Louis pulled the olive-drab wool service cap down as far as it could go. Why he was hiding his face, he didn’t know. It was not like anyone could see him. Louis’s heart fluttered. After all these years, even the thought of her made him blush. His excitement was quickly replaced by sorrow. He had not been the best husband. Maybe if he were, she would not have asked for that restraining order, he would not have joined the Army, and the terrible future he knew was coming would not happen.
But Louis was on a mission, so now he couldn’t think about that. Life was funny in that way. Sometimes you don’t realize your purpose until after you have already lived.
The scream of the train’s horn startled him out of his thoughts. The 63rd Street Station in Chicago was lively, with travelers. He looked down at his watch as the train’s horn sounded again. They will be here any minute now.
“Now, where do you think you are going?”
Louis looked up and smiled. That tiny voice and round, golden-brown face always did something to him. Then, she had the nerve to have those sexy glasses on. But Mamie wasn’t talking to him and had not spoken to him in years. No, Mamie Carthan was talking to their son.
Louis stopped thinking about her beauty and rushed over to stand next to them. There was not much time left, and although he knew neither one could see him, the whole situation still made him nervous. Nerves. Was that even a thing anymore? Louis brushed imaginary lint from his wool, four-button olive coat. It was the same coat he had been wearing for ten years now. The same uniform he has worn since he died.
“Come on, ma. I’m gonna be late,” whined the chubby little boy.
Louis smiled. He knew Emmett would be a handful the day they discovered he was a breech baby. That’s why he gave him his name because he knew he’d be hard-headed, just like his father. Emmett Louis Till. Bursting into the world wide-eyed and feet first.
“Yea, but you didn’t kiss me goodbye.”
Emmett smiled and gave Mamie a peck on the cheek.
Give her the watch.
Louis cleared his throat. He hadn’t realized how long it’s been since he had said anything out loud. He looked around at the people walking by. It was strange the way they seemed to look right at him.
Give her the watch.
He repeated the command as he stared down at his son.
You won’t need it where you are going.
He could see the boy thinking the words over in his head. He knew he thought they were coming from his own mind. Louis had come to learn that sadness was different in the after-world, but if he could, he would shed a tear. He stood watching his son remove the watch he was wearing and give it to his mother, and his heart ached at the future.
“Here,” said Emmett, “take my watch.”
Mamie frowned as she put it on, “Why?”
“I won’t need it where I’m going,” he said, turning his back to his mother and dashing off in the direction of the train where his cousin Wheeler and great Uncle Moses were waiting.
“Bobo, wait! What about your ring?”
Louis turned away from Emmett to look admirably at his ex-wife. She was the one and had always been the one. He thought she was chosen for him to be his wife this entire time. But the truth is she was chosen to be Emmett’s mother.
He pulled himself away from her face. He was running out of time. Emmett had to be on that train.
Show it to the fellas.
Emmett turned around and pulled the ring from his pants pocket, and put it on, rubbing his fingers across his father’s initials. He lifted his head and stared straight ahead, like someone who had just discovered a new world or happened upon a new invention, and flashed a big grin.
“I’m gonna show this to the fellas!”
Mamie laughed and waved her handkerchief.
“Alright then, boy. Go on ahead now.”
Louis watched his son jump on the train and Mamie staring after him. He remembered the day he got the thing made in Europe, just one year since he had been drafted into the Army. But it was not his ring anymore. Soon, the whole African American community would wear that ring.
No. This was no longer LT’s ring. Now, it was the ring of freedom.
The quietness of the station alarmed him, and Louis looked around in awe of the now dark, empty station. The Master warned him that time moved differently here. He had better get a move on it if he was going to make it to Money in time.
Louis inhaled deeply as his body disintegrated into the wind for his next mission.
After watching ABC’s “Let the World See” about the role of Mamie Till and how she handled Emmett Till’s death, I was happy to see some discussion about Emmett’s father, Louis. Since grade school, I have been studying the Emmett Till story, when I first learned about it, heard many versions of the story, and have seen countless documentaries. My favorite is the one that aired in 2005, “The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till,” on YouTube. I like it mostly because Mamie Till was still alive and could tell it the way only she could.
But in all the docs, even my favorite one, there was never anything about his father. This had me thinking.
What if we tell both of their stories at the same time?
