Colorism. n. (neologism). prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.
(1) Etymology: color +‎ -ism Colorism comes from the combination of the word color with the suffix ism
Color: pigmentation of the skin, especially as an indication of someone’s race. (Middle English (as colo(u)r ): from Old French colour (noun), colourer (verb), from Latin color (noun), colorare (verb).)
Ism: a distinctive practice, system, or philosophy, typically a political ideology or an artistic movement. (Late 17th century)

(2) Sociolectal information: Colorism, a term used to describe a “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color”, was formally introduced to the public by Alice Walker, author of the Color Purple, in 1982. Though the term colorism itself is a fairly novel idea, the idea behind it is not. Colorism or discrimination based on skin color is nearly a global phenomenon that has been around for hundreds of years. Though it is it not entirely certain as to why exactly there is a favoritism towards lighter skin tones in many different areas and cultures, it is commonly perceived that some of the roots of colorism lie in the idea of status and wealth.

It is important to note that colorism and racism are not the same thing, as racism is “the dependence of social status on the social meaning attached to race” while colorism is “the dependence of social status on skin color alone.” Also important to note, is that while racism is arguably more noticeable and very strongly frowned upon by most societies, colorism can be many times be more subtle (harder to pinpoint) and in many societies has an ingrained place in cultures under the idea that “lighter is better.”
(3) Survival predictions: Due to the fact that the term colorism has remained in usage since its formal introduction in the 80s, it is more likely than not that it will continue to be used especially in relation to discrimination within same cultural and ethnic groups. Though the term colorism itself is not a common word used in simple everyday conversation, different examples of language and behaviors in association with the word and the phenomenon behind it are common in many areas. Simply by the sheer fact that colorism is still a prevalent and common thing, I strongly believe it will continue to be in use.

(4) Lexopinions: As a word itself, colorism does a good job in describing discrimination based on skin color (as opposed to race or other). I find it to be an important word to know since on a personal basis, I believe colorism to be something that is still amongst many societies.

(5) Aside: As an extra piece of information for this post, I’d like to mention the reason I chose to do colorism for this post. Though colorism itself isn’t a word that pertains in particular to colleges, I find that it is an important word to discuss in a place like William & Mary, which is both full of intellectually high achieving scholars but also considerably lacking on the diversity side as a population.

I personally think the word colorism holds prominence in times like these when we are capable of discussing ideas and opening our minds as young adults as well as a time in which there is much controversy over the casting of Zoe Saldana (a half African American and fairly light skinned actress) as Nina Simone (an African American singer born in the 30s and who was often discriminated against for being a darker skinned woman).


  1. rgtesfazghi says:

    This is a really interesting word! I never knew that there is a word for this idea. I see a need for the word because I can see it happening throughout different ethnic backgrounds. For example, I have heard the term light-skin being used to identify lightly colored African American males. Also this term seems to have a certain behavior attributed to it. Also because the world id becoming more aware of races and minorities, I definitely think that there is need for a term like this. Great job and very interesting!

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