Colorism: Archaic, a Hot Mess and Worse for Dark-Skinned Women

India.Arie attends 43rd NAACP Image Awards (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
India.Arie attends 43rd NAACP Image Awards (Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

In a reflection on the recent flap about India.Arie's alleged skin bleaching, Essence's Janelle Harris says that complexion craziness is tough on everyone but especially painful for darker black women — and it's our collective responsibility to put a stop to it. 

… We also have an often undertapped power as Black women to call out colorism for the archaic hotmessness that it is — whether it individually affects us or not. Most sisters have had some kind of experience with it, either presented as an in-your-face insult or a backhanded compliment, like the time a blind date praised me for being "just the right complexion" and cooed that my skin looked good against his. As if anybody with a whole mind wants to be big-upped for that. That, and the fact that he spent three-quarters of dinner time boring a hole into my décolletage, firmed up his spot on the reject list.

Naturally, I don't dishonor the negative experiences light-skinned women have had with other people's complexion complexes. There are plenty on both sides, and we could volley horror stories back and forth about foolish folks who've offloaded their personal prejudices and generalizations based solely on skin tone. But I'm also aware that the bulk of the hurt from colorism falls on darker women, who get it from their own people as much as they get it from society as a whole. There is such a thing as light privilege and, left unacknowledged, it can fuel unnecessary divisiveness among Black women. I've seen it happen personally.

… We have to celebrate and respect the beauty of who we are, and if the rest of the world won't do that, the least we can do is extend that courtesy to  each other.


Read Janelle Harris' entire piece at

The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.