Colorism in Latin America; Not about Race

by Oscar Manzano

If you are reading this blog about colorism and you already have prior knowledge on the subject, chances are that you don’t agree with the title of this piece. This may be because Latin America’s preference, or more specifically the preference in México and Brazil, to talk more freely about a person’s skin color as opposed to race may seem like a contradiction to you. Why? I suppose it is because many believe that skin color or other characteristics that we attach to race, in order to be able to identify and categorize people, are indicators of race. It is this idea that I believe is incorrect, which leads me to believe that when Mexicans or Brazilians talk about skin color they are not talking about race as an American might see it. In this context I believe that color talk in México and Brazil is not the equivalent of race talk in America.

My reasoning for questioning color talks being the same as race talks draws upon human history and humans themselves. Humans have always had a history of migration and settlement. This alone prevents us from applying skin color or other characteristics to a certain racial group. So, unless we believe that Whites with certain characteristics grew out of the ground in Europe, and Blacks in Africa and Browns in Latin America and they all remained stationary, then can one possibly make a correlation with race and physical characteristics. However this is not so, and when we hear Mexicans and Brazilians talking about skin colors so nonchalantly, we believe that they what they are really talking about is race.

So if Mexicans and Brazilians are not talking about race, then what are they talking about when they refer to skin color? I believe that when Mexicans and Brazilians refer to skin color, they are acknowledging the great diversity and mixture of physical characteristics that have been as a result of human migration. Not physical characteristics of race but characteristics of human diversity. In saying that color talk is not a talk about race does not mean that colorism is preferred or more desirable over race talks, or that it is immune to social and moral problems that race deals with. On the contrary, the problems that color ideology faces are similar to those that race ideology faces. But the problems are not similar because racism and colorism are the same thing; rather, the problems stem from the fact that we have been socially trained to see physical differences and categorize them under a racial stereotype, confusing color and race.

A second reason as to why racism and colorism share similar social problems is because both are the result of global inequality. This brings up the issues of colonization. Why were White European countries the ones able to colonize? It would be difficult to say that Europeans were able to be the colonizers simply because their skin was white or their race was a certain specific one. It goes beyond that, and the ‘why was Europe the colonizer’ question involves a multi-sided understanding to find the answer to. Possible reasons include the amount of wealth, resources or strength those countries had and as a result, once colonization was achieved, the aggressors implanted various forms of discrimination based on race and color. In this sense it is possible that racism or colorism didn’t create inequality but inequality created racism and colorism.

Race, ethnicity, and caste: Classifying and dividing

by Naresh Kumar

It is interesting to learn more about race and ethnicity. I never knew before that the issues regarding race and ethnicity are so complex. People from all around the world are affected and for some it is painful to bear the fact that they have been classified, which they are not even aware of. It seems that your career, your position in the society, and other things in life are decided by your color rather than your ability. In the society where the classification of races is huge, it is hard for a person to proceed his or her career in the desired field.

In South Asia, society is divided into castes rather than ethnicity (Mines & Lamb, 2002). There are many tribes and castes in India, Nepal, and in other South Asian countries. However, it seems that these days, people are more influenced by western ideas. I always used to wonder within myself to hear about blacks and whites and used to think, why we judge people by their skin tones. I have never experienced class stratification according to the skin tone but for castes there is so much in South Asian countries. As we educate ourselves, it is not hard to say that there is inequality between people all around the world and that it is done by us. One thing that amazes me a lot is that why do we need to differentiate each other. I guess it is all for more money and more power.

I think that the quota system and affirmative actions as in name of racial preferences can bring no more than gaps and more highlights on race and ethnicity. The history that we are trying to learn can give us no more than differences between us. I am not against knowing the history but I wonder why there are so many inequalities in the past. The sad thing is that most of all take so many things in life for granted. I wonder how the media is playing its role to bring the truth and facts in front of the society. Rather than encouraging, it is doing the opposite by promoting differences among us (Everett, 2008). I guess the motive is profit. Media plays a vital role in spreading information around the world but rather than giving people the facts, it is manipulating them.

