In Virginia, Kiara Lee is trying to make complexion issues a thing of the past.
If you’ve spent any time being Black, you’re probably well aware of the issue of “colorism.” It’s the problem African-Americans face that forces them to suffer from prejudice based on the darkness – or lightness – of their skin. So how do you beat a problem that’s been going on for more than a century (in the slave era, the whiter a person of color’s bloodline, the better he or she could be treated)? One woman in Virginia has come up with a way that’s reliant on a famous educational project from the ‘60s.
Kiara Lee, a recent University of Richmond graduate, goes into after-school programs in the Richmond area and uses the infamous “brown paper bag test” to give favor to lighter Black children. Children who are lighter than the paper bag get rewards like the opportunity to sit in front of the class and eat cupcakes, while darker children have to sit in the back of the class and get no sweets. Lee hopes to instill in the kids the idea that prejudice based arbitrarily on something as pointless as a person’s skin tone should be stricken from society.
Lee’s project has a precedent. In 1968, a schoolteacher named Jane Elliot in a small, mostly white town in Iowa decided to divide her class by those with brown eyes and those with blue and green eyes. The light-eyed children were treated nicely while those with brown eyes were treated poorly. Elliot was supposedly inspired to do her project by the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. She thought the experiment would be a good way to teach white kids about what it feels like to be discriminated against, and she was right. Her project became famous nearly overnight.
Where Lee’s project is different is that, in the real world, white kids from Iowa rarely suffer discrimination based on their eye color. Black kids, to varying degrees, do suffer from colorism. However, they suffer from racism on top of that.
In other words, kudos to Lee for trying to beat back the colorism that exists in the Black community. But one would hope a lot of teachers in white schools are also teaching their students how to not judge Black people based on their skin colors.
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