Colorism: A Conversation for Our Community

| March 18, 2015

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Story & Photos by Denise Jordan
Special to Frost Illustrated

I was really glad that I got the opportunity to attend Colorism: A Conversation for Our Community on February 9. I think because it allowed me to put to rest some of the angst I had been dealing with and it opened the door for others to do the same. Jil Jordan Greene and Denita Bell Washington did a great job as hosts and the panelists did a great job with sharing their expertise. The program clarified the roots of colorism, the tools of colorism, the impact of colorism, and how we, today, continue to perpetuate colorism.

One of the most distasteful, but impactful, occurrences at the event was the “bagging”. I had never seen this done before but I knew what it was. I learned of it from watching an episode of Frank’s Place many years ago. Bagging was a practice used to determine membership to churches, sororities and fraternities, and other social groups. In the episode I recall, Frank was invited to join the Capitol C Club. If he passed the paper bag test, he was in, if he failed, he was out.

This is how the paper bag test works. A brown paper bag, like the kind you get at Kroger’s or use to pack a lunch, is held up to your face. If you’re lighter than the paper bag, you’re eligible for admission to the group. If you’re darker than the paper bag, you’re not.

Every person that entered the auditorium at the Indiana Tech Law School was “bagged.” A brown paper lunch bag was held up to the face of each person that entered. A P for passed or an F for failed was written on the bag. I will say when I had to walk in that door and be bagged, I had a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I mean, I anticipated I would pass the test, but it didn’t feel good knowing I was being tested over something of which I had no control. The other thing was I had family members there whom I knew would not pass the test. I felt badly for all being subjected to such scrutiny. It was a powerful demonstration of colorism and more importantly, it showed us how we as a people discriminated against ourselves.

There was a lot of talk. Opinions were given. Stories were told. Tears were shed. Here were a few of the solutions offered.

1. Develop a sense of ethnic pride. Celebrate us for who we are and how we look.
2. Stress the beauty of all people, don’t single out a group or sub-type.
3. Point out media stereotypes to our children. Explore, explain, and teach them to to love themselves and appreciate the beauty in others.
4. Reduce viewing TV shows that reinforce Eurocentric notions of beauty.
5. Never say “She’s pretty to be so dark.”
6. Stop using color names like high yellow, redbone, or black and ugly.
7. Surround yourself with positive images of African Americans.
8. Challenge friends and family members who make negative remarks.

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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