brief introduction to colorism for children and young adults

I. The Purpose of this Resource

brief introduction to colorism for children and young adultsThe purpose of this Introduction to Colorism is to help parents, educators, mentors, and counselors facilitate discussions about colorism with young people of all ages.

The following is meant to give youth an introductory glimpse of what colorism is, where it comes from, and how it affects people. This is done primarily through literature and discussion/written responses.

Whether or not they’ve ever heard of the term “colorism,” you will find that many people have observed or experienced acts of colorism at some point in their lives, while others have not. These materials are designed with both sets of audiences in mind.

II. What is Colorism?

Colorism is prejudice toward others because of their skin color or features such as hair texture and eye color. It may also be a dislike for your own skin color and features.

Two people may be the same race and still be treated differently because of how dark or light their skin is.

Colorism is something that happens all across the country and all around the world. There are a few different explanations for why it exists, but most historians say it’s the result of racism during colonialism and slavery.

During slavery in the United States, for example, many Native Americans and Blacks were mixed with white ancestry. Although they were not treated as equal to whites, some people believed that being mixed with more European ancestry made them more acceptable than Native Americans and Blacks who were not mixed.

Since those times, colorism has taken many forms, and people of all colors have been perpetrators and targets.

III. Suggested Readings on Colorism with preliminary questions

A. Elementary

1.Same Difference by Calida Rawles (also in video format via YouTube)

a) How do Lisa and Lida treat each other before they see their differences?

b) How does Lisa and Lida’s grandmother help the girls feel good about their differences?

2. Skin Again by bell hooks

a) What can a person’s skin tell you about who they are?

b) What can a person’s skin NOT tell you about who they are?

3.Nina Bonita by Ana Maria Machado

a) How does the bunny feel about Nina’s black skin?

b) What does this story show us about different skin colors in families?

B. Middle

1. The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake

a) How or why does Maleeka develop a dislike for her skin color?

b) What does Miss Saunders teach Maleeka about being comfortable in her own skin?

2.Fall Secrets by Candy Dawson Boyd

a) How does Jessie’s relationship with her sister affect her feelings and actions at school?

b) How does opening up about her secret start to change Jessie’s attitude and feelings about skin color?

C. High

1. Like A Tree Without Roots by Teresa Ann Willis

a) How does history play a role in Jasmine’s attitude about her skin color and features?

b) What steps does Jasmine take on her journey to self-acceptance?

2. “Team Lightskinned” YouTube video via CNN

a) According to the poem, what are some of the burdens and privileges of being light- or dark-skinned?

b) How does this poem demonstrate a need for empathy among people of different colors?

3.Maud Martha by Gwendolyn Brooks

a) How does colorism impact family dynamics in Maud Martha?

b) How does colorism affect romantic relationships in Maud Martha?

D. College

1.The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman

a) How is skin color tied to class and social status in Blacker the Berry?

b) How does Emma Lou perpetuate colorism toward herself and others in the novel?

2.Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair

a) How or why does Stevie learn to appreciate her own skin and hair?

b) What can we learn from this novel about how and why colorism is perpetuated?

IV. Colorism Writing Prompts/Discussion Starters

A. Have you ever heard someone make negative comments about another person’s skin color? If so, what did you hear them say, and how did you feel about it?

B. How is colorism similar to or different from other types of prejudice?

C. Do you think a person’s skin color is really what makes them smart, nice, or beautiful? Why or why not?

V. Next Steps

After you’ve reviewed these materials and have attempted to use them, please give me your feedback. Any ideas, suggestions, or critiques would be quite helpful in the future development of educational resources on colorism.

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