Date of Award


Degree Type

Honors College Thesis

Academic Program

Media and Entertainment Arts BS


Mass Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

Rebecca Tuuri, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Matthew Casey, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Sabine Heinhorst, Ph.D.

Advisor Department



Colorism, a term first coined by novelist Alice Walker in 1983, is a systemic issue plaguing the black community because it demonstrates unequal treatment of people with different skin tones and hair. Although colorism is present among people of other races and black men, this thesis explores black prejudice towards dark-skinned black women in the 21st century as compared to the 20th. This study illustrates the historical continuity of the colorist narrative of dark-skinned women as ugly, angry, and incompetent. As a dark-skinned woman, I was inspired to write this thesis from my own experiences and observations. This study explores how, historically, dark-skinned women have been treated and portrayed in media. Until more recent years, dark-skinned women received substantially different attention than light-skinned women. I also conducted several interviews with black female college students with various skin tones. These interviews revealed many of the same historic patterns of colorism—equating dark skin and natural hair with brashness, sinfulness, ugliness, and incompetence. However, there are some positive changes as well. The interviews and other recent media attention to colorism illustrate a possible shift to more acknowledgement of colorism not only in scholarship but also on social media. It is important to study and acknowledge the effects of colorism on black women in order to stop it from passing on to future generations

Keywords: colorism, media, stereotype, representation