Louis Till died at the young age of twenty-three when he was accused of assaulting some Italian women in Europe while serving overseas in the Transportation Corps of the U.S. Army during World War II. He and a friend were found guilty and lynched in 1945.
What if our story doesn’t end here?
What if the spirit world informs Louis about his son’s death and its necessity to jump start The Civil Rights Movement?
And what if it becomes Louis’s responsibility to make sure Emmett wears his ring so that they can identify his body?
And what if his soul isn’t allowed to rest until he does?
What if we can tell both stories through the power of the ring that binds them?
It is September 23, 2009, and there is a dust storm in Sydney. But, Grace is from a family of pagans, so it is not only a dust storm for them. As the amber glow, which Grace calls the glowing, tangerine-colored fog, blankets the city, Grace Fieldgrill, now in her seventies, senses her time has come to die. The amber glow will want a sacrifice, and she is ready to give herself.
Grace believes the day she unlocks the trunk in the corner of her room, the spirit of John, her feu sacré or sacred flame, would come, as prophesied by her mother, to whisk her away. But, before she dies, she wants her son, Christian, to know the truth about his birth father and her granddaughter Samantha (Sam) to succeed in her career. These are affairs she must sort through before sunset. Grace commands Sam to unlock the trunk, and this is where our story begins.
“73-years is a long time to remain earthbound when you want to fly.”
I am not convinced Ms. Waters is not a poet. As with Catch the Moon Mary, Fields of Grace is full of poetic language and reads like a romantic love story and a historical fiction novel. When Sam opens the trunk and pulls out items, we follow Grace back to 1934, where she lives at the Wyncote House, a ladies-only establishment. The women of the house are hilarious. Although, Julia’s low self-esteem and constant complaints about not being pretty made me want to jump through the page and shake her.
As a history buff, I loved how the author used actual historical figures to interact with the fictional characters, which I love doing in my own writing. Sir John Gielgud was an English actor and theater director whose career spanned eight decades. And Peggy Ashcroft was an English stage actress who appeared in both classic and modern plays. Peggy and Gielgud’s relationship in the novel reminded me of brother and sister:
‘Our new thespian is rich, flings money like confetti at a wedding. A little flattery will grant me artistic freedom.’
‘Peg pushed my remaining ribbons aside and swiveled to face Mr. Gieldgud. ‘How rich?’
‘I knew that was all you heard.’
Wendy Waters, Fields of Grace
The author also gives us updates on Hitler and the pending war and where the world stood on women’s rights at the time.
Some parts were so fun I found myself reading some of the lines aloud as if I was in a play. Here is a funny exchange between Peggy and Grace about a handsome man named Dashiell Tanner, who has just replaced another actor:
‘I think he has talent, don’t you?’
‘He’s incredibly handsome.’
‘He’s incredibly arrogant.’
‘So, you’re not in love with him?’
‘Do I sound like I’m in love with him?’
Wendy Waters, Fields of Grace
You will learn the significance of this exchange when you read the book.
The story goes back and forth from past to present. I was worried about getting lost, but the author did this so well it was not confusing at all.
My only criticism is the book is very long, and it might be too much for readers with not a lot of time on their hands. (It took me a while to finish myself). Otherwise, I found Fields of Grace to be an exciting and entertaining read.
On July 20, 1969, the world watched as America walked on the moon. In Black America, something very different was happening. We were in the middle of the Harlem Cultural Festival, a series of music concerts held in Harlem, Manhattan, and New York City during the summer of 1969 to celebrate black music, culture, and black pride.
Also known as Black Woodstock, it is the subject of the Hulu documentary Summer of Soul, appropriately named and highly recommended. Some call it “The Revolution that Could Not Be Televised,” because the footage has been unseen until now.
Why hide film showing a sea of beautiful black people having fun? Nevermind.
Also, in July of this year, Black America mourned the loss of another Civil Rights Activist. Just fifteen months after the death of Dr. King, we saw the death of his baby brother Rev. A.D. King.
In this post, I will occasionally refer to Dr. King as Martin to distinguish him from the other King. This informal approach is in no way intended to be disrespectful to either man.
Who Was A.D. King
Alfred Daniel “A.D.” King, the father of Alveda King, was born on July 30, 1930, in Atlanta, Georgia. On June 17, 1950, he married Naomi Barber, with whom he had five children.
