Though coined only recently, colourism has extended its ugly tentacles across several decades. It dates as far back as the 17th Century, to the times when black slaves were still held by white masters.
In those times, the masters took some of the slaves into their chambers and bore into them. And so the children of mixed races were born.
These kids were of all shades and colours, and there was the need to maintain that strata between master and slave. This stratum was most evident in the skin tone. The brown paper bag test posed the perfect solution.
Here’s how the historic brown paper bag test worked: workers in an organization would hold a brown paper bag up to your face.
If your skin tone is lighter than the brown paper bag, congratulations! You’ve passed. You’re free to go in. Rejoice! Bask in the privileges that lay in your wake.
If, on the other hand, you are too unfortunately dark- darker than the brown paper bag, then sorry, you have failed the test! There’s not much for you dear! You’re doomed to an average, limited life.
The last seat in the league of the elite had just been taken. You might catch a glimpse of some empty chairs there yes, but you’re too dark to fill them. Please, find your way back to the hole you crawled out from, and do get some bleaching creams on your way out!
Your social class is determined by this test. The people you’re able to associate with. Your worth bends to the dictates of the test. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, it chronicles a reality you cannot escape.
There are limited opportunities to bag a priceless education and because of your skin tone, you can’t be one of the lucky ones. Entrepreneurial opportunities are out of question. You’re just too…dark.
Although the practice of the brown paper bag test has been discarded, its effects are still very much around. Like an invisible brown paper, it loiters beneath eyelids, gauging the depths of melanin that’s resident under the epidermis. Like a hidden sensor, it beeps. Like a highly sensitive alarm, it goes off whenever a black person walks towards a door and breaths in the extra caution taken to validate their existence.
It might look like it’s gone, yes- that nasty little test- but it’s still very much around.