Black people have no problem speaking about the discrimination and oppression from outside, external forces. But when it comes to the discrimination perpetuated within the community, like colorism, jaws get a little tight. It can be deeply uncomfortable to acknowledge that while there are entire systems that need to be dismantled, there is also quite a bit of room for unlearning within the Black community as well. 

Colorism, believed to have been coined by writer Alice Walker, is a type of prejudicial or preferential treatment of a same-race people based solely on their color.”

The -ism indicates that this preferential treatment is also systematic in nature, connected to an entire ideology. 

You can see examples of colorism in various sectors of Black life, including in the casting of Black people, particularly women. Several Black celebrities have spoken about the role colorism has played in their career in one way or another. While it is encouraging that influential Black women are having these conversations more publicly, it also shows the work yet to be done. 

Viola Davis 

Photo credit: @violadavis/Instagram

Viola Davis is one of thee most talented actors to come around in a long time. Her work speaks for itself. Sadly, Davis sayw that she knows that she’s lost roles due to colorism.

“Let’s be honest,” she said during “Variety’sand Kering’s Women in Motion” panel.  If I had my same features and I were five shades lighter, it would just be a little bit different. And if I had blonde hair, blue eyes and even a wide nose, it would be even a little bit different than what it is now. We could talk about colorism. We could talk about race. It pisses me off, and it has broken my heart—on a number of projects, which I won’t name.”

Thandiwe Newton

Actress Thandiwe Newton tearfully attempted to acknowledge the ways in which she’s benefitted from being lighter skinned in Hollywood.

“I’ve wanted to apologize every day to darker-skinned actresses to say I’m sorry that I’m the one chosen,” Newton said. 

She went on to say that it’s been painful for her that dark-skinned women, who look like her mom, feel like she’s not representing them and taking from them.

“Taking their men, taking their work, taking their truth,” she said. 

For many the statement was clumsy, seemed to center her feelings and offered no real answers in terms of what she might do in the future. 


Few people have transitioned from child star to adult actress as seamlessly and successfully as Zendaya. But the actress acknowledged that part of her success is due to Hollywood’s narrow conceptions of Black women.

“As a Black woman, as a light-skinned Black woman, it’s important that I’m using my privilege, my platform to show you how much beauty there is in the African-American community,” she said during a conversation at Beautycon. “I am Hollywood’s, I guess you could say, acceptable version of a Black girl and that has to change.”

Keke Palmer

They call her Keke “keep a job” Palmer. Still, that hasn’t stopped people from comparing her to Zendaya, wondering why their career trajectories have not been the same. One twitter user speculated that it was due to colorism. Palmer was not having it.

“A great example of colorism is to believe I can be compared to anyone,” she tweeted in response.

While she did acknowledge that colorism exists, she doesn’t believe it should deter anyone from pursuing their dreams.

“In my position, the biggest thing I want to tell all little girls is to never carry the weight of being Black, or being dark-skinned, as something that’s going to hold you back,” she said.

Amandla Stenberg

While colorism is systematic, it doesn’t mean that individuals are powerless. Amandla Stenberg showed how they used their privilege as a lighter-skinned actress to advocate for their darker-skinned counterparts. They were offered the role of Shuri in “Black Panther.” But they turned it down.

“That was really challenging, to make that decision,” they shared at TIFF’s Next Wave Festival,”..but I have no regrets. I recognize 100 percent that there are spaces that I should not take up.”

Michaela Coel

“We don’t want to accept that other people are less privileged than we are. So the fact that we’re saying ‘Oh my God amazing, look at “Westworld” what a diverse show’ and I’m saying ‘look at the show no one is darker than a paper bag on that show.’” Coel told Afro News in 2017. “We’ve been talking about race for so long that we haven’t realized that this is actually colorism… I’m talking about women like Viola Davis, Whoopi Goldberg, myself are disappearing from the media and what’s gonna happen is that we become invisible and nobody’s gonna talk about it and we’re not gonna get any f****** jobs. We’re gonna have a problem.”

Tichina Arnold

Tichina Arnold’s talent is undeniable. From “Martin” to “Everybody Hates Chris,” she’s been consistently memorable. Still, she says there are roles she knows she lost because of her skin tone.

“The 80’s were very interesting because it was about that light skin, dark skinned thing,” Arnold said during her interview with TV One’s “Uncensored.” A”I remember literally knowing that I was losing out to certain jobs because of my complexion. And it was just something that you just dealt with it. Roll it off your back and keep it moving.”