Like his brother, A.D. graduated from Morehouse College, but he was less interested in academics. Although he eventually yielded to the calling of a pastor, he initially strongly resisted that as well. A.D.’s grassroots connections would come in handy later in life when he would help to recruit people for Civil Rights Demonstrations.
While Dr. King knew the boardroom and could maneuver his way around intellectuals, A.D. knew the streets (street smart if you will) and was responsible for organizing and strategizing many of the marches King is famous for, becoming known as a master strategist. He had a gift for leading the youth and had his ear to the ground about what the people wanted, and Martin depended on him heavily.
A.D. faced many of the same struggles as Martin and several other civil rights leaders during the 1950s and 60s, including being arrested in an October 1960 lunch counter sit-in in Atlanta. A.D. and his wife also escaped a bombing to their home.*
*Bombings were so often in the black community during that time that Birmingham had been nicknamed Bombmingham.
Rev. A.D. and Dr. King did not only look alike, but they also sounded alike and were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” by King. Sr.
A.D.’s personality is said to have been relaxing with a sense of humor.
Cause why he got them glasses on? Brother did not want the spotlight.
Although his activism mirrored Martin’s, A.D. did not like the limelight and had no intentions of usurping that authority from his brother. Friends and family say A.D. King was humble and was not worried about walking in his brother’s shadow. Instead, he played his part and let Martin play his. A.D. supported his brother one-hundred-percent and was in the middle of every movement:
When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was murdered on April 4, 1968, it hurt A.D. deeply, and he never recovered, as he felt it was his responsibility to protect his brother, A.D.’s widow, Naomi King, once recalled.
On July 21, 1969, at the age of 38, a year and a half after Martin’s death, A.D. mysteriously drowned in the family swimming pool.
It is a mysterious death because A.D. King was a “very good swimmer,” according to his niece, Bernice King, Martin’s daughter. According to Derek King, A.D. King’s son, emergency workers noted there was no water in his lungs. “Ain’t no water in his lungs,” one of them said, “he was dead before he hit the water.”
“The Texas Senate on Friday passed legislation that would end requirements that public schools include writings on women’s suffrage and the civil rights movement in social studies classes. Among the figures whose works would be dropped: Susan B. Anthony, Cesar Chavez, and Martin Luther King Jr., whose “I Have a Dream” speech and “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” would no longer make the curriculum cut.”
It used to be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the only name we knew and were taught in history class. Now they are doing away with him, too, it seems.
As more is revealed about the truth of who Dr. King was beyond the “I Have A Dream” speech (including that when he was born, Martin Luther King Jr.’s name was Michael…read more about that here), it is no surprise to me that systems are now trying to limit the already limited information we have on him.
Thus, it is also no surprise little is known of his brother, although he was so prominently involved in everything Dr. King stood for. Their mother, Alberta King, was also killed.
There is definitely something strange about this.
Now that you know A.D. King existed, the next time you see a photo of Dr. Martin King, also look for Rev. A.D. King. Chances are he was right there, hiding in plain sight.
Many Black Americans are replacing their fourth of July celebrations with Juneteenth. I don’t celebrate holidays, and as much as I love my people, this includes Kwanzaa and Juneteenth. But I think it’s important to talk about Juneteenth, and why it is celebrated. For some, this day is a celebration of freedom, but even after Juneteenth, many blacks were still enslaved and suffering.
According to the Emancipation Proclamation issued by Abraham Lincoln on January 1, 1863, the proclamation declared “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”
By rebellious states, it was referring to those states that had seceded or withdrawn from the United States, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also exempted parts of the Confederacy (the Southern secessionist states) that had already come under Northern control. The freedom it promised also depended upon United States military victory. In brief, emancipation only applied to those slaves who lived near Union lines.
Sound like a bunch of excuses to me.
News of the supposed emancipation did not spread as quickly as the movies would have us to believe. Many slave-owners packed up their belongings and their slaves and moved to Texas in mass.
“Since the capture of New Orleans in 1862, slave owners in Mississippi, Louisiana and other points east had been migrating to Texas to escape the Union Army’s reach.” (Henry Louis Gates Jr.)
In a hurried re-enactment of the original Middle Passage, more than 150,000 enslaved people had made the trek west, according to historian Leon Litwack in his book Been in the Storm So Long: The Aftermath of Slavery. As one former slave recalled, “it looked like everybody in the world was going to Texas.” For the next two years, the enslaved would live removed from the updates of the war, and slavery would go on, business as usual.
