Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the artists designing this graphic did not purposefully associate darker skin-like colors with more evil and lighter skin-like colors with less evil. I think this is a fair assumption, though I don’t know for sure that this is true. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt.

If they didn’t do this on purpose, then race never consciously entered their minds. Once you notice that the colors are skin-like colors, and if you are a member of a society that discriminates against darker-skinned people, you immediately see that this graphic reproduces those stereotypes… AND YOU CHANGE THE COLORS. Any color, going from light to dark, will illustrate intensity. How about red? In Western societies, red is associated with anger. If you insist on using black because black signifies evil in our culture, how about using a true black (that is very rarely if ever seen on people) and a gray scale? How about any color other than brown?

I think this is likely a case in which the producers of the image did not think. And not thinking is one of the most insidious ways that racism and other bigotries get reproduced. People who don’t think about race are the most likely to endorse racial stereotypes. When people who think about race are distracted — with another task, or loud music, or some other intervening stimulus — they are more likely to think stereotypically than when they are not distracted. We can’t be colorblind. Our unconscious is steeped in racial meanings. Consciously fighting those associations is the only way to be less racist.

Not thinking about race is a cousin to thinking racist thoughts. Only thinking hard about race helps alleviate racism. And this graphic is an excellent example of why.

UPDATE: Some readers say that the colors, on their computer, look yellow, orange, and red; others see the skin colors that I see. So there may be significant variation in how these colors appear on different monitors… which is a whole other interesting problem for people who produce web content!

[10 Dec. 2010 ECD addendum: A woman wrote to me noting that some terms that include "black" as negative precede the use of the term "Black" to mean "of African descent" or, in some cases, a U.S. historically specific term replacing "Negro" or used around the same time as the term "Afro-American". In the last thirty years or so, Black has been the preferred term among many African Americans, and the point of this piece isn't that all terms like "black sheep", "black mood" or whatever are intentionally designed or created to be racist (white supremacist); the point is that if they continue to be used in a context of white supremacy, they become part of white supremacy; they become part of how racism is fused to language in the present. For once a society comes to identify a population of human beings as Black or once an oppressed population puts forth the term, Black, to mean "African American" of someone or group from sub-Saharan Africa, we cannot pretend that those other seemingly apolitical, non-racial terms have no political meaning. And, as Starhawk and other herstorians and historians have noted, many terms using "blackness" to mean something negative, bad, or dangerous, did so quite intentionally to promote anti-Black racism and genocide against darker-skinned peoples. But, I'll add that I know people of color, non-white people, who use some of those terms without meaning them to be racist. And it is for any person of color or dark-skinner person to decide how and whether to use any terms they speak or write. I'm putting forth a viewpoint that says that under white supremacy, anything that is "black" or is termed "black" will be degraded and stigmatised as something to be feared or destroyed. And my evidence is what is happening to darker-skinned peoples the world over, at the hands and industries of whites.]