This toolkit accompanies the Teaching Tolerance feature "What's 'Colorism'?"
Skin color bias permeates our culture—and it manifests in many ways, including through media images and through the preferential treatment of people with lighter skin tones. Colorism can be most pronounced among people of color when internalized oppression undercuts solidarity. It can also be pronounced among young people whose developing self–images and attitudes about others are influenced and harmed by colorism.
This toolkit presents an activity that educators can use to discuss colorism with their students. It centers on a graphic essay that looks at colorism in a comic.
Note: Collaboration with your creative arts colleagues is encouraged for this activity.
- How do colorism and color privilege affect my students’ perceptions of themselves and others?
Share “Lighten Up” with your students. Use the following questions to facilitate a conversation around it portrays and critiques colorism.
- Which characters and skin colors/complexions are being questioned?
- How do skin colors and race affect the meaning of the stories told in the frames?
- What might the race of characters in a story tell us about power and privilege? About bias and beauty?
Allow the conversation to go where your students take it, but also monitor for mean language and put-downs. Issues related to color privilege, bias and beauty image are extremely personal and sensitive, especially for young people.
In “Lighten Up,” Wimberly addresses colorism in the world of cartoons and comics, specifically Marvel. Have students think of other areas where there is a light-skinned preference and bias against darker skin. They may come up with things like movies, television, fashion, advertising, music videos or video games.
Have students collect data on the effects of colorism within a particular industry (such as those listed above) and report their findings to the class.
After they’ve collected and shared data, have students produce a counter-text to the racial hierarchy perpetuated by colorism. Encourage students to be creative with their medium, similar to how Wimberly used a comic to comment on colorism.