• June 3rd, 2023
  • Saturday, 05:52:37 AM

The Lighter Shade of Colorism Matters


Ramón Del Castillo, PhD


Colorism, as an unintended consequence, has reemerged since the inception of Black Lives Matters, a response to police brutality and racism. Colorism is defined as “a form of prejudice or discrimination in which people who are usually members of the same race are treated differently based on the social implications which come with the cultural meanings which are attached to skin color.” As part of community conversations that have begun, colorism has hit the marketplace of ideas.  I think it is important to put colorism in context. First and foremost, it is rooted in the ideology of racism. To be a racist, one must believe that one’s race is superior to other races with the wherewithal to make the “other” believe that he/she is inferior. To not place colorism in context, can give the impression that the Chicana/o’s worst enemy is their own as they expose some of their frailties amongst themselves in the master’s citadel while the master controls the puppet strings.

Human beings constructed the concept of race and its counterpart, racism; the elite has used its power to manipulate it to their advantage in American society. It is a conception that can be twisted and turned inward and become destructive to groups that have suffered from its insidious odor. Whether it is manifested in inter or intra group relations, colorism is not a new phenomenon in the Chicana/o community. Racial hierarchies have served as exploitative tools, injecting color consciousness into the collective consciousness of disenfranchised groups throughout history.

Finding oneself is also a process—a dismantling of colonialism and an acceptance of a person’s essence, irrespective of what color you have been born with.

Following the Spanish Conquest in the 15th Century, Indigenous populations were subjected to 300 years of colonization, resulting in a racial hierarchy—some refer to it as the casta system—with color as the key variable used in its classification system. The Gachupin, a frequently pejorative term, was defined as a human being born in Spain and traveling into the western hemisphere. They were ostensibly full blooded Europeans meaning that they were White. The color of their skin elevated the status of Gachupins to the top. The Criollo was a Spaniard born in Mesoamerica, supposedly of pure blood, suffering from a tinge of color—in other words not pure white. Their second-tier status provided them with many privileges. The Mestiza was the amalgam of Indian and Spaniard, eventually mixing with other historical races resulting in the creation of other racial categories such as mulato, albino, and coyote. Each category was given special privileges or the lack thereof, based on the color of one’s skin.

It is not unusual for someone suffering from colorism to deny one’s racial background or mask it with behaviors that emulate the ‘master’. It takes the form of trying to change the color of one’s skin, dying one’s hair, working to eradicate your accent, as individuals attempt to fit to América’s version of superiority. However, it has been at the denial of the Native American part of themselves. Native Americans were seen as less than human, some religious fanatics wondered if they were even human beings. It was a masquerade. It caused identity conflicts that are also rooted in the ideology of racism.

The invention of the one drop rule; namely, that anyone who had Black ancestry no matter how far back it could be traced, were classified as Negroes. It was a convenient way to keep slaves in their place.  Conversely, others who had ancestors that were European attempted to apply the one drop rule, in this case, arguing that Chicanas/os were white. Essentially, they were classified as such but were treated as second class citizens. As one attempts to fit into the image of what constitutes superiority, it is not unusual to feel inferior, after all, the master has used all of his tools to make you believe that you are disgusting. He has successfully dismantled your identity.

One of the components of racism is internalized racism, that is, internalizing the oppressor’s views into one’s own consciousness, believing that the master’s image is superior at the denial of one’s own ethnic or racial identity. If not addressed, it can lead to self-hatred and a negation to accept the essence of one’s being. It can also take the form of the oppressed becoming like the oppressor because the “introjected oppression has no place for expressions” (Freire, 1970).

At very conscious and unconscious levels, race plays a pivotal function in the development of self-image, self-worth, and self-esteem.  Acceptance of the ‘master’s racial paradigm as superior to one’s own identity, with its negative manifestations upon the individual is partially responsible for the subliminal internalization of how Chicanas/os often perceive themselves. A journey into one’s past can conjure up those images that lay dormant in one’s mind—the many times when humans agonized over the overt racism in society.

