Illustration of face silhouettes in diverse skin tones.


Definition of color

Skin pigmentation other than and especially darker than what is considered characteristic of people typically defined as white, a person of color.

Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Definition of colorism

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

Source: Merriam-Webster Dictionary

Colorism refers to the way some people are treated as a result of their skin color, the effects of which are as pervasive as racism. Research has documented that individuals with lighter skin are treated more favorably in many American institutions, such as the education system, workplaces and even the criminal justice system. Why does that happen? Because of the history of race relations in the U.S., dark skin has been demonized, considered less beautiful and devalued. This divide along skin color is rooted in slavery and continues even now in modern times.

As a result, some argue that colorism does more damage on an individual’s experiences and life outcomes than race — in part because race is socially constructed and often unseen, but the color of your skin is visible and indisputable and therefore has a more profound effect on our interactions. It’s also important to remember that skin color is not just an issue in the African American or Black community, but it is also an issue in the Hispanic/Latino and Asian communities.

Color is a primary dimension of diversity that we cannot change. It shapes our interactions and makes us who we are. What we ask is that we all learn to appreciate these dimensions of diversity and acknowledge that these differences are assets that, when combined and leveraged, can make AAUW a stronger organization.