Official Student Newspaper of Henry M. Gunn High School


Official Student Newspaper of Henry M. Gunn High School


Official Student Newspaper of Henry M. Gunn High School


Throwing Shade: Colorism tints beauty standards, confidence

Karis Lau

When senior Mahadev Tapaskar attended a summer camp with other Indian kids, he didn鈥檛 expect to be faced with insults about his skin color.

鈥淭he other kids saw how dark I was and would belittle me,鈥 he said. 鈥淚 even got called a monkey. Being so dark-skinned made me feel like an outlier. Because of that, I just kept to myself and didn鈥檛 really hang out with any of the other kids for the rest of the camp.鈥

Instances like these highlight a form of prejudice closely tied to racism: colorism. Merriam-Webster defines colorism as 鈥減rejudice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin.鈥 While racism involves discrimination against people based on their racial group, colorism can occur within a single ethnic group.

From the 鈥渂rown paper bag test鈥 denying dark-skinned Black people entrance into establishments to the development of skin bleaching, colorism has strong historical roots. Its ramifications extend into the present day, perpetuating discrimination and inequality based on skin tone in communities around the world.

Historical background

Over centuries of enslavement or colonial rule, lighter-skinned individuals were often elevated and granted privileges compared to their darker-skinned counterparts, reinforcing the notion that fair skin equates to beauty and superiority.

In the Black communities in the U.S., the origins of colorism date back to slavery, when enslaved people with fairer complexions 鈥 sometimes children of the enslaving man and an enslaved woman 鈥 were assigned to work in the house, while enslaved people with darker complexions worked in the fields. Those working in the house were more likely to receive an education, nutritious food and less physically harsh working conditions 鈥 though they were often sexually assaulted or raped by enslavers.

鈥淏eing so dark-skinned made me feel like an outlier. Because of that, I just kept to myself and didn鈥檛 really hang out with any of the other kids for the rest of the camp.鈥

— Senior Mahadev Tapaskar

Colorism persisted post-emancipation, manifesting in the workplace and social hierarchies. Fairer-skinned Black individuals were more likely to secure better jobs and ascend the socioeconomic ladder, perpetuating the notion that lighter skin meant higher status. The infamous 鈥渂rown paper bag test,鈥 comparing one鈥檚 skin tone to the color of a paper bag, emerged as a discriminatory practice used to determine eligibility for membership in elite social circles in the Black community.

In other nations of the Americas, Africa and Asia, colonial powers鈥 imposition of Eurocentric beauty standards reinforced hierarchies based on skin color, with lighter-skinned individuals often afforded preferential treatment. Over time, colonized peoples internalized these colorist standards, holding onto them even after imperial powers withdrew.

Now, individuals in these communities compete for opportunities and resources based on their perceived 鈥減roximity to whiteness.鈥 In a 2002 American Sociological Association paper, Pennsylvania State University sociology and demographics researcher Mark E. Hill explains how 鈥渨hiteness became identified with all that is civilized, virtuous and beautiful鈥 due to European colonization, bringing those with fairer skin 鈥渃loser to the opportunities that were only afforded to white people.鈥

Lighter-skinned individuals may therefore benefit from systemic advantages, further widening the economic gap. In a 2021 study led by the Pew Research Center, 62% of Hispanic adults said that having a darker complexion negatively impacted their chances of getting ahead in the U.S. Additionally, Vanderbilt University economist Joni Hersch led a 2008 study that found that darker-skinned immigrants faced a wage gap of up to 25% compared to their lighter-skinned counterparts. Hersch found that 鈥渙n average, being one shade lighter has about the same effect as having an additional year of education.鈥

Not all colorist ideals stem from colonization, however. In some uncolonized communities, laborers got more tan from working in the sun, while upper-class citizens stayed indoors and maintained a fairer complexion. Lighter- skinned people were thus the ones who had a higher socioeconomic status.

Colonialism鈥檚 legacy and socioeconomic assumptions contribute to colorism in countries such as India, which senior Aarushi Kumar has noticed during trips there.

鈥淥ne of my cousins living in India is a lot paler than me,鈥 she said. 鈥淭here鈥檚 this running joke where people say that they would鈥檝e assumed my cousin was the one from America if I never said anything. Since Americans are assumed to have more money, then that means they must be paler.鈥

Racial passing

Racial passing occurs when an individual of one racial group is accepted or perceived as a member of another racial group. Non-white individuals who are 鈥渨hite-passing鈥 are perceived as or able to pass as white due to their physical appearance. Because of racist and colorist ideals, this perception can afford them certain advantages in society, including access to better opportunities and less discrimination.

Sophomore Airealana Williams, whose mom鈥檚 side is Italian and Mexican and dad鈥檚 side is Black and Asian, has navigated these skin color biases. 鈥

I feel like there鈥檚 a stigma about specifically African Americans that I鈥檝e noticed,鈥 she said. 鈥淲hen I鈥檓 with my dad, I noticed we do get looked at differently than when I go out with my mom because my mom has a lighter complexion.鈥

In the Latino community, white-passing individuals navigate the world with less scrutiny and experience fewer barriers than individuals with darker skin tones. According to 鈥淧assing vs Non-Passing: Latina/o/x Experiences and Understandings of Being Presumed White,鈥 a research paper by Francisco Rodriguez at California State University, San Bernardino, Latinos do not associate themselves with a specific race, causing them to be classified into groups and associated with stereotypes that do not accurately represent the diverse individuals in the community.