Other terms have replaced the above mentioned ones; el güero, el moreno, and el prieto are more contemporary identities that mask the inferiority one might feel, coupled with an unconscious yearning to be white and an obsessive compulsion about race. Each one has a unique development with, pardon the pun, a distinctive psychological makeup.  The güerito, was born with Anglo/White characteristics such as a light to very light skin, and blue or green eyes. They were glamorized by the family as someone special. Parents knew that life for them would be less racist because they somehow could fit into the Anglo world. At times, they were displayed as window dressers for the family. El Güero’s Colorism was internalized immediately, often creating a self-imposed positive ego based on skin color. He/she often displayed an arrogance unbeknownst to him/ herself, especially at a young age. But the güero also suffered; sometimes being ostracized by the members of the family, who were filled with anger and sometimes jealousy. At times, el güerito could feel disdain from both groups. Living in two worlds was painful, exacerbated when resolution could not be found.

The moreno or the café colored Chicana/o, could straddle on both sides of the racial hierarchical system. But sometimes forgetting where he/she was at and unable to understand why, at times, they were being shunned by the White community because they were too Brown. They were often referenced as “one of the good ones.” They developed a unique comprehension of racism but could never play both ends against the middle. Caught in the center of clashing worlds, anxiety and alienation became the only space one could retreat to in times of psychological crisis. Living in two worlds was painful, especially when resolution could not be found.

El prieto was immediately placed on the bottom of the totem pole, demonized because of the color of his/her skin, developing a negative self-esteem. Often insulted as part of the in group psychology—they absorbed the many insults associated with racism. They knew their place in the family and social structure. They suffered from what modern day nomenclature characterized as microaggressions. It was painful to get a double dose of maltreatment from the white man and from your own.  They lacked self-esteem creating their own world where survival depended on retreating into camps with those of similar stature.

Throughout history, families did not know that they were casting stones at their own people as the power structure sat in their ivory towers, with hate and scorn, belittling all members of the group. This process was referred to as institutionalized racism and met the goal of creating social powerlessness. The crab theory was developed to explain why Raza could not organize nor get along; therefore, remaining at the bottom of the social structure. This theory was analogous to a bucket of crabs that pulled other crabs down the bucket as they attempted to get out. Some argue it was envy that caused it. I say that the root of this was internalized racism.

All three racial categories suffered from historical and intergenerational trauma, resulting in soul wound. All groups require some form of decolonization therapy—the healing process, a space where wounded spirits and souls from disenfranchised racial groups recover from the atrocities of external and internal racism caused by the long term negative ramifications of colonization. “It is a spiritual cleansing process, an acceptance of self, a recognition and acceptance of the multiple historical identities that are often characterized by the dominant culture as pseudo-schizophrenic states and spilt/dual personalities, causing consternation and self-hate.” The aforementioned three categories are not strangers to identity struggles and lack of acceptance ending in solace and despair. Finding oneself is also a process—a dismantling of colonialism and an acceptance of a person’s essence, irrespective of what color you have been born with.

Let’s put colorism in proper context, should we decide to facilitate group processes on race and its many manifestations in our communities. All groups of color have been subjected to internalized racism and shouldn’t be boondoggled by the racists, once colorism is introduced into the fray, accusing you of being as racist as they are. We are not the ones that created racism, but we are the ones that have to find the medicine to heal our soul wounds.

With the many inter-racial marriages that are taking place, we need to protect the many beautiful children coming into this racist world. The antidote is very simple. Love all children. Teach them to love everyone.  Don’t let them fall into the trap of self-hate.


Dr. Ramón Del Castillo is an Independent Journalist. © 7-25-2020 Ramón Del Castillo.


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The Weekly Issue El Semanario, a multi-generational family-owned media company unfolding news and information that reflects our communities since 1989