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Season Two: Episode 08
The Persistent Problem of Colorism

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Today, Shelley reaches back into his archive to an interview with Mariam McClendon. They discuss colorism, that is, the differences in perception between light- and dark-complected blacks and the challenges darker-complected blacks encounter – even from members of their own race. Even though the interview is from 1991, the problem of colorism still exists today, hindering relationships and opportunities among blacks.

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The death of George Floyd last year has shone a spotlight on what it means to be Black, and especially, to be dark-skinned in America. Special correspondent Fred de Sam Lazaro has our report from Minnesota, home to a growing population of African and other immigrants. It is part of our continuing series "Race Matters", and Fred’s series, "Agents for Change."

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In this extended interview from Roots, Race & Culture, Danor and Lonzo continue their conversation about colorism with University of Utah professor Edmund Fong and current student Darienne Debrule. The group explores how colorism differs among varying ethnic groups, and how you can help combat colorism in your own community.

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CNN's Anderson Cooper highlights a project that reveals how children view racial beliefs, attitudes and preferences. Study shows black and white children are biased toward lighter skin.

Test aimed to re-create landmark Doll Test from 1940s.

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When Chika Okoro read the casting call for one of her favorite films, she noticed that actresses with darker skin were assigned lesser roles —prompting her to address a phenomenon she'd experienced all her life: colorism. In this eye-opening talk, Okoro shares coping strategies along with steps that could help eliminate this insidious and destructive mindset of discrimination.

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When I began teaching in Boston, I was struck by how often students of color referred to each other as “light-skinned” or “dark-skinned.” Almost daily, I witnessed high school students identify, categorize and stereotype their peers based on skin tone. Having grown up African American in Louisiana, I was used to white people’s ideas of white superiority and even those “colorstruck” black people who preferred lighter skin. But I did not expect that so many young people of diverse ethnicities—including Dominicans, Puerto Ricans and Cape Verdeans—would actively engage in everyday forms of skin-color bias

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Colorism is an insidious, globally prevalent bias that deeply impacts the lives and livelihoods of darker-skinned women. The term refers not only to the preference for lighter skin between different racial and ethnic communities, but also within those communities. Colorism is an enduring vestige of colonialism and white dominance around the globe and disproportionately harms women of color. Inclusive leaders must work to prevent women of color from experiencing colorism at work — and make sure they don’t leave. The author presents three ways to disrupt colorism in the workplace.

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Every year, Hollywood inevitably comes under criticism for its lack of racial diversity. But another lesser-known yet still pervasive problem also resurfaces: the lack of diversity in skin tone.

It happened again with “In the Heights,” a big-budget film based on the musical created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, which was called out this week for its dearth of dark-skinned, Black Latinos in leading roles.


Colorism — or discrimination against darker-skinned people within their same ethnic group — lurks deep among pretty much all communities with varying levels of melanin. But it doesn’t get talked about, and that could be a setback for the racial justice efforts that intensified after the police killing of George Floyd last year.

Ask Dr. Shelley Stewart
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