And so, when General Gordon Granger entered Galveston, Texas, on June 19th to lead the Union occupation force, he had to deal with ongoing slavery in defiance of the Emancipation Proclamation. To fix this, he issued the following order:
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property, between former masters and slaves and the connection heretofore existing between them, becomes that between employer and hired labor. The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”
“The Freedmen are advised to remain at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts; and they will not be supported in idlenesseither there or elsewhere.”
Long story short, this proclamation, specifying “all slaves were free,” is the foundation for Juneteenth’s celebration, combining June and the nineteenth when they issued the order, commemorating the freedom of the enslaved and allegedly ending slavery in the US.
But, this order did not free all enslaved persons.
“There is much evidence to suggest that southern whites—especially Confederate parolees—perpetrated more acts of violence against newly freed bondspeople in Texas than in other states,” writes historian Elizabeth Hayes Turner in an essay titled “Juneteenth: Emancipation and Memory.”
“Between the Neches and Sabine rivers and north to Henderson,” she continues, “reports showed that blacks continued in a form of slavery, intimidated by former Confederate soldiers still in uniform and bearing arms.” Murder, lynching, and harassment were common. “You could see lots of Negroes hanging from trees in Sabine bottom right after freedom,” reported one freed slave, “They would catch them swimming across Sabine River and shoot them.”
Blacks celebrated their freedom with the first official Juneteenth event in 1866, where they read the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 and, oddly, praised Abraham Lincoln as the great liberator.
The celebrations continued until coming to a halt with the institution of Black Codes and, eventually, Jim Crow. These laws essentially put Blacks back into a form of slavery where they were fully disenfranchised. After the Civil War and the end of slavery, Southern states, which had amassed great wealth from slavery, found their economy in shambles. They had to figure out how to keep a slave-like system going.
So that’s what they meant by “they will not be supported in idleness.”
These laws could be imposed on Black men easily, sending them to jail, and thus, former slave owners turned “entrepreneurs” could lease them to various companies that would work them to death and treat them like they were slaves. This made the states tons of money.
In 1883, about ten percent of Alabama’s total revenue was derived from convict leasing. In 1898, nearly 73 percent of total revenue came from this same source. Death rates among leased convicts were approximately ten times higher than the death rates of prisoners in non-lease states. In 1873, for example, 25 percent of all black leased convicts died.
The laws passed in Texas were similar to those passed in every other Confederate state. Modern-day politicians often make comparisons to Jim Crow as one of the worst periods in African American life. Jim Crow didn’t have shit on the Black Codes, which was the South’s attempt to recreate enslavement and go back to business as usual. Mass incarceration isn’t a recent invention; during the Black Codes, Black people could do little without running afoul of the law with the penalty being sent back to the fields if they weren’t already there.
Juneteenth didn’t make a full resurgence until The Civil Rights Movement, when Blacks began to celebrate it in full again. And while many Blacks have celebrated it for centuries, it still did not become an official Holiday until 1980, when it was made a Texas State Holiday. Still, it wasn’t until 1997 that Congress recognized June 19 as “Juneteenth Independence Day,” after pressure from a collection of groups like the National Association of Juneteenth Lineage and the National Juneteenth Celebration Foundation.
This post was originally published three years ago, in June of 2018. As of today, June of 2021, Juneteenth is now being turned into a National Federal Holiday.
But the question remains, what exactly did Juneteenth accomplish for the black man, woman, and child? What freedom did it bring about? Some sum it up this way:
“Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.” – https://juneteenth.com/
But, Spivey brings out another good point worth considering:
Slavery still existed in Delaware and Kentucky, which resisted all Union attempts to end slavery and refused to ratify the 13th Amendment. In California, slavery was sort of outlawed in 1850 as a condition for statehood. The exception was slaves who had been brought to California and where the possibility they might return one day to their original home existed, even if that state had voted to ratify the 13th Amendment.
New Jersey had as many as 400 people remain slaves long after Juneteenth. Oregon’s provisional government banned slavery in 1844 but forbade free black people from settling in the territory. Settlers continued to bring slaves with them. General Joseph Lane, a former territorial governor, kept at least one slave on his farm until 1878, 13 years after the passage of the 13th Amendment.”
It is true Blacks were not free on July 4, 1776. But it is also true many Blacks were not free on June 19, 1865, either.
As many African Americans celebrate and reflect this weekend on what this day means to them, there is certainly much to think about.
