Occasion highlights complexion stigmas

Just in time for black history month, a month of celebration for and of blacks in America, the FAMU section of the National Council of Negro Women highlighted the color complex issues that plague the black community.

The forum, Sister Dark/ Sister Light, took place Thursday in Perry Paige Auditorium.

The color complex that blacks have had throughout history is known as colorism. Colorism, a form of black on black racism based on skin tone, is thought to have originated from slavery. Many people believe during slavery the dark-skin slaves worked in the field while the light-skin slaves worked in the house as explained on the Web site www.africaspeaks.com. The distinct separation often implied that the light-skin slave was better than the dark-skin slave. This early separation of skin tone, done by whites, highly contributed to the colorism that exists in today’s black society.

Historically, these views soon seeped into the minds of blacks. Eventually, blacks began to separate the race as the whites had done. There were tests created to examine your complexion and hair type. These tests were administered to determine membership into black organizations. NCNW explored the various tests, such as the paper bag test and the comb test.

The brown paper bag test was designed to calculate complexion. A brown paper bag was placed next to the hand of a person and if the person was lighter than the bag, they were welcomed into the organization. If the person was darker than the bag, membership was denied.

The comb test consisted of the test-givers running a fine-tooth comb through the hair.

If the comb did not pass smoothly through with ease, membership was denied. Those accepted into the organization passed the comb test since the fine-tooth comb glided down the strands of hair with ease.

In fact, NCNW recreated the paper bag test for the forum. Before entering the auditorium a brown paper bag was placed next to the guests.

Those lighter than the paper bag were directed to sit on the right side of the room and those darker than the paper were led to the left side of the room.

“This was done for historical value, to spark anger, and to get people out of their comfort zones,” said section president Sabrina Davis, a 22-year-old senior psychology and political science student from Fort Lauderdale, when asked the necessity of the paper bag test.

Though this form of colorism discrimination is extreme and not practiced to that extent anymore, the black community still shows discrimination in other ways.

“Oh, she’s pretty for a dark girl,” or “Hey redbone,” or “Don’t act light-skin” and “She got some good hair,” are phrases often heard when blacks talk about each other. These expressions can even be heard walking around campus, on The Set and during casual conversation amid friends.

With colorism as the foundation for discussion, the forum also veered into the topic of beauty. The women of NCNW brought this issue to the forefront at the forum. They posed the question, “What does it mean to be beautiful in today’s culture?”

“We’ve allowed white society to define beauty. As a culture we need to make a conscious effort to restore the concept of beauty,” said panelist Brooke Smith, Miss FAMU, on behalf of the Beta Alpha chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

Members of the audience admitted to the fact that the media plays an important role in defining beauty.

“The standard of beauty that exists is because of the [music] videos,” said Ben Davis, a 20-year-old business administration student from Memphis, Tenn.

The forum simply highlighted the issues among black people.

“A lot of people are not aware that a color complex exists, even on campus. Exposing the issue will get people to talk,” said Dorothy I. Height Leadership Committee Chairwoman, Chakina Fields, a 20-year-old business student from Virginia Beach, Va.

In fact, the forum did create a lot a talk. Members of the audience lined up to comment on the topics, the room was filled and emotions ran high.

“The forum showed that we will, as blacks, never get ahead if we keep holding on to the slave mentality,” said Dorothy I. Height Committee Co-chair, Alesha Carter, a history education student from Raleigh, NC.

Contact Constance Rush at constance_rush@yahoo.com.