Color Matters
eBook - ePub

Color Matters

Skin Tone Bias and the Myth of a Postracial America

Kimberly Jade Norwood, Kimberly Jade Norwood

  1. 256 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Color Matters

Skin Tone Bias and the Myth of a Postracial America

Kimberly Jade Norwood, Kimberly Jade Norwood

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About This Book

In the United States, as in many parts of the world, people are discriminated against based on the color of their skin. This type of skin tone bias, or colorism, is both related to and distinct from discrimination on the basis of race, with which it is often conflated. Preferential treatment of lighter skin tones over darker occurs within racial and ethnic groups as well as between them. While America has made progress in issues of race over the past decades, discrimination on the basis of color continues to be a constant and often unremarked part of life.

In Color Matters, Kimberly Jade Norwood has collected the most up-to-date research on this insidious form of discrimination, including perspectives from the disciplines of history, law, sociology, and psychology. Anchored with historical chapters that show how the influence and legacy of slavery have shaped the treatment of skin color in American society, the contributors to this volume bring to light the ways in which colorism affects us all--influencing what we wear, who we see on television, and even which child we might pick to adopt. Sure to be an eye-opening collection for anyone curious about how race and color continue to affect society, Color Matters provides students of race in America with wide-ranging overview of a crucial topic.

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Information

Publisher
Routledge
Year
2013
ISBN
9781317819554
Edition
1
1
The Ubiquitousness of Colorism
Then and Now
Kimberly Jade Norwood and Violeta Solonova Foreman
Black: dirty, soiled, sinister, evil, associated with the Devil, calamitous, disastrous. White: innocent, favorable, fortunate, free from moral impunity, free from spot or blemish.1
Black smoke represents the devil; white smoke brings us a pope. Black vs. White: These words have meaning, and they are not limited to good vs. evil or dark vs. light. They also govern how we feel about the people who wear the skin associated with these colors.2 The term “colorism” is believed to have been first coined in 1982 by Pulitzer Prize-winner Alice Walker. It was defined by her as the “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color.”3 It not only applies within racial communities but also between them. It is a global phenomenon,4 and because of its tie to beauty it affects women more than men.5
An International Look at Color
Cuban society was thus built with a strict code in which skin color placed human beings in certain social classes and even within varying degrees of humanity: Black, in many cases, was synonymous with beast.6
Historically, distinctions based on skin color have appeared independently in different societies around the globe. Centuries ago, for example, “bronze-brown Aztec women [in Central America] … used to smear themselves with an ointment made of yellow earth … [during courtship,] since golden skin was considered more attractive than brown.”7 In classical antiquity, the Greeks and Romans used white lead as a cosmetic to lighten their skin, and the Egyptian queen Cleopatra (69–30 BCE) used mercury and “is said to have taken pains to keep her skin light … by bathing in asses’ milk.”8 In some societies, colorism was specifically tied to class. Agrarian societies placed value on white skin to distinguish the upper class from outdoor laborers.9 Western colonization, however, used colorism to dehumanize enslaved populations, thus making discrimination based on skin color more than a class imperative, turning it instead into a system of hatred and denigration. This chapter will look briefly at colorism around the globe, focusing particularly on colorism in the United States, and will examine colorism’s unique history in America, its tie to racism, and some present-day implications.
Latin America
During the colonial period, Latin America experienced genetic and cultural mixing between the natives, Europeans, and Africans, which, as a result of mixed unions, led to a socially distinct group of people.10 Social classifications proliferated as racially mixed individuals came to define their place in society.11 Racial labels multiplied as the Spanish colonists pursued a system of hierarchical classes based on socioracial classifications called “sociedad de castas (‘society of castes, or breeds’).”12 During the postcolonial period, when most Latin American countries became independent republics, those in power had to reconcile the racial mixture of their populations with the popular theories about the inferiority of colored people. To solve this dilemma, some Latin Americans invoked the notion of “progressive mixture,” which acknowledged the mixed nature of Latin America but “also assumed that the region was moving toward a ‘superior’ state of increasing ‘whiteness.’”13 Many countries encouraged European immigration in order to hasten the process of blanqueamiento (“whitening”).14 The concept of “whitening” can be traced to the “1783 Cedula de Gracias al Sacar (petition to ‘cleanse’ persons of ‘impure origins’), which allowed mulattoes15 to buy certificates that officially declared them to be white.”16
Today distinctions based on skin color are manifold. Brazil, for example, has at least 300 terms to define skin color.17 Unlike racial categories in the old American South, however, where one drop of black blood rendered an individual black, the Latino/a equivalent is almost the mirror opposite: One drop of white blood is a start on the path to whiteness.18 Moreover, appearance, gender, status, and social situation play a role in determining who is classified as black, mulatto, or white.19 Skin color, though, remains dominant and telling. There is evidence, for example, that black families earn 10 percent less than brown families in Brazil, and both brown and black families earn 60 percent less than white families.20 The studies also show that light-skinned Latinos are “substantially better off than their dark skinned compatriots regarding their educational attainment, occupational status and household income.”21