Speaking of Freedom, this is a great time to dive into The Stella Trilogy if you have not already! Below is the link to book one. Enjoy!
In book one, Cynthia McNair and her boyfriend, Alex, express some racists’ feelings toward blacks. They visit Cynthia’s Grandmother Sidney McNair, who recounts the story of her ancestor, a slave named Stella Mae. Cynthia has no idea of her African ancestry or how deep this rabbit hole goes.
You are a rarity.
A gemstone that is not only precious but scarce.
You’ve been disgraced and beatdown so long
I doubt you know the difference.
Something is only precious when it is preferred.
But when a gemstone is rare
people search for it, and when they find it, they rejoice
for a rare gem is not easily available
for it, one must look.
There is no creation like you.
There is no body like yours.
No mind can conceive of the things you’ve seen
Even the ground is confused in the way that you walk
When you wake, the earth
quakes and shudders and the sun smiles
No instruction can map out the contents of your mind
You precious one.
You delicate rock.
You silk mountain.
Do not become small for those who refuse to climb.
Let the ordinary ones stay on the ground.
Let those who cannot swim stay on land.
Understand, you are a fist full of moon.
And those who cannot appreciate your light
must stay in the darkness.
There is no place for shadows
in the land of the living.
You are life.
You are womb.
Without you, the man was incomplete,
and without help.
You are not only golden
You are gold.
You are historic.
You are not only precious
You are rare.
Title: Immersed in West Africa
Author: Terry Lister
Print Length: 159 Pages
Publisher: Book Power Publishing
Publication Date: August 29, 2019
Immersed in West Africa is the exciting journey of one man’s travels across Senegal, Mauritania, Gambia, Guinea, and Guinea Bissau. Anyone who knows me or has followed this blog for any significant time knows how much I love traveling. The pandemic put a stop to our travels, so it was refreshing to at least be able to read about some lesser-explored parts of West Africa from the author’s perspective.
We learn about Goree, the infamous island in Senegal with roots in the history of the slave trade. The island had twenty-eight slave houses and transported nearly two million people. We learn that the Maison des Esclaves (The House of Slaves) and its Door of No Return are museums and memorial to the Atlantic slave trade on the Gorée Island that they renovated in 1990.
I enjoyed the author’s authenticity when recounting his experiences as he moved from one place to the next. I found his accounts to be thorough, honest, and thought-provoking. Lister doesn’t gloss over parts that did not serve him well, such as the indigenous village on Lake Retba in Senegal’s Pink Lake (the people kept asking him for money) and the trouble he faced journeying into Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania. The harassment Terry endured from the police is an all-too-familiar narrative between black men and law enforcement. Forcing him to the station, asking him about his money, making him wait, and all of that was completely unnecessary.
I learned from this that it is an excellent idea to guard against those who see you as a new face and try to take advantage of you. I commend the author’s courage because I would not want to travel from country to country alone, precisely because of situations like this.
Also, about the Pink Lake, the author explains it is pink because of its high salinity, second only to the Dead Sea.
We discover few people visit Mauritania because of its strict policy against alcohol and how Mauritanians love mint tea. I loved reading about making it as performed by a woman in Chinguetti. We learn desert homes use propane gas units that they carry from room to room. In Mauritania, we also discover that they use the sun to power their street lights and have installed solar panels to light up the streets.
If you are already intrigued, you will love this book as I have only scratched the surface of the author’s adventures. There is a lot to learn from someone’s personal experience that adds a seasoning that far outweighs looking it up on Google.
I love learning about how things are different in other countries, like the communal way of eating meals, sitting around a table or on the floor in a circle, and eating with your right hand, no utensils. I also did not know polygamy was legal in Senegal.
I cannot wait until it is safe again, and we can do some international travel. I might consider some places this author visited. I would love to taste the cold water he got to drink from The Terjit Oasis, where the water fell from the rocks!
An Instagram video inspired today’s post, where a group of young black people engaged in a debate about whether light skin blacks are treated better than dark skin blacks. This debate spun out of control and eventually led to a full-blown argument that made it difficult for the viewer to comprehend what each party said. In the young people’s voice was a lot of hurt and pain. The caption on the video read: “Does Light-Skin Privilege Exist in America?”
