The Nuts and Bolts of Colorism

Art by Kai

  “You’ve gotten so much darker!” was the first comment my family members made to me when I visited Korea a couple years ago. I remember they all had shocked and displeased looks on their faces and later bought me skin whiteners, telling me I would look prettier after I used them. Wherever I went in Korea, whether it was just the movie theatre or a hair salon, I was always the darkest person in the room and billboards and ads were covered with pale faced celebrities. I began to internalize that pale skin was more beautiful than dark skin.
However, this internalization left me torn. The people who were considered more beautiful in American/Western culture were white people with unnaturally tan, dark skin, something I couldn’t understand. They were born with light skin, something many Asians as well as other PoCs would consider as a blessing. Yet they were purposely going in the sun, going to tanning salons, getting self tanners, etc. to look like what I internalized as looking unattractive.  
This is one of the reasons why so many People of Color become so agitated when white people wear blackface, yellowface, etc. Not only are we told lighter equals prettier and darker means uglier, but people with lighter colored skin also are often more privileged. Historically speaking, A person’s skin color has been an indicator of their social class. People with lighter skin were (and in some places still are) in charge of the people with darker skin. Some of the many examples of this are slavery in America and social classes in Asia. Skin tone was used as a “dimension of hierarchy” and lighter-skinned African Americans were often more advantaged than dark-skinned African Americans. Many were often put in the houses instead of the fields to work and some were even given opportunities to learn. In Asia, lower class people often worked outside in the sun, leading them to have dark skin while the nobles stayed inside and had fair skin. This sends the message that if you have dark skin, you are considered to be less wealthy than someone else with lighter skin. A journal compilation of colorism even states how “light-skinned people earn more money, complete more years of schooling, live in better neighborhoods, and marry higher-status people than darker-skinned people of the same race or ethnicity.”
Colorism is not only a national issue, but a global one as well. It grants unfair advantages and further invigorates the belief that darker people are more inferior and unattractive than lighter people, correlating with racism. Also, it causes younger people to lose love for themselves. Many of the people I know online and in person have used skin whitening methods because of these beauty standards, causing them to feel resentful about their skin and themselves in the process.
I still sometimes look in the mirror and wish I had more Eurocentric features and feel that ball of self-hatred building up inside of me. At the end of the day, it's hard to know and believe that you are beautiful despite seeing those captions on Instagram about self-love. But in the very, very end, whether you are pale, fair, tan, brown, or black, you are amazing.
R. I., Diaz, D., Cheung, & A. P., Lee. (2013, July 16). How to Know Hong Kong and Macau: Asia's Skin Whitening Craze. Retrieved May 01, 2016, from 
M., Hunter. (2007). The Persistent Problem of Colorism: Skin Tone, Status, and Inequality. Retrieved May 01, 2016, from