Colorism - The Elephant in the Room?

Risha Manga |

Entrepreneurship Education blog

Welcome to Workforce Career Readiness™ Teen Writing Series.  This series offers teens the opportunity to publish their creative work and opinions on issues that affect their lives (relationships, family, school, current events, exercise, healthy eating and living, mental wellness, and self-esteem).  Workforce Career Readiness™ is devoted to helping teens share their voices.


Brown girl,

You are lovely

In every shade.

-Pavana Reddy

I couldn’t agree more with the strong sentiment behind these simple yet powerful lines.. If you have felt or been told that your skin is “too dark” to be beautiful, remember that you are radiant and beautiful.  Colorism is a prevalent topic today in society and has been for several years. But what is colorism?

Colorism is “ prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group.” This is different from racism but is still practiced just as much. In society, many people believe that lighter skin tones are “better” or “prettier”. This stigma is engraved into people's brains and people within the same race exercise that ideal. As an Indian American being born and raised in the United States, I’ve had my fair share of experiences with colorists.

One incident which stuck with me is from when I was in third grade. I had just started in a new school and made some amazing friends. Little did I know that some of the grownups viewed my skin tone as inferior to their own daughter’s. Hurtful comments about the unacceptable shade of brown was thrown around with complete disregard as to how it made me feel. Like second cousins of racism in the socio-cultural family, colorism is fueled by sentiments that think one shade of brown skin is better than the other.

Another such incident occurred during one of  my trips to India. I was  9 years old and my parents took me to visit some distant relatives. One of the first things they said to me was ,” why is your skin so dark?” This question wasn’t asked in a sweet way, it was asked with pure disgust. When I was faced with this question, I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I remember standing there, trying to fight back tears. I didn’t understand why having darker skin was wrong. The question was obviously rhetorical and now when I think back I find it ironic that this second cousin of mine was totally in line with the second cousin of racism.

As I got older, I learned that I’m not alone in these experiences. Millions of Indian women face colorism— the problematic concept that darker skin is inherently less desirable — both in India and in America. I recognize now that I’m lucky to be raised  in a family that made me recognize that every skin color is beautiful and I am thankful for that.

Colorism is not only something that shows up in advertisements, there are actual companies and products dedicated to make your skin “fairer and more beautiful” . Products such as Fair and Lovely are common household items found among Indian and Indian American sinks.

Colorism is rampant across all media and is purely a reflection of our society and the binary standard of beauty. If we want our young to evolve into mature and strong adults, social media influencers should use their platform to create awareness to bridge the gap between the two spheres of light and dark. Maybe it’s time to call out colorism in all its manifestations. Maybe it’s time to connect all shades of brown. Maybe it’s time to address the elephant in the room.



Risha is the co-founder of 901PLEDGE. Risha turned her passion for crafting jewelry into compassion for others who are victims of inequality, and has driven her to help refugee children achieve academic success through literacy. Risha was inducted into the  100 High School Students America Needs to Know About.

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