Not to bestow to Willie Lynch any gift of prophecy, but when he said to “pitch the light-skin slave against the dark-skin slave and the dark-skin slave against the light skin-slave,” it was as if he c-sectioned the calendar and saw color bias in black people’s future.
Even if one does not wholly believe The Willie Lynch Letter is entirely accurate, one cannot ignore the Black community’s divisions based on skin color in a way that is strangely accurate to William’s letter. To add to this, Willie Lynch did not say these divisions will help for a few days, weeks, and months. In 1712, William Lynch said that if implemented “properly,” slave owners could expect these divisions to keep the blacks mentally enslaved and divided for generations.
It is 2021, but skin-tone is still an important physical characteristic among some black people that sometimes cause divisions in the black community. Historically, people immediately noticed a black person’s skin-tone and recognized it as a critical component in joining churches, fraternities and sororities, and other social interactions. Throughout history, variations in skin tone have reflected social status and hierarchies. The most notable social experiment was the paper bag test, used widely among African Americans to determine inclusion in certain activities and groups.
The Brown Paper Bag Test
The Brown Paper Bag Test, known widely as “The Paper bag Test,” was a form of racial discrimination practiced within the African-American community in the 20th century by comparing an individual’s skin tone to a brown color paper bag.
If a person’s skin tone matched or was lighter than the brown bag, they would be more likely to be accepted than a person whose skin tone was darker than the paper bag.
Many famous black clubs and social organizations used this test to determine membership, including churches and employers.
The Lighter the Skin, the Better the Chances
In Spike Lee’s movie, School Daze, two groups of black sorority women are at odds over which group’s hair and skin color are best. In the film, the Gamma Rays had to be “paper bag light.”
The Alpha Kappa Alpha Brown Paper Bag Test
A letter from 1928, written by sophomore Edward H. Taylor, at Howard University discusses the Alpha Kappa Alpha brown paper bag test and colorism. Watch the Yard details the statements made in the student newspaper “The Hilltop.” Watch the Yard said the article:
“accused fraternities of “splitting the various classes into groups of different shades — yellow, brown, and black.” According to Taylor, “The light-skinned students are sought after by the fraternities and sororities, particularly the latter, as members and the dark ones passed by. The darker brown students then form their own cliques while the blacks are left in the cold.”
Jack and Jill Brown Paper Bag Test
Jack and Jill of America was established in 1938 with a mission of “nurturing future African American leaders by strengthening children through leadership development, volunteer service, philanthropic giving, and civic duty.”
But an article from the Pittsburg Courier says Jack and Jill has seen its share of negative press from the Black community over the last 81 years. Similar to African-American sororities and fraternities, in the early years, Jack and Jill had a reputation of only being for elite “light-skinned Blacks”. The article says:
“some Blacks saw it as open only to those who had ‘good hair’ and were able to pass ‘the paper-bag test.’”
Resumes Used to Emphasize “Light Colored”
Nadra Kareen Little from ThoughtCo. discussed colorism in her article about skin tone discrimination. The article said:
“Colorism didn’t disappear after the institution of slavery ended in the U.S. In black America, those with light skin received employment opportunities off-limits to darker-skinned blacks. This is why upper-class families in black society were largely light-skinned.”
Her article mentions a writer Brent Staples who discovered this while searching newspaper archives near the Pennsylvania town where he grew up. She said:
“In the 1940s, he noticed, Black job seekers often identified themselves as light-skinned. Cooks, chauffeurs, and waitresses sometimes listed ‘light colored’ as the primary qualification—ahead of experience, references, and the other important data. They did it to improve their chances and to reassure white employers who…found dark skin unpleasant or believed that their customers would.”
Article from the NY Times that gave an example of a job ad from the 1950s that specifically requested applicants with light-colored skin.
“The owner of Chock full o’ Nuts, a white man named William Black, advertised in the tabloids for ‘light colored counter help.’
Advertising jobs for people with lighter skin or “Eurocentric” features is no longer legal or acceptable when doing business, but research shows that these preferences still play a role in our society. The same NY Times article reported that:
“Researchers tell us that it affects how people vote; who appears in Hollywood movies and television news shows; who gets hired and promoted in corporate America; and even who gets executed for murder.”
“Passing is a deception that enables a person to adopt certain roles or identities from which prevailing social standards would bar him in the absence of his misleading conduct. The classic racial passer in the United States has been the “white Negro:” the individual whose physical appearance allows him to present himself as “white” but whose “black” lineage makes him a Negro according to dominant racial rules.”