I guess the problem is within ourselves, rather than embracing who we are and being proud of that, we are always looking to change our identity, appearance, and everything about us. We need to appreciate and accept ourselves as we are, rather than trying to be someone else.


Everett, A. (2008). Learning race and ethnicity: Youth and digital media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Mines, D. P., & Lamb, S. (2002). Everyday life in South Asia. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Colourism in the Philippines: Behind the Veil of Whiteness

by Adelle Tamblyn

A few days ago, my mother, who is of Filipino and Spanish origin, told me some events that happened to her not too long ago. At church, my mother had met another Filipino woman, but much older. This woman was half Filipino and half Spanish. This woman, on hearing that my mother was also Filipino, started asking about my mother’s background: “Are you 100% Filipino?”. “No”, my mother replied “I’m half Spanish”. The older woman apparently looked at her in a disbelieving manner: “Then why are you so dark?”, she questioned.

Why are you so dark?  What a silly, churlish question, I thought. It seems so odd, I thought. You don’t just ask someone that. But the more I thought about this woman’s question, the more I thought about why she asked it, and what significance does skin colour hold amongst Filipinos?

I began to rack my brains for signs of fair-skin preference amongst the Filipinos I know, whether it was something they said or did. There is one saying in Tagalog: “She could be beautiful; it’s just a pity she’s dark”. I have heard harsher comments on other Filipinos: “Look at her skin colour, and her NOSE! She looks like a maid”. I know one woman who uses a concoction of bleaching creams and soaps religiously. Are these all signs of colourism amongst Filipinos?

Colourism is evident not only in India, but also in the Philippines, Korea, Japan, Nigeria, Pakistan and in South American countries, to name a few. In the Philippines, Television programs are saturated with light-skinned people, a great majority of whom are half-Filipino, typically of the highly-sought-after mestizo/mestiza variety (“mestizo/mestiza” meaning a half-Filipino with fair skin and Spanish-like features). Furthermore, there are shopping malls filled to the brim with skin whitening products in the Philippines. However, this does not necessarily reflect the look of the average Filipino. Nonetheless, the saturation of white-skin ideology in a society whose natural skin colour is typically brown are marginalising Filipinos into thinking that there is only one type of beauty: white.

In the Philippines, skin colour and nose shape are of high importance. In a country where the majority of the people are naturally dark, why are people equating white to beauty?

Whilst some would argue that having mestizas in the media and selling and producing skin whitening products is simply a reflection of what Filipinos want, others would argue that the root of this issue goes much deeper than that. In an interview by Al Jazeera’s ‘The Stream’, Yaba Blay, the Co-Director of Africana Studies at Drexel University, suggests that the desire for whiteness in many countries is due to colonialism. The colonialism argument is not a new one: the idea is that during the time of colonialisation, manual labourers would get dark as they worked all day in the sun; the wealthy and powerful lived a life of leisure indoors, therefore staying fair. The Philippines is no stranger to colonialism: the country has been colonised by the Spanish, the Americans and the Japanese. In line with Blay’s argument, fair skin ideology is linked to power, civility, social mobility and beauty.

The white ideology from colonial times has been passed on from one generation to the next: today, it is perpetuated in the selling of skin-whitening products and constant media exposure to the equation that white equals beautiful. But does it really matter so much that countries like the Philippines see white, fair skin as beautiful? On the surface, fair as beautiful may not seem like such a big issue; however, in a country where the skin colour of its people are naturally of a darker skin tone, sending messages of “white is better” only seeks to suppress its people, simply for being dark.

Link to video referred to:

Tri-Racial System and Hiding the Truth

by Lilia Yamakawa

Eduardo Bonilla-Silva and David R. Dietrich’s contention is that America is developing a complex “tri-racial” system of stratified classification that will be composed of whites at the top, honorary whites in the middle, and collective blacks at the bottom.

If we consider President Barack Obama, we can see that Americans still don’t really have that classification system. “The First Black President” of the U.S. had a white mother and a black father. He was raised entirely by his white mother and his white grandparents. Still, Americans see him as a black man. Why doesn’t he fall into the “honorary white” category which includes other multi-racial people?

