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The Perpetuation of Colorism and Discrimination Based on Skin Tone

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There is history of bias and discrimination against African Americans that is deeply rooted in colorism. Such prejudice exists both outside and within the African American/Black community. Discrimination based on skin tone within a racial group, known as colorism, is one of the many byproducts of slavery. Colorism is defined by Oxford dictionary as prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. Another can define colorism as or more simply, colorism is “the tendency to perceive or behave toward members of a racial category based on the lightness or darkness of their skin tone” Maddox and Gray 2002:250 However, colorism cannot just point towards slavery, it is the result of white supremacist ideology. White supremacy is a racist ideology centered upon the belief, and promotion of the belief, that white people are superior in certain characteristics, traits, and attributes to people of other racial backgrounds and that therefore white people should politically, economically and socially rule non-white people. Also there is the belief that white people are superior to those of all other races, especially the black race, and should therefore dominate society defined by oxford dictionary. 

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These all contribute to the creation of color imbalances/discrepancies, and a distance in privilege between lighter and darker skinned Africans in America. Until this day blacks, particularly black women, feel compelled to assimilate into the dominant culture by embracing Eurocentric beauty standards. While this desire to assimilate illustrates the psychological impact of colorism on African Americans, it is also important to note colorism has an economic, educational, and social impact as well. Colorism deprives blacks with darker complections people of chances for economic advances and causes isolation of dark-skinned people within the African American community as well.

The perpetuation of colorism is the result of internalized racism and the impact of the majority culture on African Americans’ perceptions of themselves. Russell, Wilson, and Hall (1992) assert that there is a color gap in privilege in the black community, and that it has historical roots in the mixed race sexual relationships between slaves and their masters. Slavery is an important factor behind colorism. When slaves were brought over from Africa, they were all dark, but different skin tones evolved as slave owners violently raped or had sexual relationships with their slaves. These children would be “mulattoes,” and they didn’t look like the other children. Moreover they were treated differently from other enslaved children. Due to their lighter skin, they were given more opportunities because they were seen as smarter due to their white ancestry. Having lighter skin even gained some slaves freedom due to the paternal guilt that the slave owner felt. A professor from Webster University wrote “These mulattoes were often freed by their father-masters in some sort of paternal guilt or concern. These mulattoes children were usually feared by the slaves since the masters often displayed unpredictable behavior toward them, at times recognizing them as their existence. Thus the slaves wanted nothing to do with mulattoes if possible”(Bob Corbett). The perception of light skinned blacks as more intelligent and more attractive because their skin tone and hair texture more closely resemble white people .

As previously stated, sexual assaults of slaves and relationships between female slaves and their owners created a somewhat privileged “mulatto” class. These mulattos, with their biracial features, were often praised as the most beautiful and desirable Blacks, and thus Eurocentric beauty standards were applied to people of African descent. Ideal beauty was and remains to be seen as having straight hair, light skin, thin nose, thin lips, light colored eyes, or anything that resembles white features.

Colorism can also affects one’s economic status. Black people have managed to get better jobs, better houses, and better schools than they had, had before. But even now, while African Americans have become successful and rich, most black people are still not as well off as white people, and they still suffer from the discrimination and the color of their skin that keeps them from getting good jobs or sending their kids to good schools. And most black people are still pretty much where they were before, working as unskilled labor for low wages for white people “However, income gains for whites and African-Americans have a very different impact on wealth. At the respective wealth medians, every dollar increase in average income over the 25-year study period added $5.19 wealth for white households, while the same income gain only added 69 cents of wealth for African American households. …The dramatic difference in wealth accumulation from similar income gains has its roots in long-standing patterns of discrimination in hiring, training, promoting, and access to benefits that have made it much harder for African Americans to save and build assets. Due to discriminatory factors, black workers predominate in fields that are …” This article shows the statistics of how even when a African American family has an increase in wealth it is still less than a white family an 86.7% difference. This is because black people are seen as incompetent compared to a white person this has been since they worked in factories. They made lower wages than their white workers and didn’t have the same benefits as well and that bias is still rooted in today’s jobs and hiring process.

Slavery was eradicated, however it plays an important role in the underdevelopment of African American education also former slaves had no formal type of schooling so majority of them were illiterate. The government gave less money to black schools and they were less financially supported like white schools. Schools were then in terrible condition by having less books, worse building, and teachers getting paid way less. Some states went as far as making laws to restrict blacks getting educated. According to the 1847 Virginia Criminal Code: “Any white person who shall assemble with slaves, [or] free negroes . . . for the purpose of instructing them to read or write, . . . shall be punished by confinement in the jail . . . and by fine . . .” Blacks were considered as second class citizens that the thought of someone educating them is worth them being criminalized. Today, many black children still attend schools in racially and economically isolated neighborhoods. The Institute on Assets and Social Policy states “Student debt is an issue that affects most graduates, but black graduates are far more vulnerable: 80 percent of black students graduate with debt compared with 64 percent of white students.15 More blacks than whites do not finish their undergraduate studies because financial considerations force them to leave school and earn a steady income to support themselves and their families.” According to kids count data center black children are from families that have an income that is 39 percent below the poverty line, in contrast to white children who are 14 percent.

However one could argue that slavery was beneficial to the growth and cultural of America. There’s a massive Black cultural influence, music, language, food, and religion. Despite slave owner restricting Africans in America from practicing their cultural traditions their many practices, values and beliefs survived and over time and also have been incorporated into elements of European American culture. Also people differ — for example, in intelligence, morality, knowledge, and etc —will make themselves the masters of those who are inferior in this stance. Abraham Lincoln expressed this idea in one of his famous 1858 debates with Senator Stephen Douglas: “[T]here is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any other man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.” To Interpret what Lincoln is saying here is that even without slavery we must expect that those who are superior in a certain way will always dominate those who are in the inferior position because that’s a natural order of life.

In conclusion, Black people have been deprived for so long due to the lingering effects of slavery it has negatively impacted African Americans financially, educationally, and causes dark-skinned people to feel compelled to try and fit the racist ideals set by white supremacist society. Generations of Blacks were denied the right to build wealth. When one race is systematically excluded from the mainstream economy, they are forced into the status of second-class citizenship. Just imagine if Blacks could have owned property during the years of slavery. There wouldn’t be a need for affirmative action. However, for Black Americans, the end of slavery was just the beginning of our quest to try and achieve the right. Do not continue to ignore or deny but accept that there is a race problem in America Black people are so far behind and dependent because they’ve been deprived for so long. Let’s not forget that Black people have come far; having a African American president and more Black women attending college more than ever. These are is a great move in the right direction, but many people still suffer and what can be done to change that? You can deny it, but it must be recognized that the race problem in America is affecting the lives of black people the most. History repeats itself but it shouldn’t stop us from continuing to strive for progress and make a difference.  

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