7 Things You Need to Know About Colorism

Black History Month is a great time to unravel a topic many of us are talking about: colorism.

Galatians 5:16, 25-26: 16: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.”

What is colorism? A byproduct of racism, especially in the U.S., colorism attempts to create hierarchies and social value through skin tone. And in the world as we know it, the lighter the better. Also known as “interracism,” colorism – discrimination between people of the same race – is an after-effect of institutions such as slavery, imperialism, and apartheid; a “divide-and-conquer” methodology created and used by oppressive societies against those they oppress.

Colorism can become a “coping mechanism” for those who perceive themselves in the position of lesser power, who feel they can assimilate into the dominant culture they live in by assuming the characteristics of that culture. Those in power seek to “divide and conquer,” fueling divisions by creating stereotypes and by promoting a racial exclusivity which favors the dominant culture (and lightest skin tones).

In a nutshell, it perpetuates a legacy of pain and oppression.

Cultures of color around the world have been affected by colorism, and its effects manifest in various ways. Darker-skinned people bleach their skin and alter their features to appear more European. People with lighter skin give preferential treatment to others with light skin tones while vilifying those who are darker. Darker people abuse those with lighter skin out of jealousy.  The list of symptoms goes on and on, but the biggest issue berthed from colorism? It goes against God’s Will for us.

Here are 7 things you need to know about colorism:

  1. Colorism breaks a commandment. An idol  is anything we focus on more than God which consumes our attention, our time, our resources; something that occupies a place in our lives that only God should. Colorism’s obsession with skin color and physical attributes is what the bible considers to be idolatry. God’s second Commandment says that we shouldn’t bow down to idols, and that if we do, future generations will be affected by the same issues (Exodus 20:4-5). Many of us first felt the pain of colorism from our parents, and they from their parents. But in order for us to fully experience God’s love, we have to end the sin of colorism with our generation by holding onto the truth of His Word and obeying His Will (Exodus 20:6)
  2. It’s a distraction. Colorism literally puts our focus on the flesh – and that’s sin. As Bishop Blake says, “Satan doesn’t want us, he wants our purpose,” and when we focus on the flesh, our pain and our afflictions, it takes us away from focus on our purpose. If Satan can distract us from the reason God created us in the first place, then we miss out on the manifestation of God’s Kingdom on earth (Matthew 6:13), and on the realization of our own place in the big picture.
  3. Colorism is bullying. Those engaging in colorism often abuse others whose skin tone is different from theirs. The truth is, when someone bullies us for any reason, it’s a sign they’re suffering from their own pain and are trying to transfer that pain to us. Whether we’re the bully or the victim, know that Jesus was bruised for our transgressions; He died and rose again so that we all will know that we have the ability to transcend hurt and pain, too (Isaiah 53:5).
  4. Colorism springs from a lack of knowledge. We’ve heard the saying, “You won’t know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve been.” God also says, “My people perish for lack of knowledge (Hosea 4:6).” When we know the Word, who we are,  and the historic triumphs of those who look like us and share our beliefs, we’re armed with the weapons to thrive.
  5. It divides us. Like a cancer which eats away at the body, colorism and racism divide the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 1:10). Mark 3:25 says, “And if a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.”
  6. Colorism robs you of your blessings. Remember when Moses led the Hebrews out of Egypt, but because of all their issues, they never made it into the Promised Land (Numbers 11)? Wouldn’t it be a pity to be so focused on skin color, physical appearance, or the pain in our past, that we totally miss out on the miraculous life God has in store for us today too (Galatians 5:1)?
  7. Colorism is not God’s state for us. Does God see color? I’d say yes – and He loves every shade because He created them all! Our diversity is God’s way of showing us the beauty of His creation, and is a true test of our ability to love. Remember: we are His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10).

Scientists believe that in our future lies an era when all races become one big beige melting pot. But that world comes at a price, which is loss of culture, history, diversity and truth. Just as a rainbow can’t exist with only one color – and God created the rainbow as a sign of His covenant with us (Genesis 9:13) – being a true reflection of His love means honoring all the colors and cultures He created.

After millenniums of the trials, enslavement, and triumphs of our forefathers, we can’t allow skin color to now take us off course. As Christians, it’s time to purge both colorism and racism from our lives through prayer, repentance, and adherence to the Word. It’s time to “set our sights on things ahead” (Phillipians 3:12-14), and, through Jesus Christ, be freed from the enslavement of demons from our past.

Karen Lascaris is a regular contributor to Westa.org. She’s the author of “In Our Own Image: Treasured African American Traditions, Journeys, and Icons” (Running Press, Philadelphia, PA, 2001).  She was featured in the colorism documentary “Light Girls,” which will air on the Oprah Winfrey Network during Black History Month.

Want to read more about idols? Click here for our post and podcast titled, “What is An idol?”

To read more about repentance, click here for our post and podcast, “What Is Repentance?”.