Americans are still seeing race in terms of black and white. Other reasons for seeing him as black may be that he seems to self identify as black. Also, his wife is black. Finally, many Americans may tend to fall into one of two groups. They may be very proud of having a black president or they may feel uncomfortable or actually not like having a black president. Either way, we’re classifying him as black and stressing his blackness. Of course, because of his position as President of the U.S, Obama is not typical and is not viewed as typical. Still, it’s interesting to think of him in terms of the author’s thesis. We can see that the biracial system is still going strong in people’s minds.

Bonilla-Silva and Dietrich also explain that the way we currently talk about race includes the idea that “We are all Americans – no matter what color we are.”  This will create a tendency to ignore the fact that racism is a problem. Ignoring the problem, white supremacy will continue, and blacks and other minorities will continue to suffer inequality. They won’t have a clear starting point to argue against discrimination.

This is something like the Burakumin issue in Japan where people don’t want to give it a name or say there is a discrimination problem. If it doesn’t have a name, maybe it will go away. But is the problem being really solved this way? Do the Burakumin still face discrimination, just more of a “smiling discrimination” in the society?

Actually I think there is less discrimination against the Burakumin in my generation than in the one before. There is no pigmentocracy in the Burakumin discrimination issue. There is no racial difference. If the older generation continues hiding who the Burakumin are, or where the Burakumin area is, it will be very difficult to distinguish them. Eventually, the problem may disappear. But we have to find out whether or not discrimination still exists.


Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo and David R. Dietrich (2009). The Latin Americanization of U.S. Race Relations: New Pigmentocracy. In E. Nakano-Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

The Burakumin: Japan’s invisible race . (n.d.). Retrieved from



What factors lower blacks’ status? Historical reasons, or something else?

by Mai Kusakabe

Now, there is actually prejudice against black people in the world. Eduardo Bonilla-Silva argues that the United States is developing a triracial system with whites at the top, honorary whites follow and collective black at the bottom. Thus, people decide others’ status by skin color, and tend to consider that whites are superior to blacks. Then, why does such stratification happen? Most people think that the reason is historical facts. For instance, in the 16th century, European countries started a slave trade from Africa. This historical fact may be one factor and it leads current situation of blacks. However is it really just historical reasons? I came up with one question, color images also influence on estimation of blacks and whites, don’t they?

In my opinion, most people have images with colors. For example, when we look at red, we feel like hot and passion. On contrary, when we look at blue, we feel like cold, sad, and like that. Then when we look at white color, what kind of feeling is coming up in our mind? Most of us consider it as good, clean, pure and something like these. On the other hand, we tend to consider black color as evil, fear, worry and so on. In fact, the word “white” has meaning that is like guiltiness, blameless and harmless, and one of meanings of “black” is nasty, ominous, surly and so forth. Like this, people basically do not have good impression with black color a long time ago. For instance, in Japanese anime, “名探偵コナン, Detective Conan”, a criminal is always painted by only black color.

In Japan, women try to make their skin whiter, because most people think white skin is beauty. Some people say this is admiration for whites. However is it just for white people? I think there is also admiration for white color, not only whites. For example, a long time ago 8-12 century, in Japan “Heian Jidai”, noblewomen did not even have a chance to meet foreigners, whichever whites or blacks, they put on makeup called “Oshiroi” which is white powder to make their skin white like as you can see from “Maiko” in these days. Thus, the reason why do Japanese people prefer to white skin is not only to admire whites, but also basically to admire white color.

As I stated, images of colors also have a great power to influence on our way of thinking. I think that’s one of the reason why blacks are categorized at the bottom of the stratification in the U.S. and other various countries.


Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo and David R. Dietrich (2009). The Latin Americanization of U.S. Race Relations: A New Pigmentocracy. In E. Nakano-Glenn (Ed.), Shades of Difference. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Jinkawiki, Keshou (makeup), 17 October 2013. Retrieved from