Updated: Oct 3, 2020
Colorism is the term that describes the fact that a darker-skinned person is more subject to prejudice than their lighter-skinned counterpart. This term is often assumed to be a subject of white people versus Black people, but rather, this is about the broad spectrum of skin tones within communities of color and how within these communities a lighter skin tone is more likely to have advantages than a darker skin tone would.
Oftentimes, Afro-Latinos are not included or are forgotten as being a part of the Latinx community, and this is most often reflected in the media where lighter-skinned individuals are more likely to play key roles in movies or telenovelas. Within the majority of telenovelas, the fair-skinned blonde, blue or green-eyed latino is often given the roles of a wealthy, successful person, while a fair-skinned, dark-eyed and -haired latino would be portrayed as the poor person with the ability to marry into a better socioeconomic position at the end. The medium or brown-skinned latinos would be given the role of a maid, other low position status, or the villain and, in rare occasions, an afro-latino would make an appearance but solely as a supporting character and never as a protagonist.* This sort of hierarchical portrayal of latinos contributes to the colorism seen in society where lighter-skinned individuals tend to be more successful.
A study conducted in the 1940s known as “The Doll Test” shows the bias that even children have towards a certain skin color. Psychologists Kenneth and Mamie Clark used the same dolls but in different skin colors to test the racial perceptions of children between the ages of 3 to 7 years. Overall, children preferred the white doll over the black doll and even went as far as to describe the white doll as “better” and “pretty” and the black doll as “bad” and “ugly”.*** Given the time period of the experiment, racial prejudices were more widely accepted as segregation was encouraged and that could have affected the children’s responses; however, there are still instances today in which those prejudices are prevalent. There have been many studies conducted today in which most children still respond in the same way as the children from the 1940s. Even children of color point to the black doll when asked which doll is “ugly” or “bad” even though they themselves are of that same skin color.
Most of the time, colorism within the media goes unnoticed until it is pointed out and, as a result, many do not notice that they are being prejudiced. Many individuals forget the fact that there is a range of skin tones within the Latinx community because of the media’s narrow portrayal of a Latinx person who usually has a light-medium skin tone. The Latinx community falls victim to these prejudices and by understanding what colorism is and how it affects our society, there can be improvement. Children learn from what they see around them, and if they witness normalized prejudice towards a darker-skinned person, then they will continue to view people in that way even if it pertains to their own race. Educating children at an early age is important as they will be the ones that will shape the future. Like Nathan Rutstein and later, Jane Elliot said, “Prejudice is an emotional commitment to ignorance” and the only way to change that is by educating.**
*Abatistaschool. “Colorism and the ‘Patriarchal Patterns of Desire in Telenovelas.” RTF Gender and Media Culture, 29 Jun. 2019, https://rtfgenderandmediaculture.wordpress.com/2019/06/29/colorism-and-the-patriarchal-patterns-of-desire-in-telenovelas/
**McGann-Bartleman, Daniel. “If you’re a bystander, you’re a racist.” The Breeze, 13 Oct. 2016, https://www.breezejmu.org/opinion/if-youre-a-bystander-youre-a-racist/article_d7d83444-90cc-11e6-870c-4b9e8554a534.html.
***“The Significance of ‘The Doll Test.’” LDF, 2020, https://www.naacpldf.org/ldf-celebrates-60th-anniversary-brown-v-board-education/significance-doll-test/