The Easterlings - or at least those of the First Age - had a fear and hatred of the Elves. Doubtless encouraged by Morgoth, they had come to see the Elves as uncanny and dangerous beings, naming them 'white-fiends' and avoiding the places where they might be found. The use of the word 'white' here is not directly explained, but it presumably refers to the generally pale skin of the Elves (some of them indeed seem to have literally had white skin)1.
This choice of name implies that the Elves (or at least those Elves encountered by the Easterlings) generally had lighter skin than Men. The descendants of Fingolfin in particular seem to have had extremely pale skin: Aredhel his daughter and Idril his granddaughter were noted for this trait (the latter was called 'Silver-foot' for this reason), and Aredhel's son Maeglin is said to have had skin that was literally white. The fact that paleness is specifically noted in these cases seems to indicate that it wasn't universal.
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