This preference is depicted in Spanish social media as well. Dark-skinned Latinas tend to be overly sexualized and portrayed as morally lacking.22 Most actors are represented as having lighter skin, unless they appear in secondary roles, such as maids, janitors, and gardeners, in which case their skin is noticeably darker.23 This is true in print media as well.24 Even Disney’s first Latina princess, introduced in the fall of 2012, has blue eyes, light brown hair, and a Caucasian skin tone.25
Asia
Asia is the largest and the most populated continent.26 While some of its countries, such as Japan and Korea, have individuals whose skin color ranges from light to medium light, many other countries, such as India and Pakistan, include people with darker skin pigmentation.27 Despite the existence of a full spectrum of skin color in Asia, colorism is widespread in many Asian countries. This section will touch on the practice as it exists in India, China, Japan, and the Philippines.28
India
The relation between skin color and class in India is complex and often mistakenly attributed to the caste system. The caste system originated in the Vedic period. It was religiously sanctioned and was designed to “describe the cultural development of each class.”29 While each cast was associated with a color—serfs were affiliated with black, peasants with yellow, warriors with red, and priests with white—skin color did not determine a person’s caste.30 There is evidence that darkly pigmented persons could belong to one of the higher castes.31 Over time, however, the caste system came to incorporate the negative associations between darker skin and outdoor activities, particularly because both warriors and peasants labored outdoors and were consequently darker-skinned than priests.32 By the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and ultimately influenced by increased contacts with Europe as a result of trade, the caste line became a color line.33 When the British colonized India, they not only used skin color to distinguish themselves physically, socially, and culturally from the Indians, but they also used skin color to distinguish the Aryan North and the high castes, from the Dravidian South and the lower castes.34 Following the Aryan conquest of the indigenous and darker-skinned Dravidians, society became segregated into castes. The upper castes, and particularly the priests, were thought to be the descendants of the light-skinned Aryans and the lower castes as descendants of the dark-skinned Dravidians.35 This cemented ideas of racial theory of caste and dominance of light-skinned people over dark.36
The preference for light skin is widely accepted in India today. India has the largest market for skin lighteners,37 with sales rates increasing nearly 18 percent a year, and far outstripping those of Coca-Cola and tea.38 Fueling this demand is the country’s entertainment industry in which fair skin is imperative for success.39 Even on popular social media outlets such as Facebook, Indian users are urged to appear whiter and thus more attractive.40 Skin-whitening creams are not only advertised for the face, but even for the female genital area.41
China and Japan
The preference for light skin in Asian society was present long before encounters with Europeans in the modern era.42 Indeed, white skin was associated with the upper class, while darker skin was viewed as belonging to the lower class that had to labor outdoors.43 In ancient Japan, lighter skin was associated with color symbolism, as well as notions of purity.44 The use of makeup to simulate appearance of white skin can be traced as far back as the eighth century in Japan,45 where pale skin was associated with beauty and spiritual purity.46 Similarly, in medieval China, women tried to lighten their skin by, among other things, eating ground seashell and applying skin whiteners made out of mercury or lead oxide.47
Although the preference for light skin existed before contact with Europeans, it is often cited that in the period following World War II, the “advancement of Westernization and the wide presence of U.S. military bases in Asia have significantly affected aesthetic ideals among Asian peoples.”48 For example, although Japan has had many contacts with white Spanish, English, Dutch, and Portuguese traders before the Tokugawa government sealed off Japan from the West in 1639, the Japanese viewed their own whiteness as superior and often depicted white foreigners as having darker skins than themselves. After Japan was forced to open its doors to trade in 1853, increased commercialism with the West began to gradually alter the country’s perception of attractiveness.49 By the 1920s, motion pictures completely changed Japanese attitudes toward beauty, with Japanese women cutting their hair into fashionable Western bob styles and curling it, despite the traditional samurai notions that valued straight long hair.50 Anything Western came to be considered modern and superior, and therefore desirable.
Increased globalization and the proliferation of Western mass-media notions of attractiveness have combined with the Asian cultural values associated with white skin...

Table of contents

  1. Cover
  2. Half Title
  3. Title Page
  4. Copyright Page
  5. Table of Contents
  6. Acknowledgments
  7. Introduction
  8. 1. The Ubiquitousness of Colorism: Then and Now
  9. 2. The Origins of Colorism in Early American Law
  10. 3. The Rise and Fall of the One-Drop Rule: How the Importance of Color Came to Eclipse Race
  11. 4. A Darker Shade of Pale Revisited: Disaggregated Blackness and Colorism in the “Post-Racial” Obama Era
  12. 5. Colorism and Interracial Intimacy: How Skin Color Matters
  13. 6. Fragmented Identity: Psychological Insecurity and Colorism Among African Americans
  14. 7. Colorism and Blackthink: A Modern Augmentation of Double Consciousness
  15. 8. The Implications of Skin Color vis-à-vis Discrimination: Revisiting Affirmative Action
  16. 9. A New Way Forward: The Development and Preliminary Validation of Two Colorism Scales
  17. Bibliography
  18. About the Contributors
  19. Index