Teaching About Colorism

Introduction

Colorism is “prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group” (Oxford Dictionary). While racism is the dicrimination of people based on their race, colorism is discrimination based on the shade of a person’s skin. People of the same race can have different skin tones, and those of the same race can have different skin tones. Therefore, colorism can even occur among people of the same race or ethnicity. Ultimately, people with colorist attitudes favor people with lighter skin tones over those with darker skin tones, perceiving them as more attractive, educated, or capable. It is very important for students to learn about colorism so that they can recognize and combat their own unconscious biases while also advocating for equality for all skin tones.

Resources

There are many resources available online for teaching students about colorism. Current events related to colorism are also a great way to bring this topic to their classrooms! Educators who want to teach about topics related to colorism should check out U4SC’s topic resources on racism, xenophobia, and injustice.

Lesson Plans

  1. Toolkit for “What’s ‘Colorism’?”: Learning For Justice has put together a toolkit for “What’s ‘Colorism’?” that offers suggestions on how educators can bring up the topic by using the graphic essay “Lighten Up.” The graphic essay is about race, representation, and colorism in a Marvel comic. The toolkit accompanies the feature “What’s ‘Colorism’?”, which explains the practice of colorism, research on colorism, the importance of colorism, and suggestions for teachers.

Articles

  1. Recognizing and Addressing Colorism in Schools: Learning For Justice provides an article on recognizing and addressing colorism in schools. This article is best suited for educators looking to counter colorism in their classrooms, as it explains how colorism may affect students, recognizing colorism in schools, and classroom and schoolwide strategies for addressing colorism.
  2. The Difference Between Racism and Colorism: Time has published an article on the difference between racism and colorism. Though racism is being more widely discussed nowadays, colorism is a societal ill that most people do not know about. This article describes the origin of colorism, the meaning of colorism, the current research being conducted on colorism, and the scope of colorism.
  3. Teaching Kids About Colorism: In this article, Dr. Sarah L. Webb discusses how to teach kids about colorism. The author recommends that you sort out your own attitudes/feelings about colorism, talk candidly about colorism with children, and give them positive exposure to all skin tones. Though this article was originally published with parents in mind, the same information can be used by teachers in the classroom. 
  4. What is Colorism? How People of Color Can Overcome Their Own Insecurities and Biases: Good Morning America (GMA) offers a brief article on colorism and how people of color can overcome their own insecurities and biases. The article explains the meaning of colorism, income wages and ‘light privilege,’ colorism’s long-lasting effects, and how colorism is combatted.
  5. Controversy Over ‘In the Heights’ Raises Awareness of Colorism and Racial Inequity: PBS NewsHour provides a brief article discussing the controversy over the film ‘In the Heights’ which has raised awareness of colorism and racial inequity. ‘In the Heights’ was recently called out because there was a lack of dark-skinned, Black Latinos in leading roles. Colorism is prevalent in all communities of color but it is considered taboo to discuss internal strife while also fighting against racial injustice. The piece also explains the relationship between racial injustice and colorism and addresses colorism through reflecting on your ‘street race.’ 
  6. ‘Colorism’ Reveals Many Shades of Prejudice in Hollywood: NBC News has published an article that talks about how ‘colorism’ reveals many shades of prejudice in Hollywood. The article points out the problems popping up in film and on television, such as in “black-ish,” “Crazy Rich Asians,” and “Roma.”
  7. Why Black People Discriminate Among Ourselves – The Toxic Legacy of Colorism: The Guardian offers an article in which the author, Kaitlyn Greenidge, describes her experience with colorism throughout her life. She also discusses the statistics related to colorism and the daily, inescapable toll of living with colorism. Lastly, Greenidge touches upon the importance of “distinguishing between colorism as practiced by white power structures… and colorism as practiced within the black community.”
  8. Teaching Colorism – The Power of a Story (Part 2): Heritage Mom has created a post on her blog where she  discusses the books she uses to initiate difficult conversations with her children about colorism. In the previous post Teaching Colorism – The Power of a Story (Part 1), she describes how her family has experienced colorism, especially her one daughter who is darker than the rest of the family. From this blog post, educators will be introduced to some new books that they can use to introduce their students to colorism!
  9. How Protests Led to a Critique of Bollywood’s Colorism and a Reckoning for South Asians: NBC News provides an article discussing how protests led to a critique of Bollywood’s colorism and a reckoning for South Asians. The piece discusses how many South Asians, such as Samantha Ram (whose experience is shared) have faced colorism in their own community. It also talks about white idealization in Bollywood, the history of South Asian colorism in the U.S., and a new fight.

Informational Sites

  1. What is Colorism?: Verywell Mind provides a variety of information on colorism. The article discusses the meaning of colorism, how colorism is rooted in racism, the presence of colorism in minority groups and in the white community, colorism in the media, the skin lightening industry, and how to combat colorism.
  2. Confront Colorism Guide: DoSomething.org has put together a guide to help people learn what colorism is, how to spot it, and what to do about it. The guide runs through the meaning of colorism, the history of colorism, the systemic consequences of colorism, some pop culture examples, how people can recognize instances, and what people can do to address instances of colorism.
  3. NCCJ – Colorism: The National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) has put together a bulletin discussing the topic of colorism, including history, videos, articles/handouts, statistics and questions to consider related to the issue.
  4. Colorism Healing: This website was created by Dr. Sarah L. Webb to educate people about colorism and dig deeper to find solutions to this issue. Dr. Webb’s Tedx Talk “How Can We Heal from the Shades of Colorism?” may be a good place to start, but there are also blog posts and access to research that will come in handy when teaching students about colorism!
  5. The Roots of Colorism, or Skin Tone Discrimination: ThoughtCo. offers a lot of information on the origins of colorism, its enduring legacy, and its significant impact. 

Videos

  1. Teaching Kids of Color About Colorism: This video clip of “Who is Black in America?” from CNN centers around a young woman who conducts workshops on colorism with young children.
  2. People of Color Discuss The Impact of ‘Colorism’: ABC News offers a six-minute clip where people of color discuss the impact ‘colorism’ has had on them and their self-worth.
  3. How Colorism Haunts Dark-Skinned Immigrant Communities: PBS Newshour provides an eight-minute video on how colorism haunts dark-skinned immigrant communities.

Conclusion

Teaching about colorism may seem like a daunting task, but it is a truly important one. For many students, this will be the first time they hear the term “colorism.” When introducing this topic, it is essential to highlight the difference between racism and colorism because though the two are linked, they are very much separate issues. The lesson plans, articles, informational sites, and videos will help students understand not only the meaning of colorism but also the significant consequences of this issue!

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