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Colorism 2012: Is Paper Bag Test Still Prevalent?

by Todd A. Smith

2012 Paper Bag Test

By Todd A. Smith

            In Spike Lee’s classic movie School Daze the dynamic of colorism was put on full display for the entire world to see.

            The Gamma Rays, or Wannabes, represented what was thought to be beautiful in the Black community.  They had long-flowing and straight hair.  They were light-skinned and had a model’s figure.

            Da Naturals, or the Jigaboos, represented what was thought of as unattractive in the Black community.  They had a darker skin tone.  Their hair was natural and might have been shorter than their light-skinned counterparts.

            Although the two groups may have looked different, they represented the range of beauty that Black America represents. 

Unfortunately those differences have always led to turmoil within our community based on colorism. And in 2012 that divide is often two-fold with just as much discrimination being pointed at light-skinned Blacks as dark-skinned Blacks.

            On Sunday, Dec .9, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien will debut the documentary “Who is Black in America?” 

In the trailer, Black Americans of every shade discuss the discrimination they have faced through the years from Black Americans on the other side of the hue spectrum.

            In the preview to the documentary, a dark-skinned woman recalls the name calling she endured as a child and the fact that she was not liked by the boys growing up.

            A biracial woman recalls not really being accepted by the Black or White community.

            One light-skinned woman recalls someone telling her how beautiful she was, but also asking “what are you?”

            A gentleman admits that dark-skinned Blacks living in affluent neighborhoods were not accepted by their less affluent brethren because they “didn’t live that life.”

            Unfortunately, many if not most Black Americans have a story in which they have struggled with colorism.  They were either too light or too educated or affluent to be an authentic Black person.  Or they were too dark to be viewed as attractive.

            During slavery, the light-skinned Blacks were separated from the dark-skinned Blacks and made to think they were superior to their darker relatives. 

            In later generations, if someone was darker than a brown paper bag, they were too dark to be accepted by the Black bourgeoisie.  If they were lighter than the paper bag, they were acceptable amongst the upper echelon of Black Americans.

            Many in the Black community blamed light-skinned Blacks for the colorism divide in the Black community, and history may sometimes validate their assertion.  However, in 2012 there is an equal amount of dark-skinned Blacks discriminating against their light-skin brethren in the same manner.

            For years, Black men who dated light-skinned women were looked at as if they had a color complex against dark-skinned women.

            Nowadays, you have many Black men openly admitting that they only date dark-skinned girls.  These men are sometimes applauded for that decision.  The problem with applauding someone who dates only a particular shade of Black woman is that it is a blatant double standard and contradicts the complaints that many darker-skinned Blacks have had for generations and that is our people openly discriminating against their brothers and sisters strictly because of skin tone.

            If one should be criticized for exclusively dating light-skinned Blacks, others should face just as much criticism for exclusively dating dark-skinned Blacks.  Both are forms of discrimination, no matter how righteous one claims to be. 

Furthermore, both contribute to the division amongst our people and prevent us from reaching our God-given potential as a community.

            At the conclusion of School Daze, Dap (Laurence Fishburne) looks into the camera and pleads with the Black community to “please wake up.”  That powerful statement from a 1988 film is still relevant in 2012.

            It is time that we stop holding ourselves back and see the real beauty of our brown skin tone, no matter how light or dark it is.

Smith is publisher of Regal Magazine, a publication dedicated to the African American community.

This article was published on Friday 30 November, 2012.
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