Things That Matter

Majority of Latinos Say Darker Skin Color Negatively Impacts Them; mitú Audience Agrees

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There is increasing discourse from Latinos who have begun to openly discuss a topic that affects so many of us, but is often swept under the rug. That topic is colorism. The Oxford English Dictionary defines colorism as “prejudice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin.”

Recently, the Pew Research Center found that skin tone affects the day-to-day lives of Latinos in the U.S., with 62% of adult Latinos saying that having a darker skin tone “hurts their chances of getting ahead.”

In a similar vein, 59% of the respondents said that having lighter skin helps them. The data was taken from a survey of 3,375 Latinos living in the U.S, but it’s worth noting that colorism isn’t just an issue within the U.S. Latinx community. Colorism is a problem that plagues Latin America as whole.

Colorism is an issue that can be directly traced back to the colonization of the Americas by Europeans. As we know, centuries ago, having lighter skin meant you were more closely related to wealth and power. Having darker skin meant you were of Indigenous or African descent — two classes of people who were brutalized and oppressed. And it is the history of Latin America that most ardently informs colorism within Latinx communities today.

One only has to look at the main characters of Latino media to see that lighter skin is more highly-valued in Latin America.

Whiter-skinned Latinos are often portrayed as leading men or leading ladies while darker-skinned Latinos are often relegated to the role of “the help” or the comic relief.

And while Latinos hesitate to bring up divisive topics within the community for fear of stoking discord, the fact is, many Latinos have experienced the impact of colorism themselves. Many Latinos have stories of being bullied by schoolmates or family members for being “dark” or looking “Indian.” Even the common term of endearment negrito/a is often used on the darkest or most tan member of the family.

Knowing how pervasive this issue is, we asked our mitú audience if they’ve personally experienced colorism within their own lives. And their answers were eye-opening.

70% of the audience who voted on mitú’s Instagram poll said that they had been discriminated against due to the color of their skin. In candid DM’s, our readers revealed that colorism affected everything in their lives from their relationships to their treatment by doctors.

One audience member said: “My family made jokes because my skin was darker and features were more Indigenous.” Another revealed: “With all of my pregnancy, my OB/GYN gave me the least amount of healthcare than the other pregnant women.”

One of the respondents shared an anecdote of being targeted at the airport because of their darker skin color.

“I am from Guatemala and every time I fly to Miami, migration officers do a double check of my visa and ask personal questions about my trip,” they wrote. “But other Guatemalans with a lighter skin color are OK to go and leave the airport without trouble.” The person also shared they are sometimes “drug tested” at the airport.

On the other hand, lighter-skinned Latinos revealed to mitú that they sense their own privilege because of the color of their skin.

“I have an American accent and I’m very pale. I am white passing and for sure privileged,” wrote a mitú audience member.

Another explained that people struggle to believe their ethnicity because of their skin tone. “I’m actually really light-skinned and people never believe me when I tell them that I’m Hispanic,” they said.

As always, the only way the community can correct this issue is to continue adding to the discourse. After all, we can’t change our behavior if we don’t acknowledge it in the first place.

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