‘Color Complex’ explores fluid ethnic prejudices


Many African Americans have heard the ditty: "If you're yellow, you mellow. If you're brown, hang around. If you're black, step back. If you're white, you're all right." In summary, that rhyme is about colorism, or the preference or prejudice showed to people of color depending on the lightness or darkness of their skin. Rooted in history, colorism exists worldwide and still causes prejudice based on skin tone. Processes like skin lightening in India, hair smoothing in Black America, eyelid reconstruction in China, and plastic surgery worldwide continue to rise in popularity for men and women facing discrimination from both within and outside of their own increasingly fluid ethnic groups.

In 1992, journalist Kathy Russell, along with academics Midge Wilson and Ronald Hall, took on the subject of intraracial color discrimination — a controversial subject for many African Americans. Their newly updated book, “The Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color in a New Millennium” (Anchor Books, $16), measures the impact of recent pop culture events effecting race relations to determine whether colorism has gotten better or worse over time.

“We now turn to the United States to explore its history and the events that led to a significantly different societal structure based on skin color,” write the authors in the book’s intro. “In particular, we will examine how economic and social concerns resulted in the passage of certain laws that produced the seemingly intractable discrimination we still see to this day.”

The wealth of new information in “The Color Complex” is an exploration of how Western standards of beauty are influencing cultures across the globe and impacting personal, professional, romantic and familial relationships. It is a provocative continuation of the original task the authors set out to accomplish with the original edition: to raise awareness among Black and whites about the color complex as they continue to take steps to eradicate color prejudice in this culture.


Contact Tribune staff writer Bobbi Booker at (215) 893-5749 or bbooker@phillytrib.com.

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