Myths about mixed marriages and biracial people have emerged from centuries of socially and politically constructed racisms. Throughout history, such blindness has caused for there to be racial divisions within the Black community. The belief that “mulattoes” and/or “fair-skinned” Blacks are somewhat better than their “dark-skinned” brethren has created many limitations for our culture. Creating this division has separated the Black race on grounds of socioeconomic status, religion, and education. Mulattoes have been so far removed that the practice of segregating within one’s race still persists, because of advantages granted to them by White plantation owners in the past.
This form of separation dates as far back to slavery. “Against a backdrop of love and rape, politics and war, and, ultimately, power and privilege, attitudes about skin color evolved in America” (10). Interracial mixing caused problems socially for both Blacks and Whites. Some activists thought this to be harmful to the slavery institution. Such relationships would weaken the foundation by preventing it from receiving “moral acceptance” (12). Despite criticisms from politicians and activists, White men continued to maintain sexual relationships with their African slaves. Mulattoes were usually given the indoor jobs while dark-skinned slaves were left to do “physically grueling field work” (18). The separation of work created tensions within the slavery structure. Field hands generally “envied and resented the house servants” (18). Plantation owners would sometimes free their mulatto children and assist them in “business or trade or farming” ventures (15). These privileges allowed for the mulattoes to advance further than the dark-skinned Blacks socially and economically. They were given the opportunity to be more independent by achieving financial and educational success.
Giving unique privileges to the mulattoes allowed for them to serve as a link between Whites and Blacks. The presence of a mulatto “reduced racial tensions, especially in areas where Negroes outnumbered Whites” (15). Many mulattoes feared that newly freed slaves would infringe upon their so-called civil liberties. To prevent such actions, some mulattoes “intermingled and intermarried only with each other, actively discriminating against those who were dark” (16). The rights that were given to mulattoes by Whites played a significant role in dividing the Black community. By treating the mulattoes as if they were better than the darker Blacks, the Whites had “laid the groundwork for a pattern of color classism in Black America” (23).
There presently exists a “color gap in power and privilege that divides the Black community” that is the result of mulattoes gaining a degree of social standing from Whites before the Civil War (24). The trends that were set during this age of supreme racial discrimination remain evident in the social clubs, churches, neighborhoods, and schools of America. To be a part of many of the elite organizations of the early twentieth century, candidates would have to pass tests:
“The paper bag, test involved placing an arm inside a brown
paper, and only if the skin on the arm was lighter than the color
of the bag would a prospective member be invited to attend
church services. Other churches painted their doors a light shade
of brown, and anyone whose skin was darker than the door was
politely invited to seek religious services elsewhere…A
fine-toothed comb was hung on a rope near the front entrance.
If one’s hair was too nappy and snagged in the comb, entry was
denied” (27).
Those organizations of the past that required that prospective members be subject to “the paper-bag, the door, or the comb test” continue to maintain a majority of light-skinned members (27).
Some of the most respected institutions within the Black community are still plagued by the perception that the lighter shade of black is better. Social organizations like “Jack & Jill and Links have a significant majority of light-skinned Blacks reside” (25). Such organizations are in many cases struggling to maintain their so-called tradition of admitting Blacks with light skin. Skin color also plays a role in the social status of college students today. Some Greek organizations continue to use racial requirements as a means of determining membership. The status quo and/or esteem of a Greek organization largely depend on the amount of light-skinned members. “The highly regarded Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity must still contend with reputations for being