“Colorism” Ethics

“Colorism” isn’t racism, at least not exactly. It describes the bias towards light-skin rather than dark skin, and that bias is prominent among African Americans, as well as South Americans

Dark-skinned women around the world are targeted by advertising for skin-lightening products telling them that lighter is better. It doesn’t help that prominent black celebrities have sometimes engaged in skin lightening, notably Michael Jackson. Another is formerChicago Cubs star Sammy Sosa:

(Sammy’s response to questions about his radically changed appearance have been pure “Jumbo”: “Lighter? What do you mean my skin is lighter?”)

The Beautywell Project, is a non-profit group. Its  mission: “eliminate biases against dark-skinned people and lift the self-esteem of those who have been harmed by the discrimination.” The Project is claiming a major victory after it delivered  a petition with 23,000 signatures in late last month  to Amazon , demanding that the retail giant remove skin-bleaching products  rom its online platform. Amazon did, too, but those products already violated the site’s guidelines, and were also illegal due to excessive amounts of mercury.  The group, says the New York Times, is still saying this was a successful strike against dark-skin bias.

That’s spin verging on a lie. It was a successful strike against dangerous consumer items, and Amazon did not pull the products because they enabled skin-lightening.  Amazon still offers skin-lightening creams without mercury, and as long as consumers want such products, it should keep offering them.

The Beautywell Project isn’t just in all likelihood futile, it is totalitarian in spirit.  If someone wants to look lighter, darker, or like a Smurf, they should be able to follow their dreams.  But…but…the Message!

“A large retail company selling skin-lightening products sends the message to people that they should change their skin color,” says Amira Adawe, the founder of the advocacy group. That’s backwards. Amazon sells the products because there’s a market for them made up of people who want to lighten their skin. Doing so is legal, and it’s also not unethical.  Beautywell is certainly within its rights to advocate for different beauty standards, but it can’t and shouldn’t dictate beauty standards. The preference for lighter skin among African-Americans is no more legitimate or illegitimate than a preference for buff abdominals, large breasts, cute turned-up noses, and heads with hair on top (which makes no sense to me at all).

The campaign against skin-lightening and anti-dark skin bias is within ethical boundaries as long as it aims to change cultural attitudes, and good luck with that. When the activist’s methods veer into compulsion, demanding that people see things their way, the campaign charges across the ethics lines. Make people think fat is beautiful. Prohibit ads from using thin models who send “the wrong message.” Make people think poor is good. Make them think being cross-eyed is good, or having an annoying voice is good.

Addressing the light skin/dark skin problem—colorism— gets an undeserved  boost because America is hyper-sensitive about race, and this preference feels like racism, when it is primarily based on cultural perceptions of beauty. Thus Adawe thinks she can shame people into abandoning their preference for lighter skin, as well as making it as hard as possible for people to address what they and others see as a “flaw.”

A 2017 study found that people with darker skin are more prone to arrests, and struggle more in the marriage market. Ah, studies! Color me skeptical, and even if it has validity, there are similar studies showing advantages accruing to people who are tall (heightism) and young (ageism). The felt need to address unequal conditions created by ancient and irrational bias by penalizing the bias is, upon examination, no more than another human tendency, that of  condemning and harassing  others who don’t like what you like or think like you think. Yes, colorism is dumb, and there is nothing wrong with trying to change biases by educating people. Still, being able to decide the kinds or appearances one admires, trusts and wants is subset of “the pursuit of happiness.”

A related problem that does involve race is now causing debate on cable TV. Almost all of those Hallmark Christmas movies, which are like having someone jam mistletoe up your…nose, involve white couples, and are pitched at white audiences. Activists are accusing Hallmark of being racist by packaging entertainment for white people who like watching stories about white people…you know, just like black people like watching stories about “people like them.” (Just ask Tyler Perry).

The implication is that if black people like watching black actors, that’s natural, but whites identifying with white characters in gaggingly sentimental and predictable movies starring aged-out child stars is shameful and racist.

The issue is really simple: do Americans have a right to their likes, dislikes and personal preferences? They do indeed. Does the fact that those likes, dislikes and personal preferences make other people feel badly about themselves make them wrong? Sometimes, perhaps, but not necessarily. Hallmark Christmas movies are a pretty dumb hill to die on, and I wouldn’t be sad if there never was another one, but there is nothing intrinsically wrong and unethical about making cheesy romantic movies starring pretty white people.

Ms. Adawe says that “the biggest thing is to redefine what beauty is. It is so much embedded in cultures that we need to retrain the colonized mind to make sure that even in the education system we create, it promotes all skin colors.”


And just think…if it works, imagine all the other BadThink people can be trained out of!


Source: New York Times

22 thoughts on ““Colorism” Ethics

  1. This is, no doubt, being lauded by the same people who think 6 year olds should have the legal right to permanently mutilate their genitalia.
    God, I hope global warming isn’t a hoax.
    Now, why can’t I stop thinking about large breasts?

