Defining Colorism

Before having Pseudo Intellectual Debates, Grab A Dictionary

Published in
9 min readJan 16, 2024


Photo 38090574 | Black Women © Katrina Brown |

Colorism is not a new phenomenon.

Its origins date back to at least the 1600s and most likely long before that.

On the one hand, as a brown-skinned woman who has undoubtedly seen and experienced her unfair share of colorism, I am glad we are finally starting to have these tough conversations.

However, on the other hand, I am very tired of so many people attempting to hijack the term for their own purposes and to derail our collective progress.

So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the concept of colorism, what it means, and how to prevent people from convoluting the term.

Definition Time

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According to the Mariam-Webster Dictionary, Colorism is defined as follows:

Prejudice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin.

This definition is also followed up with the following excerpts:

Under this system of colorism — the system which prevailed in my childhood in Jamaica, and which has carried over to the present — rarely will dark and light people co-mingle. Rarely will they achieve between themselves an intimacy informed with identity.

~Michelle Cliff

What writer Alice Walker defined as colorism, the preferential or prejudicial treatment of same-race people based on skin color, continues to this day. And as she once wrote, unless we exorcise it “we cannot as a people progress. For colorism, like colonialism, sexism and racism, impedes us.”

~Itabai Njeri

In other words, colorism is a term used to describe prejudice and discrimination based on skin tone. More specifically, it is the mistreatment of darker-skinned people.




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