Our Skin Problem: America’s Toxic Bias of Color

Brittany Talissa King
10 min readSep 5, 2020

We cannot dismantle race, but perhaps there’s another way to escape it.

For the last decade, many Americans have steadily fought the structure of race to achieve a united-country and post-racial state — some opting for colorblindness, and others challenging the historical bias attached to skin color. Even right now, as we’re surviving a novel pandemic, the racial one is met with more urgency. But to find a cure, we must analyze the problem. So, let’s rewind four centuries to the genesis of race.

Historians say racial categories weren’t officially established until 1790. After the European Spaniards stole West Africans and native lands, other groups migrated over the Atlantic to America. Once the Dutch, the British, and the French arrived — the Spaniards recognized in order to keep their dominion, they needed a structure to uphold their power. So, they considered constructing a hierarchy based on ethnicity. But there was one huge problem; the foreigners’ skin was identical to theirs. And because of that, each group could homogenize with “Spaniard” to acquire control. Not only that, but another pigment was also in question. There were also brown Dutch people, brown French people, and brown Spaniards. Even their slaves were “brown” — and after recognizing these “color loop-holes,” they understood ignoring them could inadvertently dismantle their entire supremacy.

However, the one thing neither of these groups could do, the slaves or the free, was lie about their pigment. Therefore, they created the superficial system of race, which doesn’t care about who you are, but what you look like.

But this piece is not about slavery. It’s about what it did to our skin.

From 1790 to 2020, race has withstood rebellions, an emancipation proclamation, a civil rights act, 45 presidents, thousands of protests, good intentions, and malicious intent. Many Americans would say, “we’ve come a long way,” and I would agree. Many other Americans would say a “post-racial country should be the next goal,” but I would disagree completely. Not because I’m entirely against the notion, but because this notion is actually impossible. And the reason is simple, because we all inhabit one inescapable thing — our skin.

Brittany Talissa King

Writer and journalist. I explore race and social issues through history and pop-culture. @b.talissa IG. @KingTalissa Twitter. Journalism MA — NYU.