It’s no secret that colorism is a major issue to reckon with. Colorism is not just about dating preferences. Darker-skinned people face longer prison sentences, disproportionately poor health outcomes, over-policing, and more punitive forms of discipline in schools.
Colorism is a system of power that favors lighter-skinned individuals over darker-skinned individuals on the premise of desirability, access to wealth, educational attainment, housing opportunities and healthcare. Darker-skinned individuals face discrimination in employment, housing, healthcare and politics.
When I was in Trinidad & Tobago, I noticed colorism expressed differently. The casting ads called for “Indian” or “Chinese” women. During carnival, I noticed that most of the coveted roles were reserved for light-skinned women. Darker-skinned people in Trinidad & Tobago were often working in landscaping, housekeeping, fast-food and other service-oriented jobs. I knew why Morvant, Laventille and Sea Lots are where mostly darker-skinned Trinbagonians live. These are cities where police violence is rampant. These cities are marginalized precisely because they’re darker.
Colorism is a major issue worldwide. Colorism impacts prison sentences. Studies show disparities in likelihood of incarceration with one study finding that darker-skinned Black men were 121% more likely to be arrested than the lightest-skinned respondent. Darker-skinned people are more likely to live in areas with higher levels of pollution. Lighter-skinned individuals profoundly benefit from colorism with improved life outcomes, prestige and opportunities for leadership and upward mobility. We perpetuate the oppression of darker-skinned people whenever we refuse to address colorism’s legacy in our families, communities, governments and systems.
My experience with colorism revolved around my ethnicity. There was the occasional “you’re East African? Are you the girl Drake raps about?” No. I think once people heard my accent, they immediately knew I was American. To my Uber drivers, I was an American girl in a foreign country where she had zero ties. I arrived as a stranger, but I felt much safer there than I’ve ever had in the US. I went to Trinidad & Tobago to document Black liberation movements as a solo female traveler. In Trinidad & Tobago, I experienced liberation. I experienced home.