I was watching CNN today, when a 22 year old, beautiful, African American woman by the name of Kiera (didn’t get her last name) advocated for the need to educate African American youth about skin color. Kiera worked to expose the concept of the “paper bag test” that has longstanding historical roots in the African American Community. In this regard, the paper bag test has been utilized to determine admission into certain civic groups, sororities, fraternities, and other organizations for the African American population. Essentially, in order to be admitted, a person must pass the “paper bag test” (be as light as or lighter than a paper bag) before they can be eligible for admission. Today, this is something that we would consider socially unacceptable. People should “not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character…” (Martin Luther King)…Isn’t that how we treat people today? I beg to differ.
First of all, skin color discrimination is a very real issue. While no one has ever forced me to participate in the paper bag test (which in case you hadn’t noticed, I would fail miserably), I have been made conscious of the negative connotations associated with dark skin color since I can remember. In fact, research indicates that by the age of four, young girls are made conscious of American Standards of beauty, sometimes before they know how to do things like read and write. My international experiences have taught me that this concept is not something that just happens in the African American Community. It happens in Asia, South America and many other places as well. We know that this is an unhealthy issue, but we do it nonetheless.
Sadly, this isn’t just occurring regarding our skin complexions. Take a moment to consider your peers. Do many of them look like you? What about other variables such as their religion, sexuality, and/or socio-economic statuses. I don’t think that the way that we isolate ourselves on many of our other domains makes us any more progressive than the concept of the “paper bag test.” While we might not be using a paper bag to denote “acceptance”, we are utilizing our “pride” for judging nonetheless.