Conference Addresses the Global Reach of Colorism

On April 2-3, 2015, the Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute hosted a major international conference on colorism. Colorism is the practice of discrimination based on skin tone, as distinct from race, and is prevalent throughout the world. This conference, supported in part by the Office of the Provost and co-sponsored by the Gephardt Institute for Public Service, was the first of its kind to be held in the United States.








The Conference was organized by Professor Kimberly Norwood and Harris Institute Director Leila Nadya Sadat and featured internationally and nationally renowned scholars and practitioners who  represented a wide range of academic disciplines including law, social work, sociology, developmental psychology, history, economics, political theory, media and communications. During the two-day meeting, speakers explored how skin color can be a source of scorn and shame or admiration and envy.  

Click here to view the conference program, event photos and videos.  

Following opening remarks by Dean Nancy Staudt, Dr. Carlos Moore, a Cuban writer, researcher, and social scientist internationally known for combating racism and defending pan-Africanism, delivered the keynote address ‘Humankind Against Itself.’Dr. Moore stressed that racism is a problem humans have placed in their own path. He explained that “racism is not an ideology and it does not emerge from an ideology,” but when people from different parts of the world discovered each other, four to five thousand years ago, racial consciousness emerged and discrimination began.  On Day 2, Arizona State University Professor Sharon Barmlett-Solomon, gave the second keynote address ‘Local TV News, Crime Stereotypes and the Color of Justice’ highlighting the phenomenon of colorism in the media.

 Panels throughout the two-day conference included:

  • ‘The Globalization of Skin Tone Preference,’ whichexplored the quantitative and qualitative manifestation of colorism; the Genesis of Color Consciousness; the transnational study of skin lighteners; and colorism and discrimination in Israel within the Ethiopian population.
  • ‘Shadeism Among Blacks, Bi-and Multi-Racial Americans in the United States,’ whichexplored the lived experiences of those who see themselves as connected to the black race but are often challenged as to their racial identity (the 1 Drop Rule); colorism and health disparities; and colorism as a signifier of human vulnerability.
  • ‘The Effects of Color on Native Americans, Latin Americans, and Immigrants of Color,’ which explored variances in skin tone as it relates to self-esteem, attitudes about physical attractiveness, and the role skin color plays in both social and economic contexts for Brazilian youth and the fact that skin tone is often seen as a more accurate assessment of social, economic, and health disparities because of the variation within racial groups.The discussion also highlighted how Latin Americans view their region as ‘racially innocent’ given the history of racial mixture and absence of legal segregation, in marked contrast with U.S. racial history; how skin color manifests itself in the distinctive discrimination of legal immigrants in the United States; and decolonizing the attitudes about skin color that commodify, objectify and sexualize Native Americans.
  • ‘Understanding Color Distinctions in Asia,’ which explored applying critical race theory to a non-white society; how Asian Americans have navigated changing racial tides and what this means for interracial coalition work for justice and equality; fair skin obsession in India for both men and women, and how skin color can be trumped by other variables, including caste, economics and marriage; and color and the racial ambiguity of South Asian Americans.
  • ‘The Human Rights Protections for “Color” under International Law,’which explored initial human rights instruments that address discrimination based on color, the universal declaration of human rights and the binding treaties that grew out of those covenants on civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights; the undeveloped concept of color in international law, the misunderstanding of what color actually means and how ‘race’ is often used as a proxy for ‘color;’ and the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.