– Randall Kennedy, Racial Passing
Racial passing was a common practice among lighter-skinned African Americans and is the focal point of book two of The Stella Trilogy, where Stella changes her name to Sidney McNair, marries a white man, and has biracial children whom she raises as white. This narrative is taken directly from historical accounts of light-skin blacks (mixed or not) passing and living their lives as Europeans.
As a child of a white mother and a light-skinned black man, Gregory Howard Williams was a person who assumed that he was white because his parents pretended to be white. Not until he was ten years old, when his parents divorced, did Williams and his brother learn that they were black.
Many lighter-skinned blacks pretended or classified themselves as white in the US, which gave them access to the rights and opportunities that other blacks could not enjoy. In the image we see here, Dr. Albert Johnston passed to practice medicine. After living as leading citizens in Keene, N.H., the Johnstons revealed their true racial identity and became national news.
For Stanford historian Allyson Hobbs, a similar situation occurred where she discovered a cousin she had never met. This cousin lived in California as a white woman from her mother’s instruction, who sent her away from Chicago many years ago. The mother thought her daughter would have the best chance of success living as a white woman.
“She was black, but she looked white,” Hobbs said. “And her mother decided it was in her best interest to move far away from Chicago, to Los Angeles, and to assume the life of a white woman.”
This came around and bit the mother when her husband died and her daughter, now fully immersed in her life, said that she would not attend the funeral, saying, “I can’t. I’m a white woman now.”
The most famous instance is probably art imitating life in the 1934 film “Imitation of Life,” starring Fredi Washington playing a black woman who passes as white. They made this movie at a time where passing was a widespread practice for fair-skinned blacks. They remade this film in 1959.
Colorism is prejudice or discrimination against individuals with a dark skin tone, typically among people of the same ethnic or racial group, where lighter-skin is treated more favorably than darker skin. The brown paper bag test was used to determine who was acceptable and not based on colorism or color bias. When darker-skinned blacks bleach their skins or attempt to look lighter for the special treatment given to lighter skin (such as to join an organization), it is like passing.
While this is fading as dark skin is becoming more and more appreciated, that video of those young people arguing is proof there is still some work to do.
In the latest Mixed-Ish episode, Johan (pronounced Yohan) allowed his peers to think he was Mexican, thus passing for Mexican. Alicia’s sister Denise’s remark that Rainbow’s parents had indirectly caused this by living in a community where race, specifically blackness, was not discussed or considered has some truth to it. People think that by saying, “I don’t see race,” this is a compliment, but it is not. The one who does not see race also does not see racism.
“You all taught that poor boy of being ashamed of being black. You took him to that commune where…nobody talked about race, and that taught him not to be proud of his blackness.”
Why is there truth to this? Because one cannot be proud of what one does not know exists. If Johan does not know what it means to be black and all his people’s rich experiences, how can he see the shame in not telling his peers who he really is? Johan allowed his peers to think he was Mexican because he does not fully understand who he is as a black boy.
[Side Note: Can someone explain to me why they chose The Color Purple as the movie to help a black boy understand blackness? I can think of tons of movies from the 80s that are better suited to teach blackness to black children. The Color Purple ain’t one of them. They could have put on Cornbread, Earl, and Me.]
It turned out the kid who called Johan the racist Mexican slur was also black. This is another example of color bias within the African American community. Now, whether the child understood Johan to be black reflects the school system and the lack of representation of black people and black history. Contrary to the popular myth, not all light-skinned black people are mixed. Blacks produce a variety of skin-tones within the race, but that is a topic for a different day.
All Black is Beautiful
Today, “Blackness” (black skin) is promoted in pop culture. I hate to say it this way, but “dark-skin is in.”
With actresses like Daniel Kaluuya and Lupita Amondi Nyong’o, people once looked down on for being “ugly” for their dark skin tone (“too dark”) are now looked upon as being sexy, beautiful, and exotic. Dark skin is now socially acceptable, highly praised, and elevated, among many now seeing the beauty of brown skin.
While this is not a bad thing, the hope is that it has not become some fad in which dark-skin is fetishized. We would not want a reversal of the paper bag test in which light-skinned blacks are looked down on in the way dark-skinned blacks have always been. Blackness is not a trend that goes in and out of style and should not be treated as such.
The message here should be that all black is beautiful, no matter the shade.