Global conference to address social, psychological harm of colorism

Believed to be the first conference of its kind in the nation

Colorism, the practice of discrimination based on skin tone even among people of color, is rarely addressed publicly and is uniquely different from racism.

The Whitney R. Harris World Law Institute at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law will address this growing international phenomenon in what organizers believe is the first international colorism conference on U.S. soil. The conference, “Global Perspectives on Colorism,” will be held Thursday and Friday, April 2 and 3, in Anheuser-Busch Hall.

Nationally and internationally renowned scholars will address the economic, social and psychological harms related to colorism at the conference, which is free and open to the public.

Kimberly Norwood, JD, professor of law and of African and African-American Studies in Arts & Sciences, is organizing the event in conjunction with the Harris Institute. Norwood is the author of the 2014 book “Color Matters: Skin Tone Bias and the Myth of a Postracial America.”

The book examines the universal preference for lighter skin throughout the United States and the world. As the book explains, colorism is pervasive in most of the world, including parts of Africa; Europe; Asia; North, Central and South America; and the Caribbean.

The book, which will be available during the conference, highlights the effects of colorism, debunks the myth of color-blindness and explores strategies for the eradication of benefits, privileges and opportunities based on the color of one’s skin.

“Close your eyes,” Norwood said. “Picture the people on your favorite television shows. Think of movie actors, cartoons, models in commercials and advertisements, judges, lawyers, members of Congress, CEOs, doctors, supervisors, managers, university presidents and professors. Our society is not color-blind. We want to be color-blind so we say we are and we keep saying it, louder and louder, but saying it doesn’t make it so.

“Today in the U.S. and throughout the world, the darker one’s skin, and indeed the blacker one’s features — kinky hair, broad noses, large lips — the lower that person generally is on the economic and social totem pole,” she said.

“The direct connection between skin color and education, social capital, marriage, income and wealth, health and overall success is pervasive, clear and undeniable,” Norwood said. “This conference will focus on the global recognition of the problem and thus the magnitude of the challenge of eradication.”

“The Harris Institute is proud to host this timely conference centered on the important work of Professor Norwood,” said Leila Nadya Sadat, JD, the Henry H. Oberschelp Professor of Law and director of the Harris Institute. “Norwood’s focus on color as opposed to race in her work is an important first step in aligning the law with physical and sociological reality.”

Papers for the conference will be published in a symposium issue of the Washington University Global Studies Law Review.

The conference is supported in part through funding from the Office of the Provost and co-sponsored by the Gephardt Institute for Public Service. Continuing legal education credit is available for an additional fee.

To register for the conference or to see the conference agenda, visit