Rad Reading: Colorism: A Darker Shade of Pale
by Abaki Beck
Our rad reading this week is Colorism: A Darker Shade of Pale, by Taunya Lovell Banks.
This piece explores legal cases of colorism. Colorism, the author states, is discrimination based on skin-tones versus on a racial category - how lighter-skinned versus darker-skinned people of color are treated differently. In this article, she specifically discusses colorism in employment discrimination cases. How can the legal system account for colorism, the author questions, if it recognizes all black people as simply black - and not how skin tone and other visual features distinguish and racialize individuals differently? How do the white supremacist origins of colorism continue to impact black communities?
Colorism deeply impacts hiring and promotion of black people, support of black political candidates, and more. For example, a study cited in the article found that even 20 years after civil rights legislation was passed, light-skinned black men who were college educated only had a 10.3% unemployment rate, compared to 19.4% of dark-skinned black men with college education. Skin tone - in effect, proximity to whiteness - was linked to economic privilege. Though colorism most deeply impacts black people, she notes that it impacts Latinx people as well, with lighter skinned Latinx people having higher socioeconomic standing than darker skinned (or more “indigenous looking”) people. However, she argues that it most distinctly impacts black communities because of the history of slavery and of whites (legally) identifying who is black by the “one drop” or “hypo descent” rule.
This piece was written in 2000 - before mixed race identities were legally recognized on the census, and before Barack Obama became President. Even so, the article gives a thought-provoking and nuanced look at race and racial discrimination and continues to be relevant today, in both legal and social senses. How does light-skinned privilege play into celebrity representation of black people, for example? How can we, as racial justice advocates, hold ourselves accountable to recognizing light-skinned privilege and combatting the idea that experiences of black people (in society or in the legal system) are monolithic? These are the nuances of race we need to continue to pay attention to when fighting anti-blackness.
Read the full text HERE!
POC Online Classroom celebrates the intellectual tradition and knowledge production of marginalized communities. Rad Reading is a series that highlights texts to read, writers to support, and ideas to discuss. We post every Tuesday!