  2. The whitened picture of Sammy Sosa looks like a bad embalming job. However, if he likes the look no harm no foul. This “woke” campaign boycott is bound to fail however and I hope that Amazon isn’t cowed into submission. Preferences for a certain look in a partner aren’t going to be changed by a bunch of hysterical ninnies. My suspicion is that they’re just dissatisfied with their boring lives and need a cause to feel that they’re not worthless.

      • As terrible as a “Walking Dead”-type dystopia looks, one day something along similar lines may be the only thing that saves the Human race from being God’s most embarrassing fuck-up.

  3. It appears that the idea that lighter skin tones are more attractive is more predominant in non-white communities than in white ones.

    The Times article was based on West African markets not specifically global ones.

    There do seem to be some affinity for Senegalese, Morrocan and other West African women relative those from the interior of the continent. Some of this may have more to do with education and prospective earning levels than color. Nonetheless, lighter skin tones in Africa may be more of a screening method than a preference for such skin tones.

  4. My wife, at home while battling a condition, had me load the Hallmark App on her iPhone. This devious little imp tells her when, where, and how often every. single. movie. will run. There are two Hallmark channels (who knew?) and there are almost 200 (!) movies running this holiday season. (They leave me vaguely unsatisfied, like knock off candy canes with artificial peppermint)

    I feel ill just thinking about it. I have taken refuge in walking through the living room and predicting the general plot (‘taint difficult), the inevitable plot twist, and the manner in which the twist is resolved. I am almost always right, which drives her to distraction. Another game is guessing when the movie was made by the tech shown.

    To compensate, when I get the TV I watch my Babylon 5 dvds. I start season 5 this week: I don’t know what I will watch when those run out.

    • I’m a straight, white male who likes the Hallmark Christmas movies and not ashamed to admit it. Sure the acting can be mediocre and the writing so-so, but they are sweet stories with good, honest people and have happy endings.

      Last year there actually was a movie featuring an African-American couple. I watched and enjoyed the movie. The stories, after all, generally could apply to people of any race.

      • Good points, Shadow.
        Sure the acting can be mediocre and the writing so-so, but they are sweet stories with good, honest people and have happy endings.

        200 times in two months, though?

        I will admit there are a rare few that have good acting and writing at the same time, but not many. The plot is usually obvious from the first 15 minutes. Bubble gum.

        But if you like them, that says a lot about you, in a good way. Nothing wrong with a happy ending, which is why my wife likes them, especially since she has chronic pain… it is a distraction and a mood elevator. She hurts less when the feel good endorphins flow from the happy ending.

  5. “…we need to retrain the colonized mind…”

    You can’t possibly more brainwashed than thinking that people who think and do what they want are brainwashed.

  6. Point of order – Michael Jackson had Vitiligo as well as Lupus.


    To this day, many assume Jackson bleached his skin to become white – that it was a wilful cosmetic decision because he was ashamed of his race. Yet in the mid-1980s Jackson was diagnosed with vitiligo, a skin disorder that causes loss of pigmentation in patches on the body. According to those close to him, it was an excruciatingly humiliating personal challenge, one in which he went to great lengths to hide through long-sleeve shirts, hats, gloves, sunglasses and masks. When Jackson died in 2009, his autopsy definitively confirmed he had vitiligo, as did his medical history.

    However, in the early 1990s, the public were sceptical to say the least. Jackson first publicly revealed he had vitiligo in a widely watched 1993 interview with Oprah Winfrey. “This is the situation,” he explained. “I have a skin disorder that destroys the pigmentation of the skin. It is something I cannot help, OK? But when people make up stories that I don’t want to be what I am it hurts me … It’s a problem for me that I can’t control.”

    • Zoe
      I knew he had vetilligo and understood the condition.

      I think the idea of skin bleaching resulted from his attempts to minimize normal African American features through surgical procedures. When combined with the decision to match the lighter skin rather than the darker portions the premise that some African Americans have been conditioned to believe that beauty lies in features of caucasions is not necessarily out of the realm of possibilities for Michael Jackson which I believe is the whole point of the Times article and Jack’s post

    • That’s information worth keeping in mind; I knew about it, considered mentioning it, but decided it was a tangent. The fact is that Jackson bleached his skin to become lighter—OK, more uniformly light, but the effect, whatever its reason, was that a high profile African American pop culture star was suddenly light skinned, and by choice. Since his plastic surgery also had the effect of making him look less “black,” it was a reasonable supposition, no?

    • There’s a lot of reasons to dislike the late Michael Jackson apart from his skin disorder. I never cared much about his white gloves, shades, and moon walking. I am glad that the rumors that he was trying to look like Diane Rock are apparently untrue.

  7. Jack asks: “The issue is really simple: do Americans have a right to their likes, dislikes and personal preferences?’

    The answer is simple: Yes, as long as those preferences adhere to what has been declared acceptable by the Central Scrutinizer. Such preferences must first pass the Woke Test and receive a seal of approval from the Preference Allowance Committee..


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