The negative consequences of colourism and its history | Sunday Observer

The negative consequences of colourism and its history

11 April, 2021

You may have heard some people saying that they are colour blind. You find it difficult to deny the fact that there are some people who take colour as a form of determinant with which they try to interpret and adjudicate someone’s character.

Colleen Campbell, a PhD candidate in Sociology and African Studies at Princeton University said that colourism is an offspring of racism and also in the absence of racism, the value and perceived superiority of a person cannot be based upon the colour of the skin.

Campbell added, “When we think of racism in the U.S. especially, we think of anti-Black attitudes or institutional processes that entrench whiteness at the top of the social hierarchy”.

More attention and concern on lighter skin tones is a consequence of slavery.People have been using various methods to evaluate the value of someone in society. Colourism can be considered as a global, social and cultural phenomenon of which roots are deeply implanted with racism. It is seenamong many roots which include the Black, Latino American and Asian communities.


At the same time, the discrimination based on the colour of the skin is referred as colourism. It is also noted that due to colorism, the people with darker skin colours are marginalised whereas those who have lighter skin colours are privileged.

Researchers have found out that owing to the prevalence of colorism in some societies, the people with darker skin colours receive relatively lower incomes, lower marriage and job prospects. It is also recognised as a constant form of discrimination which should be negated.

The origin of colourism is still a mystery. Nina G. Jablonski, the author of “Living Colour: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Colour” has brought out an argument where it is illustrated that albeit the characteristic of the skin colour has plentifully been narrated in a vast of historical texts, majority of them has not been able to illustrate an implication of dislike for the people with dark skin colours or supremacist attitudes on the people with light skin colours.

Jablonski said that the medium brown skin colour was mostly preferred by the ancient Romans and Egyptians. The causes for being enslaved were still recognised as independent of skin colour. Certainly, as far as archaeological evidence is concerned, it is understood that within the Roman Empire, the Black Africans intermixed with the White Europeans. During the supremacy of the Arab empire, colourism as a form of a determinant of the value of someone as a human being possibly appeared sometime around the seventh or eighth century CE.

Lightness of skin colour continued to remain disengaged from attractiveness, whereas the well to do Arab men had the preference on the paramours of every skin colour and nationalities; the Eastern Ethiopian women were perceived as the most attractive.Karim Bettache, in his research on “A Call to Action: The Need for a Cultural Psychological Approach to Discrimination on the Basis of Skin Color in Asia” has stated that, “Indeed, this can arguably be considered one of the first indicators of the sociocultural construction of meanings attached to skin tone (e.g., beauty or superiority) and hence evidence of its arbitrariness”.

In the Asian continent, there has been a long standing tradition where the lighter skin tones are preferred over those of the darker skin tones. A portrait of a Chinese empress who lived during the period of 690 CE represented herself as a royal who had an exceedingly light-toned skin as a mark of a royal highness.

A considerable number of colonised societies around the world preoccupied by a hierarchical system which was based not simply on colourism but also on the aspect of “racial” superiority of European phenotypic features. Colourism prevalent in Asia was frequently found to have expressed itself independent of colonialism; venerating the fair skinned (East) Asian phenotype. Most of the Asian cultures were deeply rooted in the class-based hierarchies which demonstrated that light skin represented the nobility. Geishas, the professional entertainers who attended guests during meals, banquets and other occasions in ancient Japan preferred to paint their faces with the white colour as a token of nobility and femininity.

Fairer skins

The makeup style of the Japanese is even today denoted by the exclusive ‘white’ face and that the Japanese women apparently try to achieve the ‘right’ face by using foundation which makes them broadly whiter. In this way across the Indian continent, it is noticed that there is a preference for fairer skins whereas the darker skin tones were considered as socially downgraded and ‘untouchable’ castes such as the Dalits, who used to perform tough and difficult manual labour. Such class based trends are also identified in many other countries in the Asian region.

Around the Asian continent, the cultures of colorism are widespread. With contemporary Asian families, a hugely rooted form of colourism is transferred from generation to generation. Elsewhere in the culturally and geographically diverse continent of Asia, the privileges and preferences given on the element of fairness are apparently a norm.

The cultures of colourism receive the public attention as they rotate around the ‘perceptual priming’ of the cognitive salience of the attitudes which are related with the colour of the skin and their consequential behaviours in the social arena.