The 'Paper Bag' Test for 2009?

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing a play at Marygrove College titled “Passing.” It is the story of an orphan in the Antebellum South who was light enough to pass for Caucasian, and even had several offers to do so. But she decided to identify and live as a Black woman in the Black community where she was raised.  It was wonderful and I enjoyed myself.  

After the play was over, there was a Q & A time with Bankole Thompson, Michigan Chronicle senior editor. 

In reference to Black people living and identifying in the world as Caucasians he asked the audience, “How can we change this?” 

As a light-skinned Black woman, I silently recounted how life has been for me as I listened to various audience members give their opinions of the light-skinned/brown-skinned/dark-skinned racism that exists within our own community. 

How do we change this and even more importantly, do we want to change this?

I can’t say that life has been real easy for me being my shade.  I worked hard to have what I have and I did it through faith, perseverance and education.  But I will say this, if I had kept my hair straightened with a lengthy weave, gotten some blue or green eye contacts, life would still be the same but I would have gotten more help, especially from men.

It wasn’t long ago when my late Grandmother, a brown-skinned woman, told me that during her childhood, you couldn’t attend many churches, schools or organizations unless you were lighter than a paper bag.  This custom practiced for years was called “The Paper Bag” test.


The paper bag test was used

to promote Black racism…

 My mother is brown-skinned and my father is my complexion.  I never was overtly taught that light is right, but I noticed that my mother gravitated to lighter-skinned men with light colored eyes.  I wondered if this was just her attraction to men who looked like that or was this attraction rooted in something deeper.   

Slavery is still alive in our deep subconscious.  The Willie Lynch letter is etched so deep inside of us that I think it would take years for us to eradicate it from our collective mindset as a people.  The whole idea that looking like a Caucasian, or close to it, fosters a multi-billion dollar hair and cosmetic industry.

So back to the question of how to change this.   

We women have to be the initiators of this transformation. We are the teachers of nations and the mothers of humanity.  Let’s start with us and be honest.  Do we want to look White or at least less Black?  Do we think our natural hair is ugly and unprofessional?  Do we curse our hips, butts and thighs because we don’t look like Twiggy?    

Let’s be real. There is power and money to be made for encouraging people to feel bad about themselves.  Insecurity is feeding many families right now because so many of us are willing to pay to not look like who we really are.  

Do we really want to change?

There is nothing wrong with adornment or even making yourself over, but if the underlying reason is to appeal to an outside standard of attractiveness that exalts looking more White, well then, we gotta check ourselves.  When women straighten their hair with relaxers, does it mean that they want to be White? Not always but, again, if the motivation is to have naturally coarse curly or kinky Afro-texured hair look more presentable, it might behoove us to look at that. 

Why are we having this type of conversation in 2009?  It is because even in 2009, we still have sistas who unofficially are competing in the “Who Can Look the Whitest” contest by getting long blonde weaves, blue contacts, and even nose jobs. (Lil’ Kim, I’m talking to you.)

Let’s make the change within ourselves.  Can we dare to look at ourselves in the mirror and affirm to ourselves, like a character in the play I saw said so aptly, that “there is nothing wrong with the color God made us”?

Let’s go on this journey together.  If you’re down, then so am I.  Self-love and preservation awaits.







Dina Peace is the Web Editor and a blogger for the Michigan Chronicle.  Her interests includes dancing, writing, painting and making mud pies in her backyard.  She can be reached at  Follow her on Facebook by visiting  She loves connecting with like minded individuals!

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