Many people would argue that colorism is essentially racism. However, there are a couple of key differences that separate it from racism. Racism tends to deal with systemic issues while colorism is more based on people but can lead to systems and institutions. Also race deals with an entire set or group of people while colorism can come from factions within race thus making it a different sense of hierarchy. This in turn, lays the context for this writing.
Without cutting corners, colorism is why this site exist. My multiethnic background has determined much of my lens in analyzing and living in the world around me. From a white suburban upbringing and support from a white mother to a sense of Black history and eventually Black culture. This factor has come up a bit recently from my research into the history OJ with his fictionalized show and documentary. It has also come up recently with the terms of lightskin Black people and their apparent difference from darkskin Black people. These two views started my search, but I'm going to give some of my history before going into discussion.
My own colorism deals from a lack of acceptance from Black children while growing up. There is much more I have written on this but this is probably what turned me off so much from being around Black children when I was growing up. Many times I was seen as not Black enough from being a general kid who group on the suburbs. Some felt this was my lack of struggle (though not being accepted would be its own struggle) or my lightskin which some how gave me the ability to pass into white communities as I was often able to not be seen as Black to them. This would eventually change when I made my bed when BlackLivesMatter and Trayvon Martin came to a head. I often call this moment the catalyst because nearly all white friends from San Diego or my college years fled my life as they learned that I was not to keep my place. Meanwhile, my Black people who had often wondered came back into the fold and I also gained a wealth of new Black allies. Still, both parties had the perceptions of where I should fall, but make no mistake the way my skin color is put me in a space to be treated as a certain way. I have had a total of thirteen interactions with the police which is probably more than most people will ever have in their lifetime. Five of those encounters were racist which would determine the way I felt about police for quite some time as my first ones were in racism. Furthermore, I have had to deal with quite a bit of fetishization and microaggressions from white people having lived and white suburbia and many interactions with white women in alternative or kinky lifestyles. Suffice to say, I had no mistake on the color of my skin.
To give another personal historical answer, I experienced and saw this in full force in Brasil as fairer skinned Brasilians are considered of a higher class than darker skinned Brasilians. Their colorism is intriguing because all of them consider themselves of a Brasilian ethnicity, but there are evident hierarchies in their rankings based on color. This offers a view in fractures of people who believe they are on equal footing as a ethnicity or race, but on closer inspection are not due to skin color.
Fast forward, to today in which there still seem to be divisions within Black people based on the spectrum of color. While, I will admit that I am personally jealous of darker skin because I find it the most beautiful out of any skin tone; however, I still share in a Black experience of discrimination. Granted there are a few people I myself I have met who I feel have assimilated into white culture, this isn't limited to skin tone. As I also know a couple of dark-skinned Black people who have surrounded themselves with white people who give them a perceived appearance of success and appeasement. The reason for this is that many white people absolutely love the feeling as if they have a look into Black culture with a Black friend, are able to date a Black body or can fawn over the abilities of a Black person. Many of these sentiments are showcased in the recent film Get Out (but this writing is not about that film, as you can instead refer to my thread on Facebook) as old white people desiring Black bodies. I think this works with youthful white people as well in a sense of righteousness that they are relate to not only Black people but other ethnicities as well - a Chinese friend, a Latino friend etc... In a sense, you can say they have upgraded/downgraded their color as many of the OJ Simpson media did because he left his upbringing behind and became "white" in a sense of his activities and who he hung out with which is an absolute contrast to my upbringing. Still these factions create a spectrum of judgment.
Many of my dark-skinned Black friends, primarily women, will judge or make commentary about light skin men or women as if the experience is not the same and can seem bitter, even though I know they are not and simply want to be heard. However, I must reiterate that when I white person or another person in a foreign country sees us they will feel the same way regardless of our many shades of melanin. On a different note, this doesn't seem to be the case as much with darker skinned Black men though they do judge me at times in thinking that the reason I may not comprehend an issue is due to light skin. Still, I see much of this as ways to break up our sunkissed union considering that we all face the struggle no matter our position. As long as we are of a darker complexion we will face that.
I'd also like to note that colorism is not just a Black and white issue, but one of nearly any ethnic group. I have seen it frequently in my Latino students back in Los Angeles or NYC in how those of lighter skin often consider themselves white rather than having to have the Latino experience. At the same time, they too face judgment from when they wish to stand with their own heritage who won't accept them based on skin tone. Furthermore, this was also evident in Southeast Asia as there were an alarming amount of skin bleaching products and nearly everyone on TV was of a lighter complexion. Thus, colorism unfortunately transcends all ethnicities and it is detrimental to creating unified fronts, cultures and support systems. Love your fellow man and woman based on the heritage and their culture not on the shade of their skin.