The Stream

Why we need to take colourism seriously

People with dark skin are facing discrimination – from within their own communities.

More than a quarter of a million people follow South Sudanese fashion model Nyakim Gatwech on Instagram and she uses her platform to teach people to take pride in their dark skin, to challenge traditional Western beauty standards and to advocate for more diversity in fashion. She’s even earned the nickname “Queen of the Dark”. But before she found success, and became proud of her skin, she was insulted for it, chided for it, and even told to bleach it.

She was told these things by other black people. This is what is known as “colourism”.  

Colourism is not racism. It’s defined as prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically from people of the same ethnic or racial group. Often, light skinned people are deemed more attractive, more successful and smarter than dark skinned people. The term was mostly popularised by American author Alice Walker in a 1982 essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”. She wrote: “Colorism – in my definition, prejudicial or preferential treatment of same -race people based solely on their color.”

So what is the fallout of colourism?  According to  Lori L. Tharps, author of “Same Family, Different Colors” – we are a visual species and we respond to one another based on the way we look. That can change lives. Studies have shown lighter skin colour is usually equated with higher education, more financial success, less criminal convictions and is considered more beautiful – and the people making those associations are people of colour.

On the next Stream we’ll discuss colourism, where it begins, and the impact it has. Join the conversation at 1930GMT. 

Joining us:

Nyakim Gatwech @queenkim_nyakim
Fashion model
Lori Tharps @LoriTharps
Associate professor of Journalism, Temple University

Emma Dabiri @TheDiasporaDiva
Social historian, broadcaster

LeRon Barton @MainlineLeRon
Writer, author

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