col·​or·​ism ˈkə-lə-ˌri-zəm How to pronounce colorism (audio)
variants or British colourism
: prejudice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin
Under this system of colorism—the system which prevailed in my childhood in Jamaica, and which has carried over to the present—rarely will dark and light people co-mingle. Rarely will they achieve between themselves an intimacy informed with identity.Michelle Cliff
What writer Alice Walker defined as colorism, the preferential or prejudicial treatment of same-race people based on skin color, continues to this day. And as she once wrote, unless we exorcise it "we cannot as a people progress. For colorism, like colonialism, sexism and racism, impedes us."Itabari Njeri

Examples of colorism in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Empowering Children to Call Out Anti-Blackness Educating our children on colorism involves a few steps. Priscilla Blossom, Parents, 29 May 2024 Wang wanted to explore class and colorism, so another of the novel’s white characters, Hilary Starr, became dark-skinned and Southeast Asian. Margy Rochlin, Los Angeles Times, 28 May 2024 This includes accusations and exchanges around serious topics: racial authenticity, domestic violence, illegitimate fatherhood, moral posturing, grooming, hypocrisy, colorism, and even colonialism. C. Brandon Ogbunu, WIRED, 6 May 2024 In ‘One Love’ Rita and Bob discuss their experience of colorism – both of them were bullied because of the color of their skin. Debra Edwards, Essence, 21 Mar. 2024 One section addresses the pervasiveness of colorism — social exclusion based on skin tone — within the Black community. Holland Cotter, New York Times, 19 Feb. 2024 Nevertheless, in an apparent response to the accusations of colorism and everyone choosing sides after Thorton assaulted Wendy, the producers of Potomac made a seemingly concerted effort to introduce a new cast member, Nneka Ihim, who shares Nigerian heritage with Osefo. Shelby Stewart, Essence, 12 Jan. 2024 People have their first experiences with colorism or hair discrimination early on in their childhood and long term, those negative experiences can affect mental, emotional, and physical health outcomes through premature aging, increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and more. Kathy Pierre, Parents, 3 Dec. 2023 Despite their differences, the two lean on each other while contending with filthy motel rooms, colorism, rampant misogyny, dwindling finances and their own evolving public images. Aramide Tinubu, Variety, 6 Nov. 2023

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'colorism.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


color entry 1 + -ism, after racism

First Known Use

1964, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of colorism was in 1964

Dictionary Entries Near colorism

Cite this Entry

“Colorism.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 16 Jun. 2024.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
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