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Why workplace colorism is different than racism

On Behalf of | Aug 2, 2022 | Employment

People talk about racism in the workplace a lot more than they talk about colorism, so it is a better-understood challenge. Racism involves those in positions of authority at a company considering someone’s race when making decisions such as who to promote or who to retain when downsizing. It is illegal to allow someone’s race to influence employment decisions, as race is a protected characteristic.

Color is also a protected characteristic, and people sometimes make the mistake of thinking that these two protections are redundant. However, colorism can occur even in the most diverse workplaces and may involve multiple people who all belong to the same race.

What is colorism?

At its most basic, colorism involves applying some sort of personal judgment to an individual based on the color of their skin or how well they conform to European beauty standards. Often, colorism presents as a preference for lighter-skinned individuals who belong to a specific racial group.

For example, at a company that hires many black workers, those with lighter skin may have an easier time getting promotions or the best shifts, while management is less considerate of those who have very dark features. Workplaces with many Indian immigrants may allow the not-so-subtle colorism of the caste system to influence hiring and other workplace decisions.

Colorism is an insidious form of discrimination, as it can be challenging to convince people that someone of the same race as you discriminated against you based on the color of your skin. However, while it may be harder to demonstrate to others, it can still have a very real impact on your life.

Colorism has no place in the modern employment world

The tone of someone’s skin should not dictate their employment opportunities. Just as people from one racial background deserve the same opportunities as people of different races, it is also crucial that people of all colors have the same opportunities in life.

If you have noticed that your employer doesn’t make preferential employment decisions on a racial basis but does seem to give better opportunities to those with lighter complexions, then you may have encountered colorism in the workplace.

Identifying common forms of illegal workplace discrimination can help workers fight back against mistreatment on the job and can help companies avoid breaking the law and opening themselves up to civil litigation.