Sophomore Megumi Estrada Nakamatsu, who identifies as Peruvian Japanese, has observed the different behaviors toward white-passing individuals in her community.

鈥淚 know that some people like to say to them that they鈥檙e very privileged to be able to look 鈥榩assing,鈥 but I also know that they also have their hardships as well,鈥 she said.

Processes such as skin-bleaching grew in prevalence during the 19th and 20th centuries in many nations, and many remain in use today. A study led by Allied Market Research showed that the global market for skin lightening was valued at $7.05 billion in 2021.

Representation & belonging

As an Indian person with a darker-than-average complexion, Tapaskar hasn鈥檛 always been able to find people who looked like him on the screen. Even in the Indian film industry, movies are filled with fair-skinned actors.

鈥淭here are a lot of light-skinned actors in Bollywood, and it just isn鈥檛 proportionate to the billions of people in India,鈥 he said. 鈥淎nd it just gets reinforced because having fair-skinned actors is the easiest way to produce stars and is a way of making money and selling beauty items.鈥

Preference for lighter-skinned minorities shows up in other major film industries as well. Research done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that 81% of Black leading actresses from 2009-19 have a lighter skin tone. Such lack of representation perpetuates harmful stereotypes and reinforces societal ideals of beauty, hurting individuals with darker complexions.

鈥淚n Hollywood movies, casting directors have access to a very wide range of skin colors when choosing an Indian actor,鈥 Kumar said. 鈥淵et, somehow, they always end up picking the lightest one. I notice the same pattern is there with successful Black, Hispanic and other Asian actors in Hollywood too. And the few darker-skinned actors are almost always cast in roles that exploit their trauma.鈥

鈥淚 know that some people like to say to (people who 鈥榩ass鈥) that they鈥檙e very privileged to be able to look 鈥榩assing,鈥 but I also know that they also have their hardships as well.鈥

— Sophomore Megumi Estrada Nakamatsu

Beyond the screen in real life, sophomore Natalia Martinez Lopez would try to match the beauty standard by using her lighter-skinned mother鈥檚 makeup when she was younger.

鈥淚n my household, my mom isn鈥檛 brownish-tan, and most of my mom鈥檚 side aren鈥檛 that brownish-tan 鈥 I got that from my dad鈥檚 side,鈥 she said. 鈥淪o whenever I would see her foundation, I鈥檇 put the foundation on myself because I was like, 鈥極h, I guess that鈥檚 the beauty standard.鈥欌

Embracing darker skin

Nevertheless, many in communities with colorist ideals have learned to embrace their darker skin. Kumar notes that changing society鈥檚 equivalence of beauty standards with skin tone is the best way to reduce skin tone-based discrimination. Understanding that a dark skin tone does not indicate unattractiveness can improve people鈥檚 perception of self-worth.

鈥淕rowing up in California, I have learned to embrace being tan, and I鈥檓 happy in my skin,鈥 she said. 鈥淚 try my hardest to share this same belief with my relatives in India because colorism is very closely tied with beauty standards in East and South Asian cultures. But it鈥檚 gonna take a lot more work to spread that same message in Western cultures because there are a lot of misconceptions, so colorism is generally very closely tied with racism here.鈥

Other students have looked to notable figures who share the same deep complexion they have. Lopez has found this reflection helpful.

鈥淥ne day, I was crying because a girl said to me, 鈥極h, you鈥檙e so brown, like the dirt,鈥 and I was telling my dad in Spanish, 鈥極h, I wish I was white,鈥欌 she said. 鈥淗e (said,) 鈥楧on鈥檛 say that, your skin color is pretty 鈥 it鈥檚 just like (Our Lady of Guadalupe鈥檚).鈥 I really liked her story and idolized her, so I realized I shouldn鈥檛 feel bad because I鈥檓 the color of her and she鈥檚 pretty, so I should feel proud of myself.鈥

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About the Contributors
Diya Bose-Malakar
Diya Bose-Malakar, Features Editor
Senior Diya Bose-Malakar is a features editor for 麻豆放映免费 and has been on staff since August 2022. She enjoys listening to music, laughing at her own jokes and drinking overpriced boba.
Safina Syed
Safina Syed, Features Editor
Senior Safina Syed is a features editor and SEC liaison for 麻豆放映免费 and has been on staff since January 2021. When she's not reporting, you can find her listening to music, reading and cooking.
Karis Lau
Karis Lau, Graphics Artist
Senior Karis Lau is a graphic artist for 麻豆放映免费. Outside of school, Karis enjoys playing volleyball, crocheting and making art.
Chinyoung Shao
Chinyoung Shao, Photo Editor, Graphics Artist
Chinyoung Shao is a photos editor and graphics artist who has been on staff since freshman year. Outside of 麻豆放映免费, she enjoys doodling, debate and trying to keep plants alive.
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