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Tuesday
Jul052011

Would You Sue Over the "Paper Bag Test?"

Colorism is real. It's always been part of racism in this country (and others) where people, both white and black, demonstrate a preference for those who are lighter complexioned. So, initially, my response to a report that lighter skinned women receive lighter court sentences than darker skinned women was "Water is wet." Who's surprised there? People are always easier on people they "perceive" to be more attractive and hundreds of years of preferences and privilege have caused people to favor those with lighter skin. But was really interesting was towards the end of the article when Duke University professor William Darity suggests that dark skinned blacks may be able to use existing Civil Rights statutes to sue for discrimination.

Think about that. People suing others over organizations and businesses who still use the "Paper Bag Test" in their memberships and hiring practices. That could be interesting.

From The Root:

Racism gets all the headlines, but colorism is just as real and impacting, Hannon explains. How "white" someone is perceived matters. "Colorism is clearly not taken as seriously or is not publicly discussed as much as racism, and yet these effects are pretty strong and the evidence is pretty strong," he says. "It's a very real problem, and people need to pay attention to it more."

(...)

(T)here has been recent movement by the government to take colorism more seriously, Hannon says. He pointed to a 2008 initiative by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that explicitly considers colorism. Hannon also notes that because the Civil Rights Act refers to "color" and not simply race, the door is open for litigation around colorism, which could also push the policy dial.

Darity believes that the benefits of light skin have to be addressed to cause change. "There are clear social and pecuniary benefits to being lighter-skinned in America," Darity says. "Unless we eliminate those benefits, this will go on, because the advantages are real."

Dark-skinned people are usually given a lot of pity and not-much-else when it comes to acknowledging that colorism is an issue both within and outside of the black community. There's a lot of navel-gazing and "that's so sad" and talk of how we all need to love and respect each other. But, as we know with racism, simply saying let's hold hands and try to understand doesn't cure hundreds of years of state-sanctioned discrimination. Some folks have to be forced to have a change of mind.

Many black organizations, Greek letter fraternities and sororities, business associations, exclusive clubs, night clubs, restaurants and businesses that catered to African Americans, even certain black churches, have historically discriminated against dark skinned black people. The Christian Methodist Church used to be the "Colored Methodist Church," and cater to mostly lighter complexioned members. Paper Bag Tests were used to keep "upper class" black organizations and social clubs lighter. Night clubs, bars and restaurants wouldn't hire darker skinned women to be dancers or waitresses because they preferred lighter-skinned women.

While things have changed a lot (quite a few Greek Organizations that were more "color-exclusive" in my mother's day, don't seem to have these issues now), in some aspects of African American society there is evidence of an informal colorized caste system. 

Would you sue? If you're dark and you always had a suspicion, or perhaps even knew, that you were passed over for a promotion, denied a job, denied access to a club or organization, attacked, or harassed based on your skin tone, would you press charges? Would you call out the informal colorism as very formal and very hostile discrimination? If you knew it kept you from winning a scholarship or getting a modeling contract or booking a gig or meant a harsher punishment and you knew it wasn't just because you were black, but because you were dark too? If you saw that your lighter peers were promoted in the workplace, but you were passed over despite being qualified, would you question it? Would you take the complaint to your human resources department? Would you take it to a Civil Rights group?

Would you take it to court?

This is what is interesting. I don't know any litigation related to colorism involving a black person suing another black person, accusing them of discrimination or harassment based on skin color, but I know for a fact that this does happen sometimes at formal and informal levels. It's not the standard and it's not across the board and it's not everywhere, but it does happen and it has happened to people I've known. 

One commenter on my Facebook page said they though this article reminded them of "Willie Lynch" tactics, a hoax letter meant to illustrate how society pits light skinned and dark skinned blacks against each other. And while I do think it is harmful to treat each other as the enemy when we all share an experience of being black in America, it's not logical to argue that we all have shared the burden of discrimination in the exact same way. Is it a coincidence or by design that in some large black families it's the lighter relatives who are more likely to be educated and financially stable compared to the darker ones? It's something that we all see informally, and know is real, but we don't study it. We don't analyze how this happens and what we can actually do about it. 

But, on the other hand, if dark skinned people started calling out colorism, not just on blogs or on Twitter timelines, but in courtrooms and newspaper articles and forums and sociological studies and the floor of Congress, what would that mean? What would that look like? And what would happen?

How do you fight the hate that resides inside those who have historically been hated as a whole, without further fracturing and already fractured people? Or is this fight necessary to finally end centuries of discrimination and pain?

UPDATE: One of my readers on Facebook sent me some links of successful cases that have already occurred involving dark skinned blacks suing based on colorism as well as the EEOC targeting colorism. Here's one of the cases involving an Applebee's.

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Reader Comments (12)

Seems like that would be a pretty hard case to prove unless there is some actual evidence of comments or a policy in place with hard, written proof.

