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Why Are You So Dark? Colorism and the Impact on Mental Health

Colorism, also known as "shadeism," is defined as the practice of favoring a lighter skin color over a darker skin color within any racial or ethnic background that is rooted in racism. The notion that a person’s value and superiority are based on the color of a person’s skin is directly correlated to the definition of racism and can be traced back in time to slavery and an African American person’s value in society. Colleen Campbell, a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology and African Studies at Princeton University, stated, "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."

Colorism In Society

Colorism has prevailed in many societies for centuries. It is a global cultural and social construct of racism that exists within many ethnic groups, including Black, Asian, South Asian, and Latino American communities. Online dating websites, such as the popular South Asian and Desi site, included (and have since removed) a section with skin color as part of the dating profiles where singles are asked to limit themselves by defining their skin tone among fair, wheatish, dark, and more.

Amidst the pandemic, a petition by former Miss America Nina Davuluri received over 4,000 signatures to "put an end to the whitening creams and toxic messaging around skin colorism and its unhealthy relationship to beauty and status." As a result, Unilever announced renaming the famous skin-lightening brand “Fair & Lovely” as “Glow and Lovely,” following widespread criticism that it promotes colorism and devalues darker-skinned people. Renaming the products doesn’t diminish the deep-rooted discrimination based on color that exists in society. Regardless of the name, skin-lightening products reinforce colorism. Good Indian Girl commented that skin-lightening brands portray people with darker skin as not good enough, unattractive or unwanted, whereas those with lighter skin may gain attention, value, and praise from society.

In the United States, the preference for lighter-skinned colors is seen as an implicit bias towards and between Blacks, where lighter-skinned people, both Whites and other Blacks, can cause darker-skinned Blacks to have poorer outcomes in many areas, such as education and income, than their fairer counterparts. It can even affect health and marital status (Laidley T, Domingue B, Sinsub P, Harris KM, Conley D).

With the examples above, it is important to note that colorism isn't limited to minorities but also exists among White Americans. As a matter of fact, a research study used MRI scanning to determine activity in the amygdala when shown photographs of unfamiliar Black and White faces with varied skin tones. The a