrimination based on skin color continues to be a major issue throughout the Latinx community. It’s a form of white supremacy, rewarding those closer to whiteness, predominantly affecting people of color in areas such as: mental health, education, interpersonal relations, and income. This differential treatment of skin color shapes experiences globally, including the United States. The bias against darker skin color and favor of lighter skin color, creates an oppression within cultures and groups.
When a person is light skinned, not having the stereotypical look of Latinx, it’s much easier to integrate into American society. However, prejudice plays a major role in creating unequal access to social and economic resources, for people who are dark-skinned. Instead of being united it causes division within communities.
Colorism Effect on Youth
Specific words are often used to describe family members and friends who are darker. Oftentimes it’s hidden in jokes or comments, like when a tía tells her niece to date light-skinned men because their babies will come out lighter. These types of comments convey strong messages, such as being “too dark” is a bad thing.
Growing up in a Mexican household, my siblings and I were fortunate to receive compliments on our different shades of Brown. Raised in New York City, which is a melting pot, I surrounded myself with people of diverse backgrounds, therefore never really questioned my skin color. I vividly remember loving Pocahontas as a little girl, because of her skin color and her long black hair.
However, as I got older, I began to witness forms of colorism within the Latinx community. Labels were given such as Rubia, India, and Morena, and the lighter a person was the closer they were to the beauty standard. Middle school is where colorism insults began. I would occasionally hear “platano podrido” which was aimed toward Dominicans’ dark skin, others included “tu piel está sucia” or “eres una prieta,” shouted to any dark-skinned Latinx. These among other forms of insults were common and continued throughout the years.
During high school, a friend of mine told me she wanted a light-skinned boyfriend because she was dark-skinned. If she dated someone with her skin color, her parents would be upset. When she did her makeup, she made sure to use a lighter shade of foundation and used products that helped her appear light-skinned. The pressure of finding a partner with lighter skin, showed a desire to get rid of dark skin within the family.
Latinx Doesn’t Have a “Look”
Although colorism is bias toward light skin, it has a negative impact emotionally. It may cause a person to question their ethnic authenticity. The infamous sentence “you don’t look Latinx” is dreaded, but is said more than a person would like. When a Latinx doesn’t have brown skin or black hair, they constantly have to prove themselves. Furthermore, when nicknames such as “gringa/o” or “white girl/boy” are given, it’s implied a person’s ethnicity is disregarded. There isn’t a specific look for Latinx, because we all come in different shades.
Colorism is frequently perpetuated by our own community. Understanding the negative effects it has and the social inequalities that exist within one ethnic group is crucial. Learning the roots of colorism is an important part, along with having conversations with family and friends. The harsh reality is some people have privilege because of their skin color, white supremacy exists within the Latinx community and the sooner it’s admitted the faster we can take steps to combat it.