I know "colorism" still exist, I know plenty of people, some in my own family who are or were "color-struck" However, it has kind of become a go to "reason" in many people's lives. There are a lot of people who are unhappy or uncomfortable with their own skin tone and believe that everything that goes wrong in their life, every job they don't get, every uninterested guy/girl, etc is the result of someone's repulsion to their color. That is not always the case and if your gonna be bold enough to take your suspicions to a lawyer you need some solid evidence.

Even if there is a "preference" in place, it may not go your way. Kind of like when fat girls or no-titty girls try to sue Hooters for discriminaton when they don't fit into the "Hooters" mold. If thats the brand or angle a company is going for, should they have a right to hire accordingly?

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternovanova

I am dark skinned and have definetly been overlooked in social settings by some shallow black men in my early college days when hanging with light skinned friends.

I think darker skinned women (specifically) can get ahead based on a positive upbeat pleasant demeanor and attitude in a professional setting. Also looking very plain but stylish and most importantly PROFESSIONAL in the workplace and when going for job interviews. No wild looking colored hair weaves that don't look good with your dark skin tone.

I do believe that whites may feel more comfortable with lighter skinned blacks but if we darker ones let our positive attitude shine and well as our pleasant demeanor we will go far. I have worked for upscale companies where I was the only black person and know my attitude and professionalism kept me there.

Luckily there are no light skinned siblings in my family that caused me to have a negative experience growing up I pray for those who do.


If the men are passing a dark skinned woman over because she is not light then he is a dumba......... that you don't need anyway because even when he gets his lightskinned woman he may still cheat on her because he is just an ass in general. I do have a lightskinned cousin with a high paying job in the finance industry that you would think would have no problems at all getting a husband
she even has Sandy blond hair but she is single, depressed and will not find a good man based only on her looks.

I think dark skinned black men can have it somewhat easier (if at all possible) because they can get a nice looking hair cut dress well and win people over with the pleasant male attitude of say our president Obama for instance. I have seen it many times. Plus they have white women and other races always wanting to be with them. . On the professional side of ths I feel it is up the the individual person women and men but I really don't think balck men would be passed over for a job because he is dark compared to a dark woman because let's face it bosses in corporate america still like the fact that the employees are attractive. especially in the entertainment industry. But I am happy not be be "talented" so I look for a regular profession that will keep me financially secure.

I would encourge darker black women not to to phased by this bull about color because as black americans we are indeed the luckiest black people on the earth compared to the blacks in the Carribbean, South America, Africa, Europe etc. we can get the financial security we desire in most cases if we do the right things and make the right choices because we do have to work extra extra extra hard because of our dark color, hair etc but it can be done.

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersunnygirl

I wouldn't sue anyone because of colorism. But I wouldn't sue anyone because of racism either. I know how incestuous most industries are and although there are safeguards against reprisals there is nothing to keep close personal friends from discussing potential employees or vendors. At the very least, the person who discriminated against you will say that you are not a team player - a euphemism for a plethora for politically incorrect terms.

Even if you win, you lose.


I wonder where that employee who sued Applebee's is now employed. I wonder if he would have been better served by filling the manager's gas tank with sugar or keying his car?

(Bourghetto in the house)

July 6, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMonica

Interesting quote from sunnygirl

"I would encourge darker black women not to to phased by this bull about color because as black americans we are indeed the luckiest black people on the earth compared to the blacks in the Carribbean, South America, Africa, Europe etc. we can get the financial security we desire in most cases if we do the right things and make the right choices because we do have to work extra extra extra hard because of our dark color, hair etc but it can be done."

The luckiest? In what way? Have you lived or know blacks in other parts of the world?

July 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenternyc/caribbeanragazza

Colorism doesn't exist in other parts of the world--because everyone's trying to be light skinned or white, it seems.

July 8, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterchrischambers

@sunygirl

There's something disturbing about the subtext of the advice you're giving to darkskinned women. It's as if you're saying they have an added responsibility to make themselves more presentable, more pleasant and more professional than the average or light skinned black person so that people (and employers) might come to tolerate or appreciate their presence - inspite of their dark skin. It's almost as if their behavior must telegraph an apology to everyone for their dark skin?

To take up the point also made by nyc/caribbeanragazza which touches on another implicit suggestion in your post: Why do some African Americans think that blacks in other parts of the diaspora all have these godforsaken lives of poverty, low standards of living in whole islands and continent of underdeveloped ghetto-mania? These islands and countries have exclusive and middle class neighborhoods as well as ghettos; upper and middle class/income blacks and working class too - just as in the US. Please don't believe the footage you see of tv that only depicts the ghettos of these countries. Also, please understand that not everybody migrates because of poverty? Why aren't the same assumptions made about white immigrants from all parts of the world who also come here? SMDH

July 9, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterofthediaspora

Actually a lot of white people dont discriminate against dark people they just discriminate against all black people. A lot of times it is black people who discriminate. My old boss created a whole sales team at my old company. This was a very selective process. He wanted attractive people. The team comprised of 3 white girls who were very attractive, three very attractive dark skinned black girls and an older woman who was lightskinned. The rest were all white men.

