The Other Kind of Racism Dark-Skinned People Often Hear in the Summer

June 9th 2017

Danielle DeCourcey

The summer is here and Americans are spending more time outside under the sun.

That means that tanning is in full effect for adults and kids.

However, it's also during this time of year when some children experience a subtle form of racism where they're told by others to not to get "too dark."

Although, telling a child to avoid harmful sun exposure can be an important warning, some admonishments have nothing to do with health or sunburn. The common experience of being instructed to avoid the sun, inspired a viral meme on Instagram. The meme featured children of color, with text warning people to avoid telling kids they look "too dark this summer." It was posted on Tuesday by @undocumedia, and it's received more than 17,000 likes.


For real! Colorism is well and alive in our communities. Via @camotli Repost @nalgonapositivitypride @wakeuprgv

A post shared by UndocuMedia #HereToStay (@undocumedia) on

The meme is pushing back against beauty standards deeply rooted in colorism that's often found in minority communities, where those with fairer skin are often valued more than those with darker skin tones. Colorism is a form of color-based discrimination within a racial or ethnic group that puts people with lighter skin above those with dark skin.

But colorism has consequences.

Liz Dwyer, the culture and education editor, for Takepart wrote about her own experience with colorism as a child.

"I grew up being called 'white sugar' by my grandmother, while my darker, 11-day-older cousin was called 'brown sugar,'" wrote Dwyer. "My grandma loved us both, but she would sometimes kiss me on the forehead in front of my cousin and say, 'White sugar always tastes sweeter.'" The author used this example to note how colorism created a hierarchy in her family at a young age.

Research shows that dark-skinned black people are less likely to be hired than light-skinned black people, and an analysis of women in prison in North Carolina showed that people with lighter skin complexions received shorter prison sentences and served less time than dark-skinned people.

A repost of the meme by the Facebook group Brown Power started a discussion among people who recollected their own childhood incidents of colorism or racism.

There was a viral tweet from user @rae_jones, which was posted in April, that also warned against stigmatizing dark skin.

The tweet began a discussion about how jokes in relation  aimed at people of color can quickly turn into insults "steeped in colorism."

Lori L. Tharps, an author and associate professor of journalism at Temple University, wrote that colorism will become increasingly significant as the U.S. becomes increasingly more diverse.

"In the 21st century, as America becomes less white and the multiracial community — formed by interracial unions and immigration — continues to expand, color will be even more significant than race in both public and private interactions," Tharps wrote in October for Time. "Why? Because a person’s skin color is an irrefutable visual fact that is impossible to hide, whereas race is a constructed, quasi-scientific classification that is often only visible on a government form."

Although, colorism may become more common than racism, she noted that colorism is the legacy of a racist history. "It cannot be overstated that if racism didn’t exist, a discussion about varying skin hues would simply be a conversation about aesthetics," wrote Tharps. "But that’s not the case. The privileging of light skin over dark is at the root of an ill known as colorism."

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