An actual test, along with the so-called ruler test in common use in the the early 1900s among upper class Black American societies and families to determine if a Black person was sufficiently white to gain admittance or acceptance. If your skin was darker than a brown paper bag, you did not merit inclusion. Thousands of Black institutions including the nation's most eminent Black fraternity -- Phi Alpha Phi, Howard Univiersity, and numerous church and civic groups all practiced this discriminiation. The practice has 19th Century antecedants with the Blue Blood Society and has not totally died out.
Zora Neal Hurston was the first well known writer to air this strange practice in a public. The practice is now nearly universally condemned (at least in public) as being an example of "colorism". Particularly cogent modern day critiques can be found in Kathy Russell's "The Color Complex", Tony Morrion's "The Bluest Eye" (an Ophrey Book Club choice) and Marita Golden's "Don't Play in the Sun." The best known send-up of the pactice, however, is Spike Lee's scathing and hilarious 1988 movie, "School Daze."
"Though the brown paper bag test is antiquated and frowned upon as a shameful moment in African-American history, the ideals behind the practice still lingers in the African-American community" -- Rivea Ruff, BlackCollegeView.Com
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