Three Ways To Avoid Colorism in Visual Communications 

Three Ways To Avoid Colorism in Visual Communications 

By Ivy Johnson

We are lucky to live in a time when diversity and inclusion are no longer an afterthought in the communications industry. However, as we continue to make progress in reaching all audiences, we must continue to educate ourselves about systematic barriers. 

One of those barriers that is prevalent not only in the U.S. but across the globe is colorism. What’s colorism, you ask? It’s a prejudice or discrimination especially within a racial or ethnic group favoring people with lighter skin over those with darker skin. 

From marketing materials to advertising, colorism is very visible in our industry. If every person of color visible in communications materials passes the brown paper bag test, colorism is unfortunately present. Wait, what is the brown paper bag test? It’s a tool that’s been in the African American community since the 1900s where, if your skin tone is darker than a brown paper bag, you are excluded from social or financial opportunities.  

Want to fight colorism in visual communications? Here are three tips. 

  1. Educate yourself on colorism and how it differs in different communities. In the South Asian community, colorism is present in Bollywood movies, and in the African American community, it’s visible with social media models. In other parts of the world, colorism is promoted through skin bleaching products. Do your research on colorism and how it may affect your audiences. Take your research to the next level by creating partnerships with minority representation to make sure they have a seat at the table when creating communications campaigns.  
  1. Be mindful of the visuals used in communications. Having diverse and inclusive models in your visual communications is great. However, if they pass the brown paper bag test, exclusion is still taking place. Be mindful with your project model selection, photographers and your product shots. Make sure all skin tones are represented, even if you’re using a stock photo. 
  1. Speak up when you see colorism. Now that you know colorism exists, speak up if you see it taking place in your communications campaigns. For communicators, it’s not enough to only be educated about colorism; you must act. We have the power to stop this systematic barrier.