I have been told many times by white men that they definitely prefer dark women over light skinned women...

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTara

Oh and the person doing the hiring was a white man. Furthermore, at that company I was an up and coming dark skinned girl. I would interview against 30 and 40 people for promotions at this company and often got the position or I was 1 of 2 final candidates. I quickly moved up so I dont think that all dark skinned people are seen the same and all light skinned people are seen in the same way...

July 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTara

Some of the comments made by sunnygirl ARE a bit disturbing. I get the impression she believes that dark women have to compensate for being dark. That we have to work "extra extra extra hard because of our dark color, hair". So sad. As a dark-skinned woman who has always been comfortable in my skin, I've never bought into how black folks have to work twice as hard to get half as far school of thought either. I realize a lot of us do, but I'm not about to burden myself with all that. And I've done just fine.

July 14, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFran

nope, i would NEVER sue over a "paper bag test".... " I " can pass it !!!! HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!! ---which REALLY is the problem [many] dark skins have, despite ANY ‘in-denial’ post they may (angrily) place on this, OR ANY message board stating otherwise. THEY can not pass that test SO THEY have problems with it!!


goodness, you darker complexioned (for the most part) need STOP all of your WHINNING. it's to the point now where it's sickening (AND PLAYED-OUT) hearing you complain ALL the time about the SAME DAMN THING!! if you're SO concerned "upset" over the "established" paper bag test.... CREATE YOUR OWN. call it the "reversed bag" or the "inside out bag" or the "upside down bag" test OR, WHAT-ever! then, create your OWN "exclusive" club admittance and employment hiring practices and etc by using the "flip side" of the "established" paper bag test... you will only admit/hire/promote based on the concept that one must be DARKER than the bag for acceptance into your little social clubs/businesses and etc.

November 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenteraaaahhh-HA!!!!!!!!!!

.
Listed below are links to data on the Historical MYTH
of a Color-Based / Slave-Role HIERARCHY — as well
as the Urban LEGEND of Paper-Bag, Blue-Vein and
Other Allegations of Features-Based Entry ‘TESTS’:
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4153
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4154

RELATED LINKS:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4162
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/2511
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4160
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/2885
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/3331
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/1400
.
If there are any questions regarding the information
presented, I can be reached anytime at the email
address and / or websites noted below.
.
Thank you and have a good day.
.
Sincerely,
.
– AllPeople (AP) G.i.f.t.s.
soaptalk@hotmail.com
Founder and Moderator of the following
online Lineage-Discussion Communities
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MGM-Mixed
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/FGM-Mixed
http://www.youtube.com/user/APGifts
http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts
.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
.
SOURCE:
.
http://www.facebook.com/notes/allpeople-gifts/the-facts-on-mixed-race/321878451159708
.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
.

November 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAllPeople (AP) Gifts

.
There is actually no such thing as a so-called "Light-Skinned
Black" person ... but rather ... such individuals and groups
are actually people who are of a 'Multi-Generational
Multiracially-Mixed' (MGM-Mixed) Lineage that some may
have been pressured or encouraged to ignore or downplay.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4160
.
People of Mixed-Race lineage should NOT feel pressured to
'identify' according to any standards other than one's own.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4157
.
The legal -application of the racist-'One-Drop Rule'
(ODR) was banned in the U.S. way back in 1967.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4162
.
http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418/permalink/253341891410164
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4187
.
http://www.facebook.com/groups/253286018082418/permalink/253341281410225
.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
.
Listed below are related Links of 'the facts' of the histories
of various Mixed-Race populations found within the U.S.:
.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
.
There is no proof that a 'color-based slave hierarchy'
(or that 'color-based social-networks') ever existed
as common entities -- within the continental U.S.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4154
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4153
.
It was the 'Rule of Matriliny (ROM) -- [a.k.a. 'The Rule of Partus'
(ROP)] -- and NOT the racist-'One-Drop Rule' (ODR) -- that was
used to 'create more enslaved people' on the continental U.S.
.
This is because the chattel-slavery system that was
once found on the antebellum-era, continental U.S.
was NOT "color-based" (i.e. "racial") -- but rather
-- it was actually "mother-based" (i.e. 'matrilineal').
.
http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/309460495741441
.
There were many ways (and not solely the sexual assault
and sexual exploitation of the women-of-color) in which
'white' lineage entered the familial bloodlines of
enslaved-people found on the continental U.S.
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4238
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4239
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4240
.
An 'Ethnic' category is NOT the
same thing as a "Race" category:
.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Generation-Mixed/message/4236
.
http://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/300777016632181
.
Other Topics:
.
https://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/279223868853420
.
https://www.facebook.com/allpeople.gifts/posts/164203590359746
.
http://www.facebook.com/notes/%C2%ADallpeople-gifts/the-facts-on-m%C2%ADixed-race/321878451159708
.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
.

November 29, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAllPeople
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