Updated: May 12
Colorism is defined as prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group. It can occur across ethnic groups as individuals from all races range in skin complexion. The Bleaching Syndrome is described "as a response by African Americans to assimilate into a society characterized by cultural domination in spite of the psychic conflict it has caused" (Hall, 1990). Click here to watch "Bleaching Syndrome Video," by the Michigan State University professor, Dr. Ronald Hall which describes the phenomenon in detail. Some examples of well-known people impacted by colorism include: Lil' Kim, Vybz Kartel, and Sammy Sosa. These influencers have been known to chemically lighten their skin, and have made drastic changes in appearance from dark to light in what seems like overnight! Lil' Kim, female hip-hop artist, states “guys always cheated on me with women who were European-looking. You know, the long-haired type. Really beautiful women [who] left me thinking, ‘How I can I compete with that?’ Being a regular black girl wasn’t good enough.”
The black community, however, is not the only group of people that struggle with complexion bias. Colorism is also a major social issue in India and causes great disparities in economic growth as people with darker skin tend to be associated with lower socioeconomic status. Native Indian activist and founder of non-profit organization Women of Worth, Kevitha Emmauel, asks a burning question "can Indians support Black Lives Matter when we ourselves have so many prejudices?" She continues to call the people of her country to a higher standard of perception as it relates to Indian women without fair skin. Famous Indian actress, Priyanka Chopra was known for promoting skin lightening products in commercial ads and after receiving backlash from the public, has refrained from participating in such advertisements and "sympathizes with girls who feel insecure about their skin."
The origin of colorism is rooted in systemic racism. White slave owners would assign domestic tasks to lighter skin slaves inside the home, and dark slaves would be responsible for the work outside. While inside the house, slave owners would take the opportunity to rape the fair skin slave who would then give birth to their lighter skinned child. This created a relationship of preferential treatment between whites and fair skinned slaves thus elevating them from their "lowly," status. By the 19th and 20th century blacks who were lighter skinned and could "pass," for white began cultivating caste systems within their own sorority and fraternity organizations in favor of anyone who was as light as a brown paper bag. An individual any darker than a brown paper bag was not accepted into certain institutions and would not be considered for employment hire.
Swarthy meaning dark skinned, is a term that is used to describe individuals with darker olive toned skin, however we'd like to generalize this term across ethnic groups. Swarthy Lion Ltd. Co. was inspired by the boldness and creativity of style icon, Andre 3000, when designing for the brand's Black Lives Collection in 2020. The Colorism 3000 T-shirt features the quote "across cultures darker people suffer most why?" Bold statements like this one & "ok, hand over the cure and stop playing," were sported on black jumpsuits and then printed on t-shirts (as seen here) to support the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2020. Check out "The Edit: Black Lives Collection," to see the full lookbook.