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Author Topic: Colorism: The paper bag test  (Read 19303 times)
Ayinde
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« on: September 06, 2003, 05:40:53 PM »

By BILL MAXWELL, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 31, 2003

Each year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission receives about 85,000 discrimination cases, a phenomenon to be expected in a society that touts itself as a "melting pot."

Many of these cases involve the complaints of minority groups against majority groups. We rarely expect a member of a minority group to discriminate against someone else in the same group. But that is exactly what happens among African-Americans.

More than any other minority group in the United States, blacks discriminate against one another. The discrimination, called "colorism," is based on skin tone: whether a person is dark-skinned or light-skinned or in the broad middle somewhere.

Most African-Americans refuse to discuss this self-destructive problem even in private. According to the EEOC, though, the number of such cases are steadily increasing, jumping from 413 in fiscal year 1994 to 1,382 in 2002, a figure that represents about 3 percent of all cases the agency receives yearly.

The most recent case making news in the black press involves two employees of an Applebee's restaurant in Jonesboro, Ga., near Atlanta. There, Dwight Burch, a dark-skinned waiter, who has left the restaurant, filed a lawsuit against Applebee's and his light-skinned African-American manager.

In the suit, Burch alleged that during his three-month stint, the manager repeatedly referred to him as a "black monkey" and a "tar baby." The manager also told Burch to bleach his skin, and Burch was fired after he refused to do so, the suit states.

Colorism has a long and ugly history among American blacks, dating back to slavery, when light-skinned blacks were automatically given preferential treatment by plantation owners and their henchmen.

Colorism's history is fascinating: Fair-skinned slaves automatically enjoyed plum jobs in the master's house, if they had to work at all. Many traveled throughout the nation and abroad with their masters and their families. They were exposed to the finer things, and many became educated as a result. Their darker-tone peers toiled in the fields. They were the ones who were beaten, burned and hanged, the ones permanently condemned to be the lowest of the low in U.S. society. For them, even learning - reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic - was illegal.

When slavery ended, light-skinned blacks established social organizations that barred darker ex-slaves. Elite blacks of the early 20th century were fair-skinned almost to the person. Even today, most blacks in high positions have fair skin tones, and most blacks who do menial jobs or are in prison are dark. Believe it or not, popular black magazines, such as Ebony as Essence, prefer light-skinned models in their beauty product ads.

For many years, entrance to special social events operated on the "brown paper bag" principle, which I will explain. Until quite recently, black fraternities and sororities, for example, recruited according to skin tone. Spike Lee's film School Daze satirizes the problem, and Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple makes it a biting subtext.

In his 1996 book The Future of the Race, Henry Louis Gates Jr., chairman of the Afro-American studies department at Harvard, described his encounter with the brown paper bag when he came to Yale in the late 1960s, when skin-tone bias was brazenly practiced: "Some of the brothers who came from New Orleans held a "bag party.' As a classmate explained it to me, a bag party was a New Orleans custom wherein a brown paper bag was stuck on the door.

"Anyone darker than the bag was denied entrance. That was one cultural legacy that would be put to rest in a hurry - we all made sure of that. But in a manner of speaking, it was replaced by an opposite test whereby those who were deemed "not black enough' ideologically were to be shunned. I was not sure this was an improvement."

Gates was overly optimistic. The brown paper bag test remains in black culture in various incarnations, as the Applebee's case and the EEOC's statistics confirm. We separate ourselves by skin tone almost as much as we ever did. If, say, you check out the "desired" female beauties in rap videos, you will find redbones galore.

Back to the Applebee's case. A spokesman for the chain issued this statement: "No one should have to put up with mean and humiliating comments about the color of their skin on the job. . . . It makes no difference that these comments are made by someone of your own race. Actually, that makes it even worse." Although the chain denied the allegations, it paid Burch $40,000 to settle the suit.

Now for the irony of ironies: Applebee's has added a protection, along with cultural sensitivity training, against skin-tone discrimination to its antidiscrimination policies.

In other words, the company must protect African-Americans from other African-Americans.

Discrimination from whites and other groups remains a big problem for blacks. But colorism is just as serious, if not more so. Colorism saps our strength from the inside. It weakens our power and ability to fight the outside forces that keep us marginalized in larger society.

© Copyright 2003 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved

http://www.sptimes.com/2003/08/31/Columns/The_paper_bag_test.shtml



Blacks, though, can sometimes be their own worst enemy. It has been the case for years that whites know how to keep blacks separated--using color, education and money. Since many blacks lacked the later two forms of exchange, color became an especially valuable bargaining chip. The practice of elevating "Red Bones" begins at home with parents, and assorted family members selecting the light child with the "good" hair for special treatment. It continues from there with many light-skinned blacks separating themselves from their unfortunate "darker brothers" into their own private sub-culture. Granted, a great many individuals just take skin color in their stride. To me it all comes down to this: sometimes, being light is ALL a black person has to hold onto.

Tyler
07.02.2003
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Bantu_Kelani
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« Reply #1 on: September 09, 2003, 07:22:51 AM »

Thanks for an enlightening Article Ayinde!  

We need to wake up and look at ourselves in the mirror and deal with problems as the Author have outlined.
The whites mindset of racial hatred infecting our communities will only serve to bar our progress further and make the hole we are already in even bigger..

B.K
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We should first show solidarity with each other. We are Africans. We are black. Our first priority is ourselves.
Ayinde
Ayinde
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« Reply #2 on: September 09, 2003, 03:23:38 PM »

The very fact that more experienced people are often denied the resources and exposure so they can address issues that affect them the most is the reason change is so long in coming. Someone else always wants to be seen as the 'saviour' helping the poor. and as such, the attention is usually not on the issues but moreso on the 'saviour'.  
 
People have a very poor idea of service indeed.  
 
Not everyone is interested in uplifting humanity, as most people are into many things for promoting their own false egos.  
 
Clearly, a leader of oneself, or of a movement, must first understand the depth of the issues they must address, or they will declare premature victory when only what they have experienced is solved. Here direct experiences are important. That is the Point.  
 
A particular government I know of declared victory in ridding the streets of street children, and they distracted the public from the real issues by warehousing homeless children who are still abused. But I know many street-children who can articulate the issues and can put forward better ideas for dealing with their issues from their own perspectives. Often, their views are rejected because people have their own biases. They assume that because these children are on the streets, they are generally ignorant.  These same problems afflict most Blacks and moreso dark-skinned Blacks.
 
Examples of a better order are found at the roots of human development, where elders were the ones with the most experience, and so automatically had the leadership roles. Back then, humans knew the value of experience, but in this upside-down world, experience is kicked aside in favour of 'fashion models' and other forms of corruption that are more about keeping the status quo.  
 
I am saying that real change will come when more attention is paid to the promotion of real victims of the system. Each and everyone who feels they are more comfortable than some others should be striving to assist the less comfortable to be recognized and to attain the highest positions. Then, experience will lead once more.
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Bantu_Kelani
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« Reply #3 on: September 10, 2003, 02:39:43 AM »

Thanks for your input Ayinde. It is obvious that African Blacks would absolutely benefit of a good and EXPERIENCED leadership. We have had continual situations where our uninformed and self-seeking leaders (elected, selected or appointed by Guns, or god) ruined our Nations and helped other world leaders ridicule us.

Let them continue to mislead, steal and kill the Black masses. These 'leaders' shall surely reap what they are sowing now....They are seriously a curse to the African Black people!

We all ought to look at these issues from a more concerned perspective.

B.K
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We should first show solidarity with each other. We are Africans. We are black. Our first priority is ourselves.
Ayinde
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« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2003, 07:07:09 PM »

I am just adding other views.

Teen Ink

On TV and in magazines, you seldom see a dark-skinned black person. Our culture is still being led to believe that having lighter skin somehow makes you a better person.

Black people with lighter skin get treated better; I believe this discrepancy stems from the days of slavery. In general, dark-skinned blacks labored in the fields while light-skinned blacks worked indoors. Slave owners and even slaves gave lighter-skinned blacks more respect. This segregation of shades within the same race is a serious problem.

Colorism has always been an issue for the black community. In the past, some black social clubs and societies only allowed those who had light skin. "People say that in the early days at Spelman College (an historically black women' s college) young women were not admitted if they were darker than a paper bag," said one graduate.

Today, colorism is reinforced by black children having white G.I. Joes and Barbie dolls with blond hair and blue eyes. It is also strengthened by the absence of dark-skinned black people on TV and in magazines. What happened to "Black is Beautiful"? The black race is made up of many shades, so how can anyone say one is better than another?

Our society has taught us not to accept differences. One senior I know said, "My grandfather accepts me, while he treats my sister as if she doesn't exist because she is darker." I asked a number of my classmates what a beautiful black woman looks like, and most of them gave the obvious answers: Halle Berry and Vanessa Williams.

But one response surprised me. When I asked one classmate, she said she thought there was not just one. She named Lauryn Hill, Jada Pinkett Smith and Erykah Badu, who are all very different, but each has something that makes her beautiful. She also mentioned her deceased friend, Monique: "Monique was beautiful because she was smart, always kept herself together and did not let her looks get to her."

I also asked my classmates how they felt about seeing primarily light-skinned black women in music videos. They all gave the same answer: "It is messed up, but what can I do?" Most were angry about how dark-skinned black women are portrayed in music videos: "When they do show dark-skinned girls, they are greased up with a These images of dark- and light-skinned black women affect people differently. However, it is clear that the absence of beautiful dark-skinned women and the flood of images of light-skinned women increases self-hatred and division. The self-hatred comes in many forms; when I was in middle school, a black girl told me she only wanted to marry a white man so her children would have light skin and white features. A junior admits her parents don't approve of her boyfriend because of his color.

"My boyfriend and I are both Dominican, but he is darker than me. My mother thinks that since he's darker, if we got married and had children, they'd have bad hair."

This division exists in our communities, schools and even families. It's ridiculous that we as black people do the very thing to each other that was done to us. Instead of dividing, we need to unite to address more important issues in the black community, like homelessness, drugs, violence, HIV/AIDS and poverty. We need to build stronger communities and help instead of judge each other. We all deal with some sort of racism daily - whether it's racial profiling or an old lady clutching her bag tighter in an elevator. We shouldn't discriminate against each other. More attention needs to be paid to a person's character rather than the shade of his or her skin.

The only way for change is making your voice heard. You are the consumer who buys albums and purchases magazines. If you don't like what you see, speak out, write letters, send emails. Make your voice heard.

http://www.teenink.com/Past/2001/June/Pride/Colorism.html
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nmichele
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« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2003, 07:18:04 PM »

again, we see the topic of colorism go uncritically examined by those on this board...if we examine the research on skin color bias among Blacks, especially in the u.s., it posits, time and time again, that critical dialogue, as opposed to accusation or insult, must occur...thusfar, i have seen articles that have been posted to the website, but nothing more...

once more...i ask why there is no critical engagement of this topic? why are articles being posted with no specific, stated reason behind it?...i don't write this message in frustration or anger, but curiosity and surprise...

blessings, nmichele
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