Almost 70% of African Americans in the United States report experiencing racial discrimination from time to time, or regularly. In addition to racial discrimination, Blacks are also subject to discrimination by skin tone, or colorism. Colorism is a form of discrimination based on skin tone, where lighter skinned blacks feel a sense of superiority toward darker skinned blacks. It operates through white supremacy and colonialism, embedded in both interracial and intraracial power dynamics. Colorism has been linked to negative physical health outcomes in African Americans, affecting conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and other cardiovascular issues. However, little research has focused on the experiences of Blacks, especially women and the impact of colorism on THEIR mental health. This blog will explore colorism, intersectionality and the implications of colorism on the overall well-being of ALL African Americans.
Colorism, or skin-toned discrimination, is a highly pervasive phenomenon that operates between members of the black community (in-groups) and is perpetrated by outside members of society, usually by the dominate race or groups (whites or out-groups). The dual mechanism of colorism makes it especially harmful to those subject to its ideology, which tends to favor lighter skinned people over darker skinned people. Colorism follows the overachieving dominance of white supremacy, which placed value on a person’s appearance and character as proximal to a white phenotype 3. It has deep historical roots, and dating back to slavery, and is pepetuated through several social conditions such as socioeconomic status, education, and social status. This is related to health in the context of the socio-ecological modeln, include several levesl of society that influence physical, mental , and social well-being.
Intersectionality referss to the multidimensionality of black women’s experiences, where they face discrimination based on multiple identities such as gender, orientation, culture, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and more. The unique burden of discrimination placed on black women is due to their multiple identities; and is different from the racism faced beb black men (who benefit from patriarchy), and the sexism faced by white women (who benefit from white supremacy).
Note that colorism’s effect on mental and physical health are VERY profound! Research highlights the social stratification that is produced through systemic marginalization, points to colorism as a form of psychological or emotional abuse through the chorus o day-to-day microaggression. Colorism’s influence goes beyond individual microaggressions and affects employment opportunities, marriage prospects, and educational attainments, thus having serious health implications. Additionally a study on the psychological impact of colorism on African Americans found that in-group colorism is linked to multiple psychiatric disorders.
In summary, addressing colorism from an intersectional lens requires a collective effort from the black community and society as a whole. Acknowledging colorism as a mechanism of white supremacy and challenging its harmful rhetoric and actions is crucial. Qualitative research and community engagement play a vital role in giving voice to the experiences of Black women and fostering a sense of community support. By dismantling the mechanism of white supremacy, we better protect and support the physical health and mental well-being of African Americans, especially Black women AND the black community.