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

Example Sentences

Recent Examples on the Web The pendulum hasn't swung so far as to eradicate, say, colorism. Sierra Leone Starks, Allure, 22 Mar. 2023 World & Nation Mexico’s new racial reckoning: A movement protests colorism and white privilege Oct. 20, 2022 The cheap clinics made healthcare more accessible to the tens of millions of street vendors, taxi drivers and others working in the country’s informal sector. Leila Millerstaff Writer, Los Angeles Times, 1 Mar. 2023 Over time, the caste system has encouraged colorism. Robin Givhan, Washington Post, 1 Feb. 2023 In one scene, after the two young men scuffle on the ground due to a toxic sibling rivalry reinforced by colorism, Hattie Mae runs protectively toward her youngest, the darker-skinned Bayou, to dust the dirt off his clothes. Jasmin Hernandez,, 24 Jan. 2023 But in real life, two friends, however divided by colorism and sexuality, might find their way back to each other. Alexis Soloski, New York Times, 13 Jan. 2023 Say it for what is is…its colorism…its featurism. Jasmine Browley, Essence, 12 Jan. 2023 Some of the major themes of the movie focus on the challenges of grief, colorism and an issue that afflicts many families: addiction. Claretta Bellamy, NBC News, 22 Dec. 2022 For example, the guide notes that colorism and oversexualization or exoticization are both issues that API women face onscreen and in real life. Rebecca Sun, The Hollywood Reporter, 9 Dec. 2022 See More

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 31 Mar. 2023.

Last Updated: - Updated example sentences
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!

A Good Old-Fashioned Quiz

Spell It

Hear a word and type it out. How many can you get right?

Solve today's spelling word game by finding as many words as you can with using just 7 letters. Longer words score more points.

Can you make